Adrienne Morris - Ovarian Cancer
I am a New Zealander by birth, but I have lived in UK for nearly 19 years, with my British husband, and loved it. (He died from MRSA in 2004, after a heart operation.) I was not intending to come back to NZ, as England had become my home, but I had recurrent ovarian cancer in March 2006.
I had ovarian cancer originally in 1996, in England, very suddenly – there were basically no symptoms until last minute. They thought it might only be a cyst, and decided to operate immediately – that same day! By that evening I had had a total hysterectomy, and a colostomy, and within 7 days they knew that it was full blown ovarian cancer. I started on chemotherapy, which should have taken 5 months, but it knocked me very badly, and overall it took nearly 7 months. There weren’t all the steroids that we have today, so nausea and sickness were quite a problem.
But I got over it, and was on 3-monthly check-ups for 3 years, then 6-monthly, then yearly. I was lucky that a year after the original surgery they were able to reverse the colostomy, but I did have another operation for a hernia 2 years later, which had developed from the colostomy site. But after that, everything was clear and in fact I have been extremely healthy for nearly 10 years. Then it suddenly returned in March 2006, literally within 6 weeks of being given the “all-clear”. I had quite a large tumour which was attached to the psoas muscle, a large muscle which controls leg movement, and sitting up and down etc, and the hospital would not operate to remove it – they said it was too big and too dangerous where it was (it wasn't in a "normal gynae area" and it was too "involved" with the muscle). So I had to have chemo for about 4 months and if that shrank the tumour to at least 50%, they would consider surgery.
It didn't - even after two different lots of chemo, which made me extremely ill. In September 2006 I was told that they could only keep giving me chemo - they don't seem to think about the dreadful effects that has, just "give them more chemo" - and on pressing the consultant was told that I had 18 months, maybe only 12, to live. When asked if they could try to remove the tumour, as a last resort, if nothing else, he said he did not think surgery would ever be an option. I asked what would happen, and he said the tumour would eventually spread, attach itself to other organs, particularly the bowel, and it would become strangulated, and eating and drinking would become a problem. It would probably be a “lingering thing”, not quick. I had no choice but to return to NZ - but I had my own business which I had to close, "sell" everything I owned (more like "gave away" really) because I would only have a "spare bedroom" to live in for what time was left to me. I came with my dog, 3 suitcases, and 8 boxes of possessions - mainly my computer, some clothes and a few very precious things.
It was all extremely traumatic. I did not want to leave all my friends. Many of them offered to help look after me when I became very ill, but it wasn’t fair to expect that. I still had to see an oncologist in Jan 07, after arriving here in Dec 06, and she was very efficient and said they would have to put my case to the surgeons. I told her it was very unlikely that they would touch it, as Leeds, the largest teaching hospital in Europe, wouldn't. The surgeon's FIRST response was "We have to get this thing out! Now!" I was then in an awful position because I didn't know if the UK was right, and I should just leave it, or whether the NZ surgeon knew what he was about and could "save my life". I emailed to Leeds to explain what had happened; they came back with all sorts of excuses, and said things like "your situation has changed and maybe it was now suitable for surgery" – this was nonsense - it had only changed in that the tumour was now 25% bigger and even more dangerous!
The NZ oncologist said the surgeon was excellent and would not say he could do it if he couldn't, and to go with it - "he can save your life". And he did!! He operated last April 16th (2007); it all went perfectly well, no problems, no side-effects, and he said it wasn't even technically difficult. He could not understand why Leeds had not done it a year before. By the time he operated, it was already starting to attach itself to other organs, and I was more than 6 months along the road from when I was given 12-18 months, so Leeds was right in that prediction. I had to have another full course of chemo again after surgery, which affected me quite badly, but I am now quite fit and well, my "tumour marker" is now "five" - basically the cancer is non-existent - I am classed as "cancer-free".
My latest scan "looks incredibly normal" and there is no sign of any abnormality near the psoas muscle and no re-growth of the tumour. It is so clear, that they are of the opinion that it may not come back again for possibly a long time. I know it will, sometime, but for the moment, it seems to have gone.