I was diagnosed with Stage 3(c) ovarian cancer (stage 4 is most advanced) in October 2006, aged 35. I had surgery and chemotherapy and am very fortunate to have been in remission since May 2007. My symptoms actually began 5 years prior to my diagnosis.
In 2001 I noticed abdominal bloating and a change in bowel habit (I was rarely ‘normal’). I thought this was due to diet and so began to cut certain foods out; unfortunately nothing changed.
In 2003 I developed pain and tenderness on the right side of my lower abdomen. My GP did a stool test and I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). My GP felt this tied in with the bloating and bowel problems.
For 3 more years the bloating and discomfort increased. I regularly visited my GP receiving numerous prescriptions for anti-spasmodic medication without tests.
Further symptoms developed in July 2006. I couldn’t eat more than a few mouthfuls of food before feeling full. I began losing weight generally whilst my abdomen began to swell. I was initially excited about this as I thought I was pregnant – sadly there was no baby (I had 9l of fluid in my abdomen!).
I also experienced right sided back pain. I was a dentist at the time and so thought that the back pain was an occupational hazard!!
I eventually couldn’t stand up straight or lift up my right leg without feeling like I was being stabbed in the right side of my abdomen. I felt ‘fobbed off’ with the IBS diagnosis and went back to my GP requesting that I have tests. On examining me my GP did not argue and I was referred for an ultrasound scan that week.
My symptoms convinced me that I had a digestive/bowel problem or hepatitis (due to my job). I never thought that this was a gynaecological problem, I was still having a normal monthly period and my hormone levels were normal. Also, having taken the Contraceptive Pill for 15 years I believed this protected me from ovarian cancer.
I would therefore encourage any woman to speak about any symptoms they are worried about with their pharmacists and likewise I urge pharmacists to become more aware of these symptoms as they really can play an important role in the early detection of ovarian cancer. I truly believe that any woman visiting a pharmacy for medication to treat IBS would not mind being questioned about her symptoms if there is even the tiniest chance that ovarian cancer could be caught early. As there is no reliable screening available for ovarian cancer for the general population, I feel that pharmacists are perfectly placed to ask women about their symptoms and advise that they see their GP as it MAY be an ovarian problem.
Please support Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month this March and be alert to and raise awareness of the signs of symptoms of ovarian cancer.