Ovarian Cancer: Nuala’s story

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As part of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Nuala Doyle, Marketing and Engagement Assistant at the NHS Leadership Academy, shares her personal experience. 

My Mum was always my superhero. She checked for monsters under my bed, helped me with my maths homework and wiped the ice cream off my face when I managed to get it in my eyebrow. She put up with my stroppy teenage years, smiled through the ‘blue eyeshadow and glitter’ phase and reminisced over her own youth while I strutted my stuff in footless tights. Depending on your own experience, you always imagine that your Mum will be one step behind you for everything life will bring; not just the big events like weddings and kids, but for the little things like learning how to use a washing machine when you run out of socks or how to cook anything other than beans on toast.

Cut to one night in late May last year when my Mum, Fiona (but Fii for short), felt a lump on her neck when she pulled her duvet up to go to sleep. She got it checked immediately, thinking she had developed lymphoma, but was confident she’d caught it early enough and was hopeful. Unfortunately, neither she nor the doctors had looked deeper in to her back pain or recent weight loss. She had always had a bad back, due to 15 years of nursing, which regularly flared up. She had also torn the cartilage in both hips which meant she couldn’t continue with her five-day-a-week gym routine and had lost a lot of muscle mass. When she went for her scan, she was told that the lump in her neck was actually secondaries in the lymph nodes that had also spread to her liver and bowel. She had a mass in her ovaries the size of an orange which had been quietly growing for about 18 months. Fii bravely fought her way through 18 weeks of intense chemo therapy, and despite an initial good response, the cancer was too aggressive, and on 14 November we were told she had weeks or months left to live as the cancer had spread further to her lungs and spine. Sadly things went downhill much quicker than expected and she passed away 11 days later at home in bed surrounded by our family, her six best friends and our dog Dougie.

Cancer. A word so small it takes less than a second to say, but so powerful it can change your whole life. It can rob you of time, your well-earned future experiences, memories you’ve waited your whole life to make and all you’ve ever dreamed of seeing or doing.

It’s a cruel and cold hearted disease that lurks in the shadows and attacks whoever, wherever and whenever it chooses. We’ve all seen the Cancer Research adverts on the telly and put a few pounds in the tin on the Macmillan coffee morning. We’ve laughed and cried at the Stand Up to Cancer shows and may have even put one foot in front of the other enough times to complete a marathon supporting those affected by it. Cancer is around us all the time, but it’s something we never dream will affect us or our family, even though statistically one in two of us will develop the disease at one point.

Ovarian cancer is known as the ‘silent killer’ as it doesn’t always show symptoms in the early stages, and when it does they can easily be mistaken for something else. Feeling bloated most days for three weeks or more is a common sign of ovarian cancer, but other symptoms include:

  • Feeling full quickly or loss of appetite
  • Pelvic or stomach pain
  • Needing to wee urgently or more frequently than normal
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Extreme fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • Unexplained weight loss

Before June 2016 I’d never paid attention to Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, or any other cancer awareness month for that matter – except Movember, which was more to do with the Ned Flanders inspired moustaches that swept the nation. But my Mum made us promise to raise awareness of the symptoms so that hopefully others wouldn’t be as unlucky. That’s why I’m sharing the Target Ovarian Cancer’s ‘Start Making Noise’ campaign. The current five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 46 per cent. If diagnosed at the earliest stage, up to 90 per cent of women would survive five years or more. So go and make some noise; tell your Mum, your sisters, your aunties, girlfriends, wives and friends about ovarian cancer, tell your GP if you’ve noticed any of these symptoms. Make some noise, it could save a life.

Find out more about Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

26 thoughts on “Ovarian Cancer: Nuala’s story

  1. I certainly will #makesomenoise
    very touching and heightens valuable awareness Nuala
    Good work
    Helen C

  2. Thank you Nuala. By telling your story you may have saved the lives of several women today and through them many more lives and through those lives saved you will have saved others’ lives and lengthened the lives of others and made the lives of countless people connected to those safer, happier, longer and healthier .
    WELL DONE and THANK YOU AGAIN NUALA for MAKING A NOISE

  3. What a brave thing to do Nuala. Your Mum would be so proud of you. Thank you for sharing your story, I will certainly spread the word. Xx

  4. Sharing your own personal story will, I am sure, encourage lots of people to Make Some Noise. I will be supporting this campaign. Thank you Nuala
    AnnMaria

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. Beautifully written, you’re credit to your family and your mum will be so proud.

  6. Wow Nuala what a powerful and moving story which many people can relate to.
    Thankyou so much for sharing your personal experience and valuable signs to look for.
    Bring on the noise!! ????

  7. So brave of you to share your story and your mum’s legacy lives on through you! Let’s all make some noise

  8. Lovely Nuala, thank you for sharing this. You’ve turned your heartbreak into something positive by raising awareness!
    You’re an inspiration! In keeping your promise to your mum, I’m sure she would be very proud of you. You are a beautiful, strong and inspiring young lady – keep “making some noise!!!”
    Hugs and love always … Toni xxxx

  9. You are amazing Nuala for shouting out loud about ovarian cancer! Let’s all make as much noise as we can!!

  10. How proud your mum would be of you Nuala. I knew her when she was young. I have known several women who have also lost their lives to this silent killer, so support all efforts to bring early screening for all women.

  11. Nuala, you have written so beautifully and sensitively about your mum. Whilst recalling her loving spirit and generous merits, you have also helped to educate the thousands of people who read the article. That’s a great achievement.
    Your family are so very proud of you.
    Thank you and well done!

  12. Thank you Nuala for sharing!!! A lot of people will hear your story! Lives will be saved as a result. Your Mum will be so proud of you.

  13. What a moving story, Nuala..and by sharing it you will have saved many lives and heightened awareness of this devastating disease. Your mum will be so incredibly proud of you. Xxxxxxxx

  14. So sorry for your loss Nuala. Your mum would be so proud of you for sharing your story and helping others around you, not just in the spotting the signs for an earlier diagnosis, but also in telling the story of life with ovarian cancer for all who are touched by it. Much love. Marie Kennedy.xx

  15. What a heartfelt story well done Nuala
    I imagine your mum would be so proud of you for sharing your experience
    Brave girl xx

  16. Nuala nothing touches people in quite the same way as a personal story, thank you for your honesty. I know Fiona would be so proud of you. You have certainly raised my awareness.

  17. Nu Nu.

    Beautifully written – by a beautiful daughter of our beautiful Fi.

    Steve, Jude, Ben and Bella.

  18. I remember your mum and your family we were neighbours for many years stay strong and well done in telling and sharing with us your experience , I was very sad to learn if your mums passing , hugs to you and your family ❤

  19. So impressed with this Nuala – I know your Dad well and have met your Mum on various occasions over the years – a lovely lady in every respect – you are a very prave young lady and I wish all your family all the best xx

  20. Oh Nuala I am so sad to hear of the death of your lovely mum. Fiona was a joy to be around and I have fond memories of catching up over a cup of hot water and lemon sitting in your parents kitchen. Both your parents had such love. When I think of your mum I see her in her garden enjoying the warmth of the sun whilst doing a spot of weeding. Sending you all a hug and know my thoughts are with you.