Lindy Waldron of East Sussex, England is a former community nurse. Like many women – and despite being a nurse – Lindy ignored her symptoms for months before visiting her GP. After a convoluted referral path she was finally diagnosed with the most advanced stage of ovarian cancer.
“I remember lying in the bath and looking with disgust at my fat stomach. It didn’t occur to me that it might have been caused by anything other than biscuits. At work I did my best to conceal it under my nursing uniform, but I still looked pregnant. I was 54.
There was a lot going on in my personal and professional life. My brother and father both died from cancer within three months of each other. I continued working throughout, and then my sister unexpectedly left the country for a new life in Australia. As the months went on I felt tired and emotional. Constipation was a problem but I assumed it was due to stress, and I had lower back pain which, as a nurse, was nothing new. One day I had to walk up a fairly steep incline and felt so breathless and dizzy at the top that I had to sit down. I felt bloated and was eating less but there was no weight loss.
As a nurse, looking back, these symptoms should have alerted me that something was wrong but I ignored them. At the time, we were all in shock and trying to come to terms with everything that had happened. Our way of coping was to keep busy. For me to be ill was out of the question.
Eventually, I found my work with terminally ill patients and their carers too difficult. I took unpaid leave, then sick leave and was referred to a bereavement counsellor. I was offered anti-depressants by my GP and by Occupational Health, which I refused. I didn’t think it relevant to mention any of my other symptoms at that time, and nobody asked. The consultations never progressed beyond me bursting into tears. Occupational Health was determined to get me back to work, but I was still depressed so they found me a non-clinical post. I felt pressurised and unsupported and it seemed easier just to hand in my notice. I felt my manager was relieved. Of course it was a huge error of judgement. I had no idea I was physically ill. Financially it was a disaster. I had no sick pay and no job for over two years.
During all this I began to experience right-sided abdominal pain, which became persistent and eventually kept me awake at night. Always in the same place and unlike any other pain I had experienced. Very worried and convinced that I had bowel cancer, I visited my GP.
She felt my abdomen and couldn’t detect anything abnormal. Her diagnosis was irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but seeing the worried look on my face she agreed to refer me to a gastroenterologist. He also examined me abdominally and recorded “no obvious mass”. I then had a colonoscopy to rule out colitis. The procedure was difficult and painful and although the results were normal, my ovary on the right side was seen to be protruding against the intestine.
A week later I had a trans-vaginal ultrasound (TVU). During the scan I realised that something was very wrong. The sonographer said nothing, but afterwards she ran to find the consultant with the results. I remember sitting alone in the car in a complete state of shock and then having to drive home. The consultant rang me later with the bad news. I had a large irregular complex mass behind the uterus and extending to both sides of the pelvis. I was referred urgently to a gynaecologist. When I rang my GP to tell her I might have cancer, she was lost for words.
A good friend came to sit with me at home that afternoon. At a loss to know what to do or say, she brought cream cakes! I found myself in a surreal situation – the first of many – and from that moment my life changed.
I had surgery to remove my uterus, ovaries, omentum (an apron which covers the intestines and stomach) and pelvic lymph nodes. A biopsy was taken of my spleen during surgery and a general surgeon was on hand to perform a splenectomy when the results were found to be positive.
Because the cancer had spread to another organ it was classified as Stage IV, giving a very poor prognosis, but my surgeon was always confident that he had removed everything and he remains optimistic to this day. I have found his positive attitude an extremely helpful aid to recovery.
Six weeks later I began a chemotherapy regime of taxol and carboplatin. The side effects were tolerable and the only long-term damage has been peripheral neuropathy. My toes are still slightly numb. Essentially I feel well now, although inclined to pick up any infection and take longer to fight it off. I have occasional bowel problems and pain, which is to be expected, but I live a full and active life and consider myself to be very, very fortunate.
I now work with Target Ovarian Cancer to raise awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. I am ‘the face’ of their symptoms leaflets, have campaigned at Parliament and been in the media, to use every opportunity I can to make sure that women are aware of the symptoms and visit their GP. Early diagnosis saves lives, so every bit of awareness helps.”