I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in June 2013. I’d had pain around my ovaries for a few months and went to the doctor in May. After an ultrasound it was concluded that I had dermoid cysts, which were thought to be benign, on both ovaries. I had a laparoscopy a few weeks later to remove the cysts. My gynaecologist explained to me after my laparoscopy that he didn’t remove any cysts as he found growths on and around my ovaries. He booked me in with a surgeon for the next morning and a week later I had a full hysterectomy.
The two days following my hysterectomy, my blood levels were so low I needed a blood transfusion. On the third day, it was discovered I had internal bleeding and that night I went back into theatre.
Three weeks after surgery, my biopsy results were finally in. My surgeon explained that my cancer was extremely rare. The tumours were extensive and had spread right up to my navel. The good news was the majority of it was classified as ‘low malignant potential’ but two of the tumours were malignant and as a result I would begin chemo two weeks later.
Everyone deals with traumatic experiences differently, and for me, I couldn’t walk this journey alone. I had amazing support from friends and family. From the day I came home from hospital until my last chemo four months later, I didn’t cook a meal. I was very open with my network of friends and family and text them regular updates of where I was at. I found texting so helpful – it’s easy for people to send an encouraging message through text when you’re not up to talking.
I had to take six weeks off work to recover from surgery and I was very keen to get back. My oncologist wasn’t convinced that returning to work during chemo, on a part time basis, was a good thing, but I was very determined. I am a teacher and had a beautiful year 6 class last year. I really wanted to walk this journey as positively as I could and share it with them. I therefore chose to walk my journey very publicly.
There were two things that consumed my thoughts when I first found out I was having chemo. Losing my hair was obviously devastating and secondly, I didn’t want my children to have to see their Mum go through this.
I had read about people taking control of their hair loss and getting their hair cut off. I decided that was the way to go. I bought a beautiful wig and got my hair cut really short after my first chemo. It was still so traumatic having even my very short hair falling out, but I think it was easier to cope with than having lovely long hair falling out.
My children were aged 7, 9 and 11 at the time. They all dealt with it differently and struggled in different ways. My youngest found it the most difficult and he became so upset that I couldn’t get him out the door in the mornings. I realized a couple of weeks into chemo that he really had no idea what chemo was. All he knew was that my hair was going to fall out and I was feeling unwell. I suggested to him that we write a story together about my journey. The next morning we wrote a story which he called ‘Little Miss Brave’. It went through my journey from surgery to the end of chemo celebration. It explained in very basic language what chemo is and had a page about Little Miss Brave sitting in a recliner chair drinking tea during chemo. The change in him was remarkable. The next morning was a chemo day. He happily went to school and before leaving asked if I would sit in the relaxing chair and drink tea today. He never looked back after that and I found the book so helpful to read with him over and over.
My other two, both girls, just needed time to talk and ask questions each night for the first few weeks, so each night I would ask them if there was anything they were wondering or worrying about that day. My oldest was such an amazing support. As time went on, I could see how much she was growing and maturing through the process. I decided to take her to chemo in the school holidays and am so glad I did.
It’s five months now since my last chemo and I am so grateful to be all clear. I am so happy to have hair and especially eyebrows and eyelashes. I think losing them was worse than losing the hair on my head. I feel healthy and strong. Though the journey was incredibly difficult, I have learnt so much and developed more inner strength than I would ever have had. I have started running (I was never at all sporty) and last week ran four kilometres for the first time. I’m planning to run ten kilometres at the Melbourne Marathon this October – not something I would ever have imagined myself doing!
(L to R: Chelsea, Julie and Luella).