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Stories of Inspiration

There is Happiness Even in The Darkest of Places

By May 14, 2021June 14th, 2021No Comments
before and after shot of an ovarian cancer patient

It all started in March 2018 when I was in my final year of nursing and (no exaggeration) I woke up looking like Humpty Dumpty, or, more accurately a walking barrel. To make that clearer I had gained 10kgs in 2 weeks and had gone from running 10 miles the previous weekend to getting breathless walking 10 steps. Not wanting to be a burden on the NHS (what NOT to do) in true me style I continued to go to my student nurse placement until my mentor and boyfriend’s uncle who was a doctor told me to get myself to the GP.

I turn up at the GP and he’s great. I’d already prepared 5 pregnancy tests (all various types) for him to prove I wasn’t pregnant and he did a final one. Negative. He listened to my stomach, did my height/weight, observations, had a chat with me, and then shipped me off to Addenbrookes with a letter in my hand to be examined that day straight away by the gynecologists. I met my mum at the hospital and I remember clearly texting my sister saying “I’ll be fine as long as it’s not my ovaries” because a problem with your ovaries means a potential problem with having children and that was the worst thing. An examination later (where they could feel the tumor) they said I had a tumor there but “don’t think cancer yet, we need a scan to work it out more”.

An ultrasound scan later and all she said was “yep, there’s a massive tumor”. The only thing was it was so big she didn’t need to do an internal scan because “there would be no point” (some positives hey?). A couple of days later I got whisked into an hour and a half long MRI scan (enjoy the ear protectors you have to wear and ask for a blanket – IT GETS COLD) and a week later I was sat in my surgeon’s room with my mum and boyfriend being told it was probably stage 3-4 cancer but they also needed to rule out Pseudomyxoma peritonei (PMP) – a type of rare cancer which doesn’t come with good statistics at all. This meant having to send my images off to the specialist hospital down in Basingstoke (about 3 hours from us).

I spent the next few days waiting for these results while I basically thought I was going to die. It sounds silly but stage 3-4 is not good and I knew it. I’d also seen my scan. I contemplated writing a will for my horses (which you can laugh at, I laugh at it now!) & Then snapped myself out of it and told myself to think positively. A couple of runs/hobbling my huge belly around later and we were back in with my surgeon.

Surgery was planned for April 12th, 2018. Basingstoke had fortunately ruled out PMP but stage 3-4 was still on the cards and along with that came a potential stoma, hysterectomy, and removal of both ovaries. I had to consent to this after making the decision after my IVF appointment that preserving my eggs wasn’t realistic as it would take too long and my tumor (now named Olga) was squashing my organs at this point.

I had a full-up/down incision for surgery. I woke up and shouted to everyone in theatre recovery (good job the other patients were probably high too and the nurses are used to it) that I was only stage 1 cancer and that I had fertility-sparing surgery.

Diagnosis: Well Differentiated Mucinous Ovarian Tumour of the left ovary.

Surgery: Removal of my appendix, left ovary, left fallopian tube, and omentum, and reservation and stripping of my pelvis and peritoneum. Full wash out and 7L of fluid drained from my abdomen.

Follow up: 6 cycles of chemotherapy 3 weeks apart.

I was 23 so had my chemotherapy up on the teenage and young adult cancer ward at Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge, UK, which was amazing. I was lucky in that up until cycle 3 I was still going to the gym and running (important to note each person and chemo is different and I only did this because it helped me cope better with it) and then BAM cycle 4 hit me hard. I say I had “hibernation” post each chemotherapy which was 3 days of doing nothing but sleeping and getting up for the toilet. I wouldn’t have eaten if it wasn’t for my boyfriend cooking for me. All in all the side effects of my cancer were pretty low, it was the steroids that I found difficult as steroids come with weight gain, I felt really cold and my taste buds changed meaning bread tasted sweet?!

It is now January 2021 and a few things have changed. I have a wonderful miracle baby, Chikezie, who is 4 months old. I have been a nurse for a little under 2 years working in cardiology and I have had no evidence of disease with very normal blood results since finishing chemotherapy in October 2018. I have just had an MRI which had some changes which they think is post-labor but I will need a repeat MRI and blood work in 3 months (Olga is just not letting herself be forgotten). I was lucky, my cancer went from really bad to worse to better rather than the other way around which is often the unfortunate case for many people.

Mary-Ann McGonigal

Mary-Ann is from Cambridge, England. She can be followed on Instagram @keepcalmandkickcancer.

