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Mold woman fighting back against a hidden killer

Published date: 12 March 2014 |
Published by: Rhian Waller 
Read more articles by Rhian Waller  Email reporter


 

“THEY gave her the all clear and then her stomach started to swell,” said Tracy Thomas.

Miss Thomas, 44, of Mold, is now the same age her mother was when she was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

She wants to raise awareness in recognition of her mother, who died after a long and cruel fight with the disease, and to mark Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month which falls in March.

She said: “My mother Sheila was 46 when she died 18 years ago. She would be in her 60s now.

“She has eight grandchildren, but she only got to meet three of them.

“In April 1996, she was given the all- clear by doctors.

“We had a huge party to celebrate her getting better and then we found out it had come back. She died in the following November.”

Miss Thomas is still affected by the loss, even 18 years later.

She said: “I've never really gotten over it. I’m still on anti-depressants now.

“It’s not something people talk about. There’s a lot of coverage for breast cancer, bowel cancer and now, increasingly for prostate and testicular cancer.

“But I’ve never seen an advert warning about ovarian cancer.

“You don’t see posters in shops and not everyone picks up the leaflets in the doctor’s surgery.

“I’ve never seen an advert in a newspaper or magazine about it. I don’t think it’s so much that people are embarrassed. I think people are afraid to discuss it.”

She added: “I loved my mother and so did everyone else in the family. There were five of us, two brothers, me and my two sisters.

“She was a fun lady, outgoing, very friendly. She worked at a nursing home in Wrexham right next to where Nightingale House Hospice was being built.

“I remember her telling me before the diagnosis: ‘I hope I never have to go in there’.”

The first signs that something was wrong came when Sheila started to feel unwell and bloated.

Miss Thomas said: “She went to the GP several times but it was put down to putting on weight.

“She’d say: ‘No, I've been on a diet. I’m actually eating less’.

“But it was only when she was in severe pain that tests were done.

"She was rushed to the Maelor where they discovered she had a tumour the size of a rugby ball on her ovaries. It had been collecting fluid, which was why she’d appeared to be putting on weight.”

The shock of the discovery hit the whole family.

Miss Thomas said: “It all goes through your head: what the future is, what’s going to happen, what your mum has to go through.

“She’d had a full hysterectomy and they’d scraped the cells from nearby organs to make sure they wouldn’t come back. She travelled to the Christie Hospital in Manchester for chemotherapy every day for 18 months and her hair fell out.”

Initially the family thought she was going to pull through.

Miss Thomas said: “It was a real shock when we realised the cancer had returned. It was difficult to bring ourselves to tell people what had happened.

“Eventually her body couldn’t take it. All we could do was help her be brave and help her do whatever she could down to her last day.

“It was very hard.”

“She was cared for at Nightingale Hospice but eventually she decided she wanted to come home to die.”

Miss Thomas simply wants to get more people talking about ovarian cancer, and for women to consider getting screened if they have a family history of the illness.

She said: “I’ve been screened but I had to ask for it. It isn’t routinely offered and I think it should be.

“The earlier the cancer is caught, the better the outcome.”

Speaking out has already had results. Following on from her post on the Leader Facebook page, several people came forward to share their experiences of the illness.

Michelle Davies, 47, of Wrexham, wrote: “We lost my dear sister to this vile disease. She was 40 years old.”

Julie, 42, of Wrexham, said: “Last Friday was 35 years to the day that I lost my mum to this horrible disease. I was just seven years old.

“The sooner there is a cure for this disease the better. I feel robbed as I never knew my mum as an adult. It’s so sad.”

Sue Cartelidge, 56, of Flint, said: “My sister had a total hysterectomy just over two years ago due to ovarian cancer. She went through chemo and was told she was cured.

“Last summer it returned in her peritoneum and spread over most of her internal organs. She passed away on Christmas Day last, aged 53.”

According to UK charity Ovarian Cancer Action, 80 per cent of women cannot name the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Many women mistakenly believe ovarian cancer has no symptoms and is a ‘silent killer’ while others wrongly  think a cervical smear test will detect ovarian cancer.

This means that the cancer can go undetected.

Ovarian Cancer Action figures suggest when women are diagnosed in the early stages of ovarian cancer, they have a 90 per cent chance of surviving for more than five years. But this reduces to 22 per cent when diagnosed in the later stages.

According to a Macmillan gynaecologist based at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, advances have been made in ovarian cancer treatment in recent years, including new NICE guidelines being issued to help GPs recognise and investigate symptoms more effectively.

The gynaecologist added that symptoms can include persistent bloating or swollen stomach, feeling full quickly and a loss of appetite, indigestion, pelvic or abdominal pain, needing to pass urine more often or difficulties passing urine, changes in bowel habit such as constipation and excessive tiredness.

To find out more about Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month visit ovarian.org.uk.

For more news from across the region visit newsnorthwales.co.uk

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