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15 March 2010, 05:00
A Kent mum of three is urging everyone to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Dianna Fry, 58, from Chartham near Canterbury had a hysterectomy and six cycles of chemotherapy after she was diagnosed with the disease almost three years ago.
Now with everyone thinking about Mothers' Day, and as part of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, she has agreed to tell her story to ensure other women don’t make the same mistake.
“I remember feeling really bloated and suffering from severe bouts of abdominal pains.
“I was falling asleep in my singing class and feeling full after just one mouthful of food. I really thought it was just that time of life.
“It is probably thanks to my cousin and a very young registrar that I am here now.
“My cousin had cancer of the colon and had been urging me to have a colonoscopy.
“When I finally got an appointment I remember being highly indignant that Dr Asim Mohammad – to whom I will be eternally grateful – seemed to be far more concerned about my bulky uterus than anything else!”
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women in the UK – affecting around 6,600 people every year.
Between 1998 and 2007, 785 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in eastern and coastal Kent.
It’s the biggest gynaecological killer of women and yet awareness of the symptoms is low.
A recent survey shows women are more likely to know about male cancers and most cannot name a single symptom of ovarian cancer.
NHS Eastern and Coastal Kent Deputy Director of Public Health Andrew Scott-Clark said:
“In the absence of a proven screening tool that detects ovarian cancer, an awareness of the key symptoms currently provides our greatest chance of detecting it at an early stage.
“The good news is that if detected in its early stages, women have a 90 per cent chance of surviving the disease.
“The common symptoms are persistent stomach pain, increased abdominal size and persistent bloating.
“Other symptoms include the need to urinate more frequently, a change in bowel habits, back pain and extreme fatigue.
“Together these symptoms are often confused with less serious and more common conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or the menopause.
“While it is likely that these symptoms are not ovarian cancer, anyone experiencing them regularly should see their GP.”
Dianna did just that. Referred to a gynaecologist, an ultrasound revealed two small masses on Dianna’s left ovary.
In June 2007 surgeons at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate removed her womb and ovaries.
Three weeks later, her doctor broke the news that tests on the masses had shown they were cancerous and within weeks she was started on a six cycle course of chemotherapy.
“I can honestly say I felt relief in knowing what it was, that it had been caught early and that I could be treated.
“I started my chemotherapy and even though I started to lose my hair quite quickly it wasn’t a big deal for me.
“I treated myself to three wigs and took great delight in surprising my friends with my new persona. It was possibly my eye lashes I missed the most.
“I really appreciated the care and warmth of the oncology staff at Kent and Canterbury Hospital. My specialist managed my chemo dose just right so that I never actually felt dreadful during my six cycles of chemo.
“I had the hysterectomy about two and a half years ago now and I guess I am in remission.
“As with all cancer survivors, I am very aware that my time is possibly shorter than most people but I have come to realise how fortunate I am to have such wonderful support and treatment.
“I have returned to work as a translator and my work is now interspersed with power-naps. I go for regular checks ups with my doctors and that really does give me peace of mind.
“I really would urge all women to keep a diary of their symptoms and if they spot the common symptoms to go straight to their GP.
“I have a second chance now and I count myself one of the lucky ones.”