45 year old Annabel was working full time as a practice nurse. She felt well but tired, and like many women her age put being tired down to a busy life.
Annabel remembers coming home one night after work on a Friday. She felt really tired and started shivering.
I just thought I had caught a bug from the work environment"
However, over the weekend she continued to feel tired and bloated and had no appetite.
By the time Monday arrived, Annabel’s temperature was extremely high, so she decided to see the GP at work. She felt unwell, with a bloated stomach, exhausted and needed to use the bathroom more frequently.
“The GP thought it could be a urinary tract infection and also took pathology and she placed me on antibiotics. I know the symptoms of a UTI and I didn’t really feel that I had many of those symptoms,” she says.
However, the doctor did an on-the-spot urine test and it came back “slightly positive”. She was prescribed antibiotics.
Annabel’s condition did not improve at all. The next day, she returned to the doctor and underwent a blood test and an ultrasound.
While the blood test was negative, the ultrasound showed she had a large amount of fluid in her abdominal cavity. She needed to go to hospital immediately to have it drained.
After 10 hours waiting in emergency, Annabel finally had a CT scan. Half an hour later she was admitted to a cubicle was told there was a suspicious area on the CT scan.
“The Doctor told me that he felt I had the right to know what was suspected” – on her own, late at night in a shared emergency cubicle, Annabel was told to prepare for the worst and that the area was suspected cancer and she would be admitted to oncology in the morning. Her parents were called and came in immediately at midnight.
Annabel was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer.
“I was completely devastated and shocked. I had always looked after my health - being a nurse health promotion was important. I wondered what I had done wrong. I experienced a massive loss. One minute, I was at work, the next I was told I couldn’t work while receiving chemo. I had to move out of my rented flat as I couldn’t afford rent. I had to give up my voluntary position with children and I lost all of my independence. I felt very alone.”
“My major support was my parents - I moved back with them and they provided everything I needed. My work was fantastic - they have held my job and supported throughout.”
Seven months after her first diagnosis, Annabel has been through six cycles of chemotherapy and a hysterectomy, as well as part of her stomach removed.
Now, her prognosis is "quite good". "I have responded incredibly well to the chemo." Annabel has not been able to return back to work since her diagnoses, which has put a strain on her “financially and emotionally.”
Annabel’s advice to other women is to...
Go to your GP – find one who listens to you. It is better to get checked the sooner the better and have cancer ruled out. You may think you don't have time but believe me you suddenly have lots of time when you are diagnosed."