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Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Before ovarian cancer - healthy ovaries

Stage 1 - Cancer is confined to one or both ovaries

Stage 2 - Cancer spreads within the pelvic region

Stage 3 - Average stage of diagnoses is stage 3C; cancer spreads to other body parts within the abdomen

Stage 4 - Cancer spreads beyond the abdomen to other body parts

 

National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Stage 1

The cancer is confined to the ovary or fallopian tube

1A - The cancer is confined to one ovary only

1B - The cancer is found on both ovaries

1C - One or both ovaries are found with cancer cells spilling out from the ovaries

1C1 - Accidental rupture of the capsule by the surgeon during surgery

1C2 - Rupture of the capsule occurred before surgery

1C3 - Cancer cells are found in the fluid of the pelvis/abdomen

Stage 2

Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries with pelvic extension

2A - Extension of cancer to fallopian tubes or uterus

2B - Extension of cancer to other pelvic organs

Stage 3

Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries, and the cancer has spread beyond the pelvis

3A - Microscopic cancer cells found in upper abdomen or lymph nodes

3B - Visible tumor found in upper abdomen less than 2cm in size

3C - Visible tumor found in upper abdomen greater than 2cm in size, including disease on the surface of liver or spleen

Stage 4

The cancer growth is widely spread throughout the body

4A - Cancer is found in the fluid around lung

4B - Cancer is found inside the lungs, liver or spleen

National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

30 Years of Courage

1991   

NOCC begins as a grassroots organization founded by advocates and survivors in Boca Raton, Florida

 1995   

NOCC incorporates as the country’s first national organization providing awareness and education about ovarian cancer.

1996   

The first national ovarian cancer information hotline is established (1-888-OVARIAN), now averaging 10,000 calls each year.

1998   

NOCC proclaims a week in September “National Ovarian Cancer Week,” with a declaration from President Clinton. “Walk for a Whisper” 5K Walk/Run is initiated.

2000   

NOCC and the ovarian community proclaim September as “National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.”

2002

The organization produces television PSA about early detection and distributes to 30 states.

2003

Ovarian.org received the Oncolink.com Award from OncoLink, the first online cancer resource founded by University of Pennsylvania cancer specialists.

NOCC receives the National Points of Light award in celebration of the success and impact volunteers have made in their communities.

2004

NOCC launches “Body Image/Body Essence” art exhibit by sculptor John Magnan as a tribute to his wife’s journey with ovarian cancer.

2006

NOCC launches the “Break the Silence” national education campaign.

2007

The “Break the Silence” campaign reaches 100M impressions.

NOCC helps launch the first consensus on ovarian cancer symptoms.

2008

NOCC moves its principal place of operation and state of incorporation/registration from Boca Raton, Florida to Dallas, Texas.

NOCC advocates help to double Department of Defense funding for ovarian cancer research to $20M per year.

2009

“Newly Diagnosed Patient Kit” is launched. DVD resource is made available in Spanish and Mandarin; 450,000+ pieces of literature are distributed nationwide.

2010

The Faces of Hope® program and term “Run/Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer” are initiated. 

Annual fundraising events are branded “Run/Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer®.”

2011

NOCC partners with The Dr. Oz Show to create his Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer® campaign.

Over 1200 newly diagnosed women receive NOCC’s TEAL PACKET®

The “Ann Schreiber Ovarian Cancer Research Training Program of Excellence: A study by Dr. Ruth Perets” is supported by NOCC with a $50,000 contribution.

2012

NOCC supports quality of life research with the GOG 0225, LIvES Study, which is ongoing and conducted by the University of Arizona Cancer Center.

2013

More than 4,000 Faces of Hope TEAL totes are distributed.

2014

More than 575,000 pieces of education and awareness literature are distributed nationally.

NOCC affirms its commitment to research with the newest  initiative, collaborating with Stand Up to Cancer, Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, and Ovarian Cancer Research Fund to support the “Ovarian Cancer Dream Team.”

NOCC is featured in the highly coveted showcase window at 10 Rockefeller Plaza in midtown Manhattan.

2016

NOCC reaches its milestone 25th anniversary.

NOCC becomes an official charity partner for the New York Marathon and launches its first platform for endurance enthusiasts across the U.S - Team Teal®.

2017

Rejuvenate, the first event of its kind, is introduced by NOCC for survivors as a retreat experience centered around the mind, body and spirit; it later expands to a national series.

Not Knowing is Killing Us is launched as a hard-hitting national awareness campaign. 

2018  

NOCC's signature Run/Walk Series is rebranded and Together in Teal® Ending Ovarian Cancer is brought to life in communities across the nation.  

2019

Team Teal®, NOCC's endurance platform, expands internationally with participants in Greece and Canada.  

Together in Teal® Ending Ovarian Cancer is hosted at New York City's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, a national historic landmark.

2020

In response to the pandemic, NOCC introduces programming offering relief to women and their caregivers including home meal delivery, Comfort for the Soul, and online professional counseling through Comfort the Mind.  

Teal Hearts Network, a series of regional survivor support groups, commences in a virtual setting.

Together in Teal(R) hosts its first virtual experience, No Boundaries, and unites participants in 50 states and 9 countries.  

Signs and Symptoms

Ovarian cancer signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Back pain
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation or menstrual changes
  • Pain during sex