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A Warning To Anyone Who Has Been “Feeling Unwell” For A While: Cheryl’s Story
[This is a guest post from Cheryl Anderton who is a member of our Customer Support team. She was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer in 2013. She would like to share her story with you and help to spread the word about the importance of women’s health.]
This story is about me however I do need to thank Daniels Healthcare for the support and compassion given to me and my family before and during my absence, and subsequently since my return to work – after a 7 mth break and being pumped with chemicals I had forgotten more than I remembered and for letting me share my story.
How do you tell your four young children that Mum has Stage Four cancer and it has spread?
This was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. Luckily my husband was very supportive and was there for me and the children. Now, I am telling my story in the hope that others will read and learn from my experience.
It all started after a visit to my local GP – I’d been feeling unwell for quite some time (having trouble eating, sleeping and feeling very bloated) I was taking tablets for what I thought was trapped wind/indigestion. Blood samples were taken for analysis.
Initially I was not too concerned. I was going on holiday so they took my mobile number and said they would let me know the results the following Friday.
They actually called me on the Wednesday – that’s when I realised something was seriously wrong.
The GP called me again on the Friday to let me know that an appointment would be made for me at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, and that the appointment details would be waiting for me by the time I got home, that’s when the panic set in.
At the Churchill, I saw a specialist in the oncology department who examined me and requested a CT Scan among other tests. One of which is a blood test where they check CA125 level, this is usually an indication for showing if a certain chemical is present. Normal = below 30: mine was way up at over 600! I was told that yes, I had cancer.
A biopsy followed to establish what stage I was at – this was done quickly and the results were back within the week.
I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer with a secondary cancer within my stomach.
Both my husband and I were absolutely devastated – we have four children whom I wanted to see grow up. We were left with the task of telling them that their mum had cancer. They asked lots of questions which we answered honestly to the best of our ability. As time went on however, the strain did start to show, especially as the treatment got more and more intense.
We were introduced to a specialist oncology nurse who sat and chatted, asking questions all about us (as people), our children and basic family background She explained some of the forthcoming treatment to us, gave us some information sheets, and managed to put our minds at ease a little. She would be at the end of a telephone if we needed any advice or just to talk – that meant a lot.
After a further appointment with the oncology specialist it was decided that I needed to start with 6 sessions of chemotherapy in order to get this cancer under control. My first session was on 16th October 2013 (our 31st Wedding Anniversary).
With great trepidation I sat down and awaited the inevitable needle.
Each chemo session took about seven hours from start to finish. I felt quite good after the first session but this was to be very short lived. I now know what people mean by “Chemo Brain”. I was lifeless, had no energy and had the concentration level of a “gnat”.
After 3 sessions of chemo I had another CT scan which revealed that the chemo was doing its job and the tumours had shrunk sufficiently for surgery
My operation was scheduled for the 2nd January, 2014.
My surgeon’s exact words to me at this time were, “go and enjoy Christmas with your family – don’t worry about anything: leave that to me.” Easier said than done!
I entered the hospital at 7.00 a.m. on 2nd January 2014 not really too sure what to expect. The surgical team came and introduced themselves to me and after numerous checks and processes, it was time to go to theatre. My husband was advised that the op could take up to 10 hrs and to go home and rest!
After 8.5 hrs He received a telephone call letting him know I was out of surgery and that he could come back and see me, which he obviously did along with the children.
The surgeons explained exactly what had been done – they had removed both my ovaries, I’d had a full hysterectomy, they removed my appendix and part of my stomach had to be pulled up and placed under my ribcage, as the cancer had been spreading there.
My husband couldn’t praise the surgical and nursing team enough and thought they did an absolutely fantastic job. I don’t really remember them being there – I just have vague memories of speaking to them. I was out of bed and sitting up in the chair (I use the term sitting quite loosely – it was more like lounging) the next morning and was up on the ward by lunchtime. My stay there was to last 8 days.
I was home on the day of my son’s 18th birthday – two reasons to celebrate.
After the surgery, chemo was to resume -– 3 more sessions were needed to ensure everything had gone. Following various other appointments with the Oncology specialist I was advised that my CA125 level had reduced significantly and was now 17.
I was finally given the long awaited news that I was in remission on 30th April 2014.
I was keen to get back to work so on 1st May 2014 that is exactly what I did. My aftercare is three monthly visits for check ups – hopefully reducing over time as all goes well.
This experience has been hard on everyone – me, my husband and our surrounding families along with friends and work colleagues. I cannot thank the surgical team, the oncology team and all my friends and family for getting me to where I am today.
My message to anyone who feels unwell and is really unsure as to what the problem may be: go to your GP and get yourself checked.
If you have symptoms similar to mine it may well be that it’s nothing but for the sake of a blood test it’s well worth it. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are usually very vague until the cancer is quite advanced: the earlier you can get it treated the better.
There needs to be a whole lot more awareness about ovarian cancer and woman should be shown exactly how important female wellness is. Here are some organisations that can be very helpful if you are interested in finding out more:
A note from Dee:
As the matriarch figure (& Manager) of the Daniels Customer Support & Marketing team I am used to being able to fix things, usually by suggesting this or that.
This was one of those occasions when I (along with the team) were left feeling absolutely helpless – this was something I (we) could not fix.
For some in the team it brought back memories of family members past and for some, family members currently suffering – for us all we felt so deeply helpless. We’re quite a close strong team and one of us was hurting and there was nothing we could do about it.
We love Cheryl and admire how she handled her illness – and now we love her for being back with us, her smile makes us all smile and reminds us that some things in life are more important than most of the everyday issues which consume us.