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For women diagnosed with gynaecological cancer, it can be an incredibly daunting time filled with uncertainty and unanswered questions.
For their families, friends and loved ones, it can be a difficult time filled with feelings of helplessness, anger, protectiveness and heartbreak.

Cherish Women’s Cancer Foundation is humbled by the support shown by women who have been unlucky enough to have been diagnosed with gynaecological cancer, who often complete their treatment and wish to find ways to help other women who may require treatment in the future.

Here are just some stories that have been shared with Cherish. We’d love to hear yours too.

my-story-kay

My name is Kay and I was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer four and a half years ago.

I am 48 and have two wonderful children, a son aged 15 and a daughter aged ten. I was diagnosed in May 2008 just a few days before my daughter’s sixth birthday.

Between 2005 and 2006 (while I was living in Scotland) I often had a bloated tummy. I went to my GP but as I was fairly young, slim, fit and apparently healthy he treated me as if I was vain expecting a completely flat stomach after two children. After three visits he eventually diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome. I never believed this to be what was wrong with me but I didn’t know what it could be or who I could go to for another opinion. Had I been listened to (and there if there was an effective test for ovarian cancer) I’m sure I would be dealing with stage I or, at worst, stage II cancer and my odds would have been be a lot better.

Eventually after more visits to GPs, a doctor in Brisbane thought I should get an ultrasound as I might have gallstones. The sonographer picked up five cancerous spots on my liver. She requested an immediate CT scan. I had a mass in my abdomen and bowel cancer was suspected. I was referred to the hospital for more tests. A colonoscopy and a test of my CA125 allowed the doctors to diagnose stage IV ovarian cancer, which had spread to my bowel and showed metastasis on my liver.

My CA125 (a blood protein test which can be used as a tumour marker but is not completely reliable in ovarian cancer as it can be elevated due to other conditions) which should be under 35 was 1300. I was given a 50/50 chance of surviving five years. The process from diagnosis to treatment for me was so quick that I didn’t get a chance to get my head around what was going on. It is so scary and your whole world is turned upside down. Your hopes and dreams for the future are suddenly challenged.

I have been on and off chemotherapy throughout the four and a half years. I’ve lost count but I must have had around 100 doses! I have had surgery three times. Ovarian cancer is very persistent and recurrence is very common. I was put on a trial drug in 2011. Unfortunately, the trial had to be cancelled as it did not meet the required expectations.

Fundraising to allow clinical trials and the development of an early detection test for ovarian cancer is essential. Some of the women that I’ve become friends with at the hospital have passed away.

Thankfully, I have now been cancer free for over a year.

I hope to defy statistics and beat this cancer but I suspect the majority of people feel this way. I have never said “Why me?” – it is me so I have to get on with it. My friends all see me as positive and happy. I have my down times of course but I do not let them consume me.

I really appreciate the work that Cherish does and I’m sure anyone with this awful disease does too.

I definitely wouldn’t be here today without the work of researchers and doctors.

Thank you for listening to my story. Please share the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

My name is Nikki. I’m 38 years old and have two young children, Georgia and Charlie. I love spending time with my family and friends and being active – I love my outdoor training and playing netball.

When I was 27, I went for a routine pap smear. I had no other warning signs that I could possibly have cancer. The only thing that was not routine was that I was 27 and had never had a pap smear. The results came back indicating the need for further investigation.

I was referred to a gynaecologist where I went for a day surgery procedure to try and remove what was hopefully just pre-cancerous cells. The results came back and I was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Shortly after, I had a 10mm diameter tumour removed from my cervix. The process from diagnosis to treatment was extremely fast – from my first pap smear to surgery it was two months.

I had a radical abdominal trachelectomy and the removal of my lymph nodes in my pelvis. In other words most of my cervix was removed via my abdomen in a procedure that had only previously been performed in Australia a couple of times.

Fortunately, Dr Obermair was able to remove the tumour cleanly and the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes. I then proceeded to have pap smears every three months for two years then six-monthly for three years. At my five year mark I moved to 12-monthly pap smears, which nine years later I still have.

For me, it was never about life and death which I know many people face in a diagnosis of cancer. Of course that is what it could have been if I didn’t have that pap smear when I did.

For me, it was more about at 27 years old will I ever be able to have children? I went into my surgery with the optimism of this radical surgery cleanly removing the tumour but of course there were no guarantees. If the tumour could not have been removed without preserving my cervix, the alternative was a full hysterectomy.

There are times when I hear about people’s diagnosis of cancer and I think of how lucky I am that I caught mine early enough that I only had to have surgery and no follow-up treatment. I am just thankful that I can share my life with my two beautiful children.

I am certainly eternally thankful & grateful to Dr Obermair for what he did for me. I truly believe that if it wasn’t for his abilities I would have been presented with no option but a hysterectomy at the age of 27 and not had my children – they are the greatest thing that has happened to me. Of course I remain diligent in regards to my check-ups and I’m vocal to my family and friends about having regular pap smears. Other than that, I really just live my life.

Former medical secretary, Barb Peters is in a good place; she’s healthy and taking advantage of the ‘window’ between children off her hands and grandchildren arriving.

Along with her husband, Barb, who is in her 60s, is enjoying travel and Probus, an association for retirees and semi-retirees to meet like-minded people. Barb also engages in volunteer office work at an RSPCA centre, art classes, social tennis and daily walks. Such activeness prepared her to walk in the 2013 Weekend to End Women’s Cancer. Barb’s fundraising efforts also focus on the Cherish Women’s Cancer Foundation. She attends events, such as movie nights and morning teas, in particular the Battle – she is planning a team for 2015.

Her motivation to fundraise was brought about by personally having cancer, not once, but twice.

In 2008, Barb was diagnosed with uterine cancer and her care, under the direction of Professor Andreas Obermair, involved radiation and chemotherapy and their associated tests. Support from her husband, empathy from her employer, positiveness from her two daughters and thoughtfulness from friends helped her through her treatment. The scare encouraged her to be more diligent with health matters. “It was a wake up call to look after myself better,” Barb said.

Barb had lost excess weight and was feeling like a new woman, when in 2012, she alerted doctors to what was diagnosed as low-grade breast cancer. Treatment involved radiation and per recent tests, doctors have given her the ‘all clear’ – thus further opportunity to embrace life. Barb encourages women to be vigilant with health checks.

“Otherwise, don’t worry too much, live life and set yourself goals. Busying myself with challenges like the women’s walk and Cherish fundraising, has helped me on the path to healing, so I can be more open about my experiences and ultimately help others,” she said.

In the not too distant future, grandchildren will need to squeeze into her busy schedule!

Hi, I’m Kim. I went to the doctor on Monday 12 January 2015 with ongoing vague lower abdominal pain and pain during intercourse – that part was new.

The next day was ultrasound, the following day CT scan, then Thursday I met my gynaecological oncologist. I had tumours occluding both ovaries and indications it had spread to other places. Just ten days later, I had surgery for what turned out to be stage 3 ovarian cancer. Surgery included a radical hysterectomy, partial bowel resection and my omentum removed.

I had no idea what the warning signs of this disease were. There is nowhere near enough education for women in regards to gynae cancer.

On February 1 (the beginning of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month), while sitting in hospital, I started a Facebook page to do something about it. I am sharing my story – the good, the bad and the icky. My page is called, “it’s all about me and my ovaries.”

I have friends who have started private groups to support them in their cancer journey, but I’m more a “shout from the rooftop” kinda person, so shouting I am!

I don’t want my friends, or their daughters, wives or any woman – to not know about cancer until it is too late. I share posts and generally anything I see about gynae cancer, just to plaster it all over the place. Today I even shared my new ‘do, as my hair started falling out from chemo. I’ve had three of 18 rounds now and I’ve shaved it all off! So I’m entertaining too, I think.

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