ovarian cancer

Menopause in your 30s

You don’t expect to go through the menopause in your 30s. No, you expect to have at least a decade or so before you even need to think about it. Yet that’s exactly what happened to me this year….

In January when I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer I was told that my chemotherapy, which started in the following few weeks, would ‘likely’ cause an early menopause and infertility.

There was brief discussion around harvesting eggs followed by the news that this wasn’t really a sensible option for me…phrases like ‘not enough time’ and ‘we need to start treatment asap’ filled the room and it became clear that parenthood was no longer an option.

Despite what many people think, this wasn’t completely devastating. Would I have liked kids? Yes of course!…but, let’s be honest, I had more important things to worry about! Reflecting now, almost 11 months later, and I’m still not upset by chemotherapy (and surgery) inducing my early infertility. I mean it takes all the ifs, buts and maybes women (and couple face) off of the agenda. I know I can’t have children and so also know I can focus my attention on other things to do with my time – something I’m sure avid readers will agree I’ve been doing plenty off…

But anyway, I digress from the point, this post is meant to be about early menopause, and that’s more than just infertility…(which, incidentally, I’ve written about in a previous post)…

As predicted, chemotherapy did start to put me through the menopause (hence the associated infertility I mention) and with it the forgetfulness, hot flushes, mood swings and night sweats we’ve all heard of. At first it wasn’t that bad. I mean I was kind of distracted by chemotherapy side affects anyway so it was hard to distinguish them from one another…

The side affects after my surgery was another story…

I remember the surgeon warning my husband before surgery that a hysterectomy would mean I would wake up with no hormones. No more going through the menapause with gentle ease (even if a few decades early). No, now I’d wake from theatre slap bang in the middle of it and all whilst recovering from massive surgery. Oh joy – lucky me! The surgeon joked to my husband that I’d be moody, sore and sleep deprived and that he best be super nice to me.

“Do I have to visit?” My husband joked

As it happened, it wasn’t that bad in the first weeks post surgery. My temperature was up and down and I was constantly switching between an ice pillow and a heated pad but, reflecting now, I’m not sure if this was the sudden lack of hormones or the ragging infection on my liver that was discovered shortly after.

My husband, of course, may reflect differently but this is my story and I’m sticking to it…

Now, however, it’s a few months since surgery and I can identify what are menopause symptoms and what are treatment symptoms. And, I’m going to be super honest with you now…are you ready?…

It’s not that bad!

Yes, when I have a hot flush I feel like I could happily rip my own flesh off just to get some relief from the ragging heat coursing through my body AND I am so forgetful I have on more than one occasion found I’ve put things in random places…like the time I put salad in the drawer under the sink….

BUT that is really the worst of it.

Other than that though, I have nothing to report in terms of symptoms!…again I may have symptoms that I think are treatment related (like mood swings) but I don’t think so…

I get asked a lot if I can take HRT and the answer is a simple “no”. This is because my cancer was hormone dependent so the last thing we want to do is fill my body with chemical hormones. Cue happy cancer!

Despite the forgetfulness, hot flushes and infertility I don’t mind the menopause. In fact I’m grateful for it…hold on…let me explain…

As with my colostomy bag, my hysterectomy is a reminder of how lucky I am to have recieived life saving surgery and if given the choice would you honestly choose cancer being left in your body over the ‘possibility‘ of children and/or no hot flushes. It’s not really much of a decision is it?

Also, and here comes my dark sense of humour (sorry), in the words of this meme…

Since my hysterectomy, I walk down the tampon aisle and laugh!

There is always something to be grateful for…

Love and light, Fi xxx

ovarian cancer

Approved for Surgery: Chemo 4 – Day 10

So, it’s official…I’ve been approved for surgery! It’s amazing, surprising and terrifying news and, to be honest, I’m still in a state of shock.

  My scan results are better than expected and so, whilst I was made aware at the point of my diagnosis that stage four cancer is often inoperable, the surgeons now all agree I’m in a position that they can do something. Hence my mixed emotions!…I can’t help but think of the many people with cancer who will never meet a surgeon or have the opportunity to have their cancer removed and feel so grateful for this blessing and opportunity. In the same breath I’m also anxious of what surgery involves and the associated risks and recovery. I also, once again, feel lucky to live in a place where I am entitled to free healthcare and that my treatment plan is not restricted by finically decisions – a luxury denied by many on a similar journey.

 During my blood transfusion I met with a surgeon, a Macmillan nurse and my oncologist. Together they each played a part in explaining my scan results, the surgery they plan to do, my recovery and the long term implications. They were thorough and, once again, I felt completely involved in my treatment plan.
Together they explained that given my scan results – which show my cancer has shrunk in all areas of my body and at a rate faster than they had expected – they are going to do more surgery than the standard hysterectomy usually associated with ovarian cancer.

As a result, they explained, they will be conducting ‘major’ surgery.  The simple addition of the word ‘major’ filled me with a million thoughts and questions but together we went through everything in great detail.

Because their ultimate aim is to remove as much disease as they can they will perform a full hysterectomy, potentially remove part of my bowel, remove my whole omentum (the fat layer in front of my bowel), remove parts of my peritoneum (the sack that contains my internal organs) and potentially remove part of my diaphragm. They’ll also remove some abdominal lymph glands for good measure. …or in other words ‘a heck of a lot’!

I’ve included a very helpful image from Macmillan Cancer support’s “Understanding Cancer of the Ovary” booklet which highlights these body parts (pg. 13).

The extent of this surgery means that I will spend some time in intensive care and/or high dependency. It also means that potentially I’ll be in hospital for a month receiving specialist care.

As the peritoneum encases all of the organs in the abdominal cavity, a specialist team of surgeons will conduct the operation and take their time exploring all the ‘nooks and crannies’ that cancer cells can hide in. This means that the operation could take about 10 hours.

Finally, due to the specialist team and subsequent care I’ll require, the operation will not take place in the same hospital I receive my chemotherapy but, instead, will take place in another hospital 2 hours from home. Whilst this isn’t ideal for visitors, I’m obviously all in favour of going where the best team and facilities are…and also encouraged that many people have assured me they are willing to travel to visit!

Such major surgery does not come without risk and the surgeon also explained the complications they could face during surgery. I’ll not go into these extensively but will instead just give one example which is potentially my lung could puncture whilst they work on my diaphragm, causing me to wake with a tube in my lung. This is something my body would repair itself in time.

My operation will be taking place very soon and, in the meantime I will be having lots of appointments to allow me to meet the surgeon conducting the operation, have a pre-assessment, and meet the specialist nurses involved in my aftercare.

I also, obviously, will plan as much in advance to enure that my time in hospital (and afterwards) is as smooth as possible – for instance making sure our pets are looked after and buying a digital tablet and loading it with films!

Once I have returned home from surgery I will restart my chemotherapy treatment in a bid to ‘mop up’ any cancer that remains following my operation. I expect this to be a difficult time as my body will be already weak and recovering from surgery when hit with more toxicity from the chemotherapy. However, I am prepared for this and know it is a necessary part of my treatment plan.

For now, as I wait for my surgery date, I need to ensure I am as strong as possible – emotionally as well as physically – by spending time with loved ones, walking my dog, enjoying fresh air, getting plenty of rest, meditating and eating well.

Love and light, Fi xx