Natalie's Story

My name is Natalie and