Ovarian cancer 13 September 2013 | Posted by Dr Duncan Jefferson Share by email Page shared successfully Share again? An error has occurred on the server is currently unable to send your message. Please try again later. Please try again Your name * Please enter your name Your email address * Please enter your email Your email is invalid Friend's email address * Please enter your friend's email Your friend's email is invalid Add a message Share Cancel Tweet Buffer I recently attended the funeral of a woman who had died far too young, and as I looked around the Church I saw so many young people who had rarely come this close to death during the course of their lives. It was an amazing event, mainly because of the loving, happy attitude of her family who set the whole tone of the event: and when we went outside, there were white balloons for everyone to hold onto and then release together in one symbolic sign of “letting go”. Which brings me to Ros*: a lady whom I had cared for many years ago and who had also succumbed to the same disease as this current young woman - Ovarian cancer. This is Ros’s story and how it has left a great legacy in my life and the lives of others. There aren’t many patients who walk into a doctor’s surgery and place a voice recorder on your desk as ask if it’s OK to record the consultation, and then follow that up with taking out a clipboard and saying “can I ask you some questions too?” All of this was done with a wonderful, smiling face that held just the hint of a cheeky grin! I was fascinated by her “intro” and agreed to the terms of her request. Once she had gone through her check-list of things that she needed out of our doctor/patient relationship, she then told me that I was the fifth doctor she had approached in such a way, and the first to have passed her “test”! At this point I wasn’t sure whether to puff out my chest or show her the door. But that was the start of a two-year interaction that finally ended with me joining a crowd of people who were, coincidently, holding white balloons outside of a Church following her funeral service. Ros had ovarian cancer, and by the time it had been detected - as is often the case - - it had spread beyond her ovaries and the chances of survival were thus dramatically reduced. But that wasn’t the “end” for her, but the beginning of her greatest challenge as she fought tooth and nail to live as long as she could so that her two young daughters could grow a little older and be able to cope with life without their Mum. What Ros showed and shared was not grim determination, but a joyful embrace of life - a life much shorter than she anticipated, but nevertheless, a full and loving life. Like everyone who has cancer, life changes because you have to spend so much time attending doctors, having chemo or being measured up for radiotherapy. She lost her hair, but made it a feature of her “new persona” and made baldness a fashion statement rather than something to be frightened of. She researched alternative treatments and scared me rigid with some of her more outlandish thoughts about them, but she was grasping for life and I respected her for that. Watching someone whom you have come to admire, respect and laugh with, slowly lose the battle to an insidious disease can be a sad time but that was one battle that Ros refused to lose. She filled her life with colour, laughter and terrible jokes - because she was determined that her dear daughters remembered her shortened life with happy memories and not as a slow decline into oblivion. Ovarian cancer is not just one cancer but an overall description of the various types of malignant change that can affect the ovaries. Unfortunately, because the ovaries sit low down in the female pelvis, any disease that affects them such as cysts or tumours, can often not be noticed physically for quite some time. And screening for ovarian cancer is far from perfect at this stage. For those whom we would consider to be at high risk - those with Mums who have had ovarian cancer in particular - then combined screening with a blood test known as CA 125 plus trans-vaginal ultrasound examination of the ovaries gives the best that science has to offer so far. When found early, treatment of the disease results in excellent outcomes, but unfortunately many women are unaware of the problem until the cancer has spread to other organs well away from the ovary. The four most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include : • Abdominal or pelvic pain • Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating • Needing to urinate often or urgently • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly The biggest aid we have presently is a desire to increase awareness - hence the national Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in February each year - to promote early detection and fund ongoing research into how best screen for, and then treat this insidious disease. When we said “goodbye” to Ros, I went outside the Church to join the people holding those white balloons, and one was offered to me. I was mildly rebuked for refusing to take one: but what I didn’t tell the person who had handed it to me was that I wasn’t ready to “let go” of Ros and all that she had taught me during the course of her illness. I suppose that over the years since that time, when I have shared her story with families who find themselves in a similar position, each one of those occasions has been a “little letting go” for me, and each time her story has given others strength and inspiration too. *Ros is not her real name. Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. More articles here. For more information on health care and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au. The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.