Sara Ingram - Ovarian Cancer
I was 41 years old when I was diagnosed with Stage 3c Ovarian Cancer. There is no history of it in my family, and I do not have a BRCA genetic mutation - it was just bad luck.
I was a busy single mum and teacher. For years I blamed my symptoms on my lifestyle and diet.
I was persistently bloated, needed to urinate frequently, had bowel issues and I was always tired.
I tried everything to remedy these symptoms, walking and exercising for fitness, eating a healthy and well balanced diet, trying to remove causes such as sugar, gluten, wheat, and carbohydrates but nothing worked. I constantly blamed myself for my symptoms. It took one doctor after telling many doctors the same thing, to see my red flags and send me for an ultrasound. The ultrasound showed a mass on my right ovary. CA125 blood tests, biopsies, and a CT scan confirmed that I had ovarian cancer.
There are NO screening tools for ovarian cancer.
By the time I was diagnosed my cancer had spread to lymph nodes in my abdomen and around the tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers most of the organs. This was classed as stage 3C making my prognosis quite bleak. For women diagnosed with late stage Ovarian cancer in New Zealand 5 year survival rate is around 37%. I was told this statistic at diagnosis in October 2017 and trust me when I say, no one wants to hear their life expectancy s so short. I prepared my will, wrote letters to my children and had difficult conversations with my family members.
My treatment consisted of 3 rounds of a combined chemotherapy to try to shrink my tumours, then debulking surgery to remove what the surgeon could, this is a complete hysterectomy, removal of the omentum and an abdominal wash. My surgery was followed by another 3 rounds of gruelling chemotherapy. I lost all my hair and still suffer from all of the side effects that chemo can produce such as memory loss, confusion, and aches in my limbs, as well as early menopause and residual feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety.
I am one of the lucky few. Many of the women I have met and come to know through ovarian cancer support groups and online forums have died.
Fortunately for me my treatment has been a success and I am now considered NED, which stands for No Evidence of Disease. I will continue to be monitored every 4 months, having blood tests and visiting oncology, with the expectation that my cancer will most likely return. That thought is hard and creates a cycle of stress as appointments near.
They call Ovarian Cancer the 'SILENT KILLER', but it's NOT silent at all. It is there, we are just not listening carefully enough, because we are busy mums, and wives, colleagues and friends. We always put ourselves last and our symptoms down to age, hormones and lifestyle, taking care of everyone else first.
Most women diagnosed with Ovarian cancer die. We need to change this and get the message out that early diagnosis is the key to survival.
Over 300 cases are diagnosed each year in New Zealand, with one woman dying every 48 hours from Ovarian cancer. When we compare the 5 year survival rate of 37% to breast caner's 90% it is clear that funding and awareness are the key to improving these outcomes.
I'd like to thank you for your generosity today with donations and this exciting silent auction - knowing that your support will make a difference. I'd also like to compel you to be aware of the signs and symptoms for yourself and your loved ones and hope that together we can make a difference in improving outcomes for women diagnosed with gynaecological cancers in New Zealand.