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