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‘I am slowly coming to terms with the fact my cancer is incurable’

As we wrap up Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month for 2019 it’s worth looking yourself in the mirror and asking just how aware are you? Do you know that ovarian cancer is the deadliest women’s cancer? That every day four women are diagnosed and three die?

That the survival rate is 46 per cent while the breast cancer survival rate is 91 per cent .Do you know that ovarian cancer is not detected by a pap smear? That there is no early detection test?

That the typical symptoms are bloated tummy, changed bowel habits, feeling full after eating little, lower back pain?

Or did you just buy a teal ribbon or a teal cup cake and think “oh that would never happen to me, I’ll buy another one next year.” That’s what I used to think… that it would never happen to me.

As an ABC broadcaster, I’d done several interviews about ovarian cancer and was even booked to MC a fundraiser for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in February 2017.

But in January the constipation and lower back pain I’d been suffering for months began to alarm me.

I’d stepped up my Pilates exercises, tried all my GPs recommendations and looked for answers with a naturopath who put me on a diet of psyllium husks-what a waste of precious time that was. No-one even hinted at ovarian cancer as a possibility.

Then whilst walking to the beach one summer morning, I had a sharp pain in my groin that caught me in my step. It passed quickly so I ignored it. When it happened again, I got scared and booked in to see my GP.

She sent me for a transvaginal ultrasound and a blood test.

I was busy at work and nearly missed the ultrasound. I didn’t have a follow up booked with my GP booked until the radiographer’s face said it all. Something was wrong.

On seeing the results my GP referred me to a gynae-oncologist.

Again, I was oblivious so did not take anyone with me to the appointment.

The oncologist booked me in for immediate surgery for which I had to give permission to be opened up from my pubic bone to my chest.

Yes, ovarian cancer cells can travel from your ovaries to your lungs. They are like little grains of sand that wonder all over the place in your tummy until they find a sneaky spot to hide and reproduce wily nily.

After five hours of what the surgeon described as a successful operation he was only able to give me a 50/50 chance of being alive in five years.

I am now in my second relapse and on my third round of chemotherapy. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that my cancer is incurable.

It is an unspeakable burden and one that is shared by the majority of women with ovarian cancer. It is terminal once it relapses.

I’ve been using my experience as a public speaker to advocate for myself and other women with the disease.

Today’s young women should not face the same hideous prognosis as women like me.

If we continue to raise our voices and wear our teal ribbons with conviction we should be able to see a future where today’s 30 year-olds have the same survival rate as women with breast cancer, a magnificent 91 per cent.

I envy women with that survival rate, I really do. But breast cancer women did not have it handed to them on platter.

Back in the it 1970s individual women stood up against conventional treatment for breast cancer – to cut off both breasts regardless of spread. These women rode the early wave of feminism to have breast cancer seen as an issue linked to the poor status of women in society.

As they fought for recognition and raised money for better treatment and more research, sufferers lived longer and were able to form an army of advocates that continues to lobby for pink today.

It’s time to do the same for teal.

But we are so few in number – 1600 diagnosed each year with 1000 dying – that we need you to help swell our ranks and forge an army of advocates to lift the survival rate of ovarian cancer.

Please pay attention to your body, put yourself first, and if you’re lucky enough to be alive after breast cancer, think about supporting us, and lobbying for more research funds for ovarian cancer.

Our young daughters’ ovaries should have the same survival rate as our boobs when it comes to cancer. Surely that’s a goal worth fighting for.

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