‘My backache turned out to be cancer’

Photo Neil Cross'Joanne Bridge, who was found to have a large ovarian cyst which was cancerous

Photo Neil Cross'Joanne Bridge, who was found to have a large ovarian cyst which was cancerous

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Living in Spain and working six nights a week behind a bar, when Joanne Bridge began to feel lethargic and suffer from backache, she initially put it down to struggling to sleep at night due to the hot climate and being on her feet for long periods.

Living in Spain and working six nights a week behind a bar, when Joanne Bridge began to feel lethargic and suffer from backache, she initially put it down to struggling to sleep at night due to the hot climate and being on her feet for long periods.

Photo Neil Cross'Joanne Bridge, who was found to have a large ovarian cyst which was cancerous

Photo Neil Cross'Joanne Bridge, who was found to have a large ovarian cyst which was cancerous

Joanne, 44, who now lives in Fulwood, Preston, with her partner Mark Beattie, went travelling with him in 2001 and the couple intended to go for six to 12 months.

However, they ended up living in Spain for six years and it was during their time there that Joanne started experiencing her symptoms.

Joanne explains: “I felt a bit out of sorts, but not really ill as such and it was easy to find other reasons for my symptoms.

“When I had been in the UK before going to Spain, I had been told I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), so when I suffered from bloatedness, I put it down to that. Also, my eating habits were irregular because of the job I was doing.

Joanne Bridge - ovarian cancer

Joanne Bridge - ovarian cancer

“When I had backache, I thought it was because I was on my feet all the time and when I felt lethargic, I reasoned to myself that it was because I wasn’t getting enough sleep as the hot weather was keeping me awake.

“I was sick, but it only happened the once and I just thought it was a one-off thing.”

However, on one particular day, Joanne mentioned to a friend that she had stomach pains, her friend urged her to go to hospital to get checked out.

Joanne went along thinking she would simply be sent home with some tablets, but instead she underwent blood tests, urine tests, an ultrasound and an X-ray – all on the same day.

Joanne Bridge - ovarian cancer

Joanne Bridge - ovarian cancer

Joanne says: “The doctors told me I had a blockage in my right ovary. It was quite scary as they were all talking Spanish, and I didn’t really know what was happening.

“They then told me that they wanted to keep me in for five days for observation.”

The Spanish doctors told Joanne they did not think it was cancer as she was only young. She was admitted for surgery to remove the cyst days 12 days later.

Joanne says: “I woke up in recovery and they told me they had removed the cyst and the ovary and then carried out a full blown hysterectomy, as they realised it was the beginning of ovarian cancer.”

Doctors told Joanne that the cyst was a byproduct of the cancer, and was pressing on her bladder and causing her backache.

To her horror, Joanne discovered that when doctors removed the cyst, it was 35cm in length and weighed more than a stone.

Joanne recalls: “Only 12 days earlier, the cyst had been 27cm long so it was growing rapidly.

“My stomach seemed to pop out overnight.

“The cyst was attached to all my organs, so I have got a scar from my ribs to my pubic bone.”

Joanne says everything happened so fast, she did not really have time to digest it.

She says: “I had never wanted to have children so that side of the things with the hysterectomy did not really bother me.

“I love children, but I don’t have the urge to have my own.”

Since returning to the UK, Joanne was told by her doctor that because she had a history of IBS, if she had been living in England at the time of her symptoms, things would have been done differently and doctors would have tried various treatments before referring her for tests.

Joanne says: “In Spain, I had all the tests and scans in one day, but if I had been in the UK, it would have been months down the line before I got to this stage and I would have been looking at a completely different outcome.

“When my cancer was discovered, it was stage one at which point the survival rate is around 90 per cent. But if the cancer had got to stage three, I would have been looking at a survival rate of around 25 per cent.”

Joanne, who moved back to the UK in 2007 and has recently bought Whites Sandwich and Coffee Bar in Warton opposite the BAE site, finds it strange that recent research shows that some women wrongly believe gynaecological cancers are linked with sexual promiscuity and delay seeking medical help.

Joanne says: “I certainly never thought that a doctor would think I was promiscuous because I had a gynaecological cancer.

“It is a cancer like any other cancer and it does not choose who it affects.

“It definitely needs to be addressed if women are worried about going to their doctors with gynaecological problems.

“My advice to women would be, don’t be shy or embarrassed about seeking medical help.

“If anyone does feel shy about going to see a male doctor, they should ask to see a female doctor but they definitely shouldn’t put off getting it checked out.

“Delaying it could mean a totally different outcome.

“I am just thankful I was living in Spain at the time and that the system there meant I got all the tests I needed on the same day.”

• One in six women surveyed in the North West believed that gynaecological cancers are associated with sexual promiscuity, with more than a third (37 per cent) saying they felt there was a greater stigma around gynaecological cancers than other forms of the disease.

This stigma is preventing women in the region from seeking potentially life-saving medical advice, with 20 per cent of respondents saying they are put off talking to their GP about gynaecological health problems because they don’t want to discuss their sexual history.

While there is a causal link between some forms of gynaecological cancers and the sexually transmitted High Risk Human Papilloma Virus (HRHPV), the virus is so common that it can be considered a normal consequence of sexual activity – 80 per cent of people will contract some form of the HPV virus in their lifetime, even in those who have had one sexual partner.

There is currently no known association between HRHPV and ovarian or womb cancer.

Every day in the UK, 55 women are diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer.

l For more information about Gynaecological Awareness Month and how you can get involved with an Eve4Eve event, visit www.eveappeal.org.uk.