A Lancashire woman battling ovarian cancer is urging other women not to dismiss changes in their body or be embarrassed about going to the doctor with stomach ache.
Janet Entwistle tells AASMA DAY why early detection is key when it comes to ovarian cancer.
WHEN Janet Entwhistle began experiencing a few symptoms such as weight loss and bloating, she was not unduly concerned.
Janet, 54, who lives in Lea, Preston, explains: “I just thought I might have developed an allergy to something, so I just dealt with it with over-the-counter remedies and I changed my diet and cut out bread.”
Janet, who was working as an interim lawyer with her own company at the time, says her symptoms got worse and she realised somwthing must be wrong.
She recalls: “I lost my appetite and was not able to eat much as I would feel full very quickly. The bloating became worse and I looked like I was four months pregnant and my stomach felt like it was a hard shell.”
About a year ago, Janet went to see her GP who referred her for a colonoscopy to look inside her.
However, while Janet was waiting for this appointment, she was attended her surgery for a general check-up for people over the age of 50, where, she had a blood test called CA125, which looks for a protein which is present in greater concentration in ovarian cancer cells.
Janet says: “The NHS have told doctors a new dictat that when patients see them with what appears to be digestive or dietary problems, they should have this test.
“I was convinced my symptoms were due to an issue with bowel problems because there is a family history of bowel cancer.
“Ovarian cancer is very difficult to detect and is a very insiduous disease.”
Janet’s test showed there were raised indicators for ovarian cancer and she was referred to see a gynaecologist. She had a scan and an internal procedure, but nothing significant was found.
She was then sent for an MRI scan, which showed cancer.
Janet says: “It was a huge shock when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer because no one really seemed to be worried.
“I knew there was something wrong, but I never thought it would be this. When the diagnosis came, it was a horrible shock.”
Janet was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer which had spread. It is not curable but is manageable with treatment.
Janet had three bouts of chemotherapy before major surgery in June to have a hysterectomy and have her womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries removed.
This was followed by three more rounds of chemotherapy and Janet is now having continuing chemotherapy.
Janet says: “One of the major problems with ovarian cancer is that the symptoms are very similar to Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
“A lot of women won’t go to the doctors because they are experiencing stomach ache or if they have lost a bit of weight.
“There are four stages of ovarian cancer and most women are diagnosed at Stage 3.
“I had a scan showing that the surgery and chemotherapy managed to get rid of most of the tumour, but there are still some cells that doctors are keeping an eye on.
“Doctors have to manage my condition because it is difficult to eradicate ovarian cancer once it has got to an advanced stage.
“I would urge women to take notice of what their body is trying to tell them and not to dismiss any changes as part of life’s tapestery.
“Many women do not feel comfortable going to the doctor to say they have stomach ache but they should not feel embarrassed.
“It may well be something or nothing but it could be something more serious.
“If it is a sign of ovarian cancer, early detection is key.”
Janet recently took part in Target Ovarian Cancer’s first ever support event for women in Preston. She spoke out about her diagnosis to raise awareness of the symptoms of the disease.
Every year, 4,100 women in the UK die of ovarian cancer and the UK has some of the worst survival rates in Europe.
Target Ovarian Cancer’s Being Together day aims to provide emotional and practical assistance to people affected by the disease.
Being Together is an inspiring and supportive day that brings together women who have had a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
Attendees could bring a friend or family member and put their questions to leading clinical nurse specialists and cancer consultants.
Janet says: “I attendied the Being Together Day so I could meet other women to share experiences of the condition and the effects of treatment.
“It was also an opportunity to discover the progress of improvements in the detection and treatment of ovarian cancer from an expert panel.
“I feel it is important to participate in events like this in order to give and receive moral support from women in the same position as me.”
Women with ovarian cancer often feel isolated and Target Ovarian Cancer’s pathfinder study found 90 per cent of women who have had a diagnosis of ovarian cancer have needed emotional support.
Many women who have attended past Being Together days say that it was the first time they had met other people with ovarian cancer.
The event included workshops on how to speak out about ovarian cancer and inform others, manage feelings of anxiety in relaxation workshops and attend a confidence workshop with charity Look Good Feel Better.
Kath Pinder, head of supportive services at Target Ovarian Cancer, says: “Women share their experiences with others which is incredibly valuable when you are diagnosed with a cancer that is often diagnosed late, is not well-known, and is hard to treat.
“They also gain vital skills to help raise awareness of the disease locally. The more women who know about the symptoms of ovarian cancer, the more lives will be saved.”
SYMPTOMS OF OVARIAN CANCER
• Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain (your tummy and below)
• Increased abdominal size/persistent bloating – not bloating that comes and goes
• Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
• Needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual
• Occasionally, there can be other symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, extreme fatigue (feeling very tired), unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite. Any post-menopausal bleeding should be investigated by a GP.
WHO TO CONTACT:
Target Ovarian Cancer is the UK’s leading ovarian cancer charity. It works to improve early diagnosis, fund life-saving research and provide much-needed support to women with ovarian cancer.
For more information, call: 020 7923 5470, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.targetovariancancer.org.uk/