My mum was diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer at the age of 50, 3 months before we were due to go on a family holiday to Florida. My mother said to the doctor “cut me open and take out what you can so I can get on with my life, I’m going on holiday in 3 months”, and that’s exactly what the surgeon done, removing tumours from both ovaries and leaving a tiny nodule on her liver. Unfortunately my mum didn’t make the holiday due to having to have urgent treatment and when we returned she was waiting for us with my dad wearing a huge hat- her hair had started to fall out.
On the way back to my parents that day I stopped off and purchased some hair clippers and as we sat in the kitchen shaving her head my younger brothers friend walked in, said hello to my mum and me and carried on like it was the most normal thing to be doing. My sister and I later went with my mum to try on wigs, arranged through Macmillan at our local hospital. My mum picked out 2 different styles, although I only remember her wearing them once, she opted for headscarfs which she found more comfortable.
It was this holiday that got my mum the diagnosis when she did. She had been dieting ready for the holiday and although she had lost weight her stomach was still bloated. After much nagging she went to our family GP and was seen by a relief nurse who asked my mum if they had ever tested her CA125 levels by way of a blood test. My mum had been to the doctors on a number of occasions over the previous couple of years and her complaints/symptoms were put down to the menopause.
CA stands for Cancer Antigen. CA125 is a protein that is a so-called tumour marker or bio marker, which is a substance that is found in greater concentration in tumour cells of the body, in particular in ovarian cancer cells. The normal value of CA125 is between 0 and 35 units/ml. When my mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer her levels were in the thousands.
Ovarian Cancer is known as the “silent killer” as the symptoms are often mistaken for the menopause, as with my mum for some time. If Ovarian Cancer is detected at an early stage (when the cancer remains confined to the ovary) the 5 year survival is up to 90%. However, only 15% of cases are diagnosed before it has spread.
My mum was truely the strongest woman I have ever known and kicked Cancers butt that first time. She endured numerous rounds of chemo along with a new trial drug to help reduce the risk of the cancer returning. I had not long moved 150 miles away to start my chosen career in the Police but would make the journey down every few weeks and we would all take it in turns to sit with my mum during her 5/6 hours of treatment – not once did my mum sit there and feel sorry for herself, she was always wearing the biggest smile and one of her much preferred headscarfs.
At one appointment a consultant mentioned that my mum was still fairly young to have ovarian cancer. My mum explained that a number of relatives on her side of the family had died of ovarian cancer and some breast cancer. My mum would trace her family history as a hobby – I spent many days in my childhood walking round graveyards all over the south of England looking for family relative names on gravestones (I did say relatively normal family!).
The nurse mentioned, which was then, a relatively new genetic test for BRCA1 and BRCA2 – human genes that produce tumour suppressor proteins which help repair damaged DNA and therefore play a role in ensuring the stability of the cell’s genetic material. When either of these genes is mutated, or altered, such that it’s protein product either is not made or does not function correctly, DNA damage may not be repaired properly and as a result more likely to develop additional alterations that can lead to cancer.