Tuesday, 17 March 2015


My mother, taken on her honeymoon. I do not have many pictures of her as a young woman, and, poor thing, she only just made it to pensionable age, which was then 60. She was diagnosed at 56 with terminal ovarian cancer, managed with the help of (then) brutal treatments to survive for four more years, seeing both the birth of my brother's first child and also the (ill-fated) wedding of Charles and Diana. She died a few days before her own birthday in September 1981.

She had a beloved elder sister who had died of this disease in her 30's. But as people spoke very little about cancer back then she did not recognise the symptoms in herself and by the time she was forced to acknowledge her illness it was almost too late. She was admitted for surgery but they could do nothing, it was so far spread. She had bloating, pain and breathlessness, all of which anyone a little clued in now would understand as very serious indeed. But she didn't know; I didn't know -
I didn't even realise it myself when in 2000, also aged 56, I too had the same symptoms.It was a veterinary friend who bluntly told me I needed to go to my GP pronto!

So I did and next day I was admitted to hospital, stage 3 ovarian cancer,  and shortly after that had surgery, chemotherapy, and became very familiar with the insides of various clinics. But I was lucky; the chemotherapy treatment was better than what my mother had and I survived.

The biggest shock was that, when I was diagnosed, my father told me candidly that my mother's 4 sisters had all died of Ovarian cancer. I knew about Beth, the beloved sister, but I certainly didn't know about the others.My mother's family was large, and I didn't know them all.

But once I had that information to hand I was whizzed off for genetic testing and found to carry BRCA2 . Important information especially if you have daughters: such a gene can predispose to ovarian cancer ( and in my family it has definitely done that) but in men it can predispose to prostate cancer I was told. So everyone should be aware of this. My family all know and one of them has discovered the gene in their own system

It shouldn't be the case though that only where there is a family history you become entitled to genetic testing: I feel any woman with ovarian cancer should receive this - ANY woman with ovarian cancer. It might save herfamily, her daughters, even her sons from a lot of nasty trouble later in life.

And I mean nasty: my mother's own illness was appalling; she shrank to almost nothing but skin and bone; she was constantly sick, nothing tasted right and anyway she couldn't keep it down; her lungs were full of fluid and breathing was very painful.She died in great pain.

If you have any reason to think you might be at risk, check out the signs at Ovacome's website. You can help your daughters to BEAT ovarian cancer if you let them know the signs.

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