Sara's Story

March 1, 2018

I’m a feisty, independent, single mum and at 41 I found myself with an out of the blue stage 3C Ovarian Cancer diagnosis and a terrible prognosis. How was this even possible? I looked after myself. I dated. I went to Zumba class,kayaked, and hiked. My children were my everything and the thought of not being around to see them grow up, even having to switch focus, from them to my health, was unbearable.

For years I dealt with ‘Irritable Bowel Syndrome’ a diagnosis of no diagnosis. Fluctuating diarrhea, constipation, urgency, wind, bloating. No weight loss despite making extremely positive changes to diet. A growing waist line despite not eating any food which should have enabled this.

Over a number of years I had around a dozen instances where the bloating was so extreme and intensely
painful, I had at first, thought that I was having a miscarriage. On one occasion I visited a doctor about the
intense bloating and as I had had a colonic irrigation at a spa some weeks before, we put the symptoms down
to spasming from that.

Like most women I whittled my ‘symptoms’ down to ‘women's problems’ - My periods, my hormones, my diet. I
tried everything possible to eliminate what I believed were side effects of my indulgent lifestyle - I dropped
sugar, wheat, gluten, carbs, dairy... I tried fast days and heart foundation soup diets. I blamed myself and held
myself accountable for EVERYTHING.

Then more recently, I started to feel sluggish. Old. I couldn't keep up any more, everything ached and along
came the red herring to get the ball rolling - My doctor diagnosed me with arthritis. My elbow and knee joints
were in pain from the moment I woke. I was sent for bloods and nothing other than some inflammation came
back. I made an appointment to see a rheumatologist and I waited.

While I was waiting things got worse. I looked grey, like a drug addict. I was completely exhausted, all the time.
I can only explain it as just feeling awful, I knew instinctively that something wasn't right. I went back to my
doctor. Here’s the part where you're lucky if you have a GP like mine - Because while I was there, bemoaning
the aches and pains that we had already discussed she was listening and allowed the little red flags to wave
around - Because she was always happy to send me for testing and investigation - and because I had private
health care which allowed me to do so easily, quickly, and for free.

I said “the aches are getting worse...and also...I am soooo bloated!”. I said, “I am dieting and eating such a
healthy diet... and my waist just seems to be growing”. I said. “Hey also, I’m sure it’s nothing but I’ve got a pain
here, under my ribs, probably just the kids stressing me out”...

What followed happened very quickly. I went for an ultrasound (internal and external), which led to a CT scan,
which led to an awkward 6pm emergency meeting with my lovely GP to tell me that I had cancer. They didnt

know which kind of cancer it was, but it was all over my ovaries, bowel, liver (that pain under my ribs), spleen,
and gallbladder. There was ‘abnormal fluid’ and lots and lots of cancerous lymph nodes floating around in my
bloated belly.

There followed waiting, too much waiting, for appointments, and MDM’s - Where groups of doctors discussed
my case. CA125 bloods (elevated tumour markers in the ovaries) and a series of elimination (Not elevated
markers in my bowel) led them to diagnose me with Stage 3c High Grade Serous Carcinoma.

My oncologist told me that 37% of people with my diagnosis will still be alive in 5 years. If I made it to 5 years I
would likely still have cancer. Things weren't looking good. Lucky for me, I am a resilient person of the highest
order. Single mums (in fact all mums) tend to find ways to just get on with things, even if the future is looking
somewhat bleak. So I put my head down and I started chemo. At stage 3, standard practise is to attempt to
shrink things down with 3 rounds of chemo, then assess if the chemo has worked via CT scan. If so,
‘debulking’ surgery comes next. An interesting way to say - we are not ‘removing’ this from you with surgery,
we are simply trying to eliminate as much as possible. I do appreciate being told things the way they are. Next
would come another 3 rounds of chemo to ‘mop things up’.

Chemo completely sucks, but for me it is completely bearable. I gave birth, I have tattoos, I can handle this.
Being jabbed by needles endlessly soon becomes the norm and the chemo routine becomes familiar. Day 1 -
Chemo day. Day 2 feels ok. Day 3 comes and the chemo ‘feels’ set in through to day 8 or 9. - lethargy,
nausea, headache, constipation, bone pain, joint pain, aching. A taste in my mouth so foul and nothing makes
it go away. My body heads back to normal just in time for the next round to start 3 weeks later. Chemo is
cumulative and my symptoms now at round 4 are more hideous than round 1. But with 2 rounds to go I know I
got this.

My story isn't over (are any cancer stories ever really over?). After 3 rounds of chemo my CT results were
phenomenal. I even had an extremely straight faced, socially awkward surgeon, describe them as ‘amazing’!
All those cancerous lymph nodes - gone. Abnormal fluid - gone. Mass on my liver, spleen, gallbladder - gone.
Mass on my bowel - gone. My surgery took place routinely. Since the surgery was now only gynecological (no
colorectal surgeon required) I could schedule a private hospital stay. Surgery was successful, though painful,
scary, hard, long, inconvenient, stressful and something that I am still recovering from. There is no Zumba or
kayaking in my near future. The biopsies from materials removed from surgery showed that all that remained
post chemo was a 3mm tumour in my fallopian tubes. Chemo had been, for want of a better phrase, a
complete success.

I started back on chemo and the effects are more heinous than the first 3 rounds but it doesn't matter. It has to
be done and I will do it. Right now the prognosis is good (though I haven't actually asked for a new one). I will
complete my final 3 rounds of chemo. I will have another CT which should set a baseline for my new normal
and I will go on with life.

I set goals. I timed my chemo so that I can attend Ed Sheeran’s concert with my son. I hope to head back to
work as a teacher next term. I think about the skydive my 11 year old and I promised we would do on his 16th
birthday, the holiday I’d like to take in July, the idea of dating again, and seeing my children grow up. A lot can
change in a week, a month, a year.

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