Most women feel incredibly shocked and upset when they are told they have ovarian cancer. It is very natural to feel flooded with strong thoughts and emotions at this time.
Most women say they feel frightened, angry, anxious, guilty, confused and upset. “Why me?” is a common thought for many women. Others have a deep sense of loneliness and/or sadness. Your feelings may change from day to day or even hour to hour. You are likely to feel very unsettled and upset until you find a way to process the news. You may also have concerns for those close to you and their response.
It may reassure you to know there is no right or wrong way to feel or respond during this time. But after many years of talking to women with ovarian cancer, and those close to them, we know there are some useful things you can do soon after your diagnosis to help you feel a little less overwhelmed. Some people can feel very alone during this time. The important thing is to know where you can get information and support. By knowing about these things, you and those close to you will be better able to comfort each other during challenging times.
Living with ovarian cancer: Impact of Diagnosis
Telling others about your cancer diagnosis can bring up emotions for everyone. Those close to you are likely to want to support you in any way they can. However, not everyone may respond in a way you might expect. So it is important you share only the information you feel comfortable with people knowing. You may tell close friends much more than you tell some family members or your work colleagues. This is okay and it is your choice. Not everyone needs to know everything.
Other people’s concern and support is wonderful, but the constant phone calls and visits can sometimes be exhausting. Let people know when you are too tired or upset to talk. Most people will understand and won’t feel hurt by this. Ask family and friends to help you with this process. Ask someone you trust to take on the role of ‘information provider’ or “Visitor organiser’. These people can be the main contacts for organising a ‘visitors roster’ or doing regular email, text, Facebook message updates to keep most people informed about how you are doing.
What do I do next?
It is important to share your feelings and build a good support network around you. Talking to others about your feelings can help to ease anxiety. Ovarian cancer is too big to live with by yourself. Sharing your feelings with those closest to you may help lighten your load. Their love and support will usually be an important part of your healing process. Don’t be afraid to lean on them during this difficult time and accept any offers of help.
Some women find it easy to talk about how they are feeling. Others find this more challenging. It is important to talk to people you feel comfortable with and only when you feel ready. If you are able to be honest about how you feel, it can help others understand how to best help you. No one person can offer everything you need. So it can often be helpful to talk to someone outside your immediate support circle. They may give you a different perspective and help you work out practical ways of coping.
I was blessed; people came out of the woodwork wanting to help. It was so lovely and helped me so much."
Good people to talk to might include:
- Your family GP
- Your specialist doctors (oncologist, surgeon)
- A cancer (oncology) nurse
- Other healthcare professionals (physiotherapist, dietitian, Social worker, psychologist or counsellor)
- Your family minister, priest or other spiritual adviser
- Members of a cancer support group
Questions to ask your Healthcare Team
You may find the following list of questions helpful when thinking about what to ask your doctor about your treatment for ovarian cancer.
General treatment questions
- What stage of disease do I have?
- Has my cancer spread to other parts of my body? If so, how far?
- What type of treatment is available, what do you recommend and why?
- Are there any clinical trials suitable for me?
- What written information can you give me about these treatments?
- Will my treatment be given by a doctor who specialises in ovarian cancer?
- Can you arrange for me to have a second opinion?
- Am I eligible to have genetic testing?
- Is my surgery being performed by a gynaecological oncologist?
- What can I expect after the operation?
- Will I have a lot of pain with the operation? If so, is it easy to control the pain?
- Will the treatment affect my sexual feelings or relationship?
- How long will I need to take off work?
- When will I be able to drive?
- Will surgery affect my ability to have children? If so, can I preserve my fertility or eggs?
- How soon after surgery will I start chemotherapy?
- Will I have to stay in hospital for chemotherapy or will I be an outpatient?
- Which drugs will I have?
- How will the chemotherapy be given?
- What are the short-term and long-term side effects of this chemotherapy?
- Can I talk to a gynaecology oncology nurse?
Optimal Care Pathway
Access the Department of Health’s ovarian cancer care pathway which provides you with consistent, safe, and evidence-based practices to all women undergoing treatment. It ensures your treatment and support are of the highest quality possible.
You can refer to this pathway to learn about the optimum standards of care at each stage of ovarian cancer diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. While treatment for women may vary, the expected standards of care should not differ whether treatment is provided in the public or private service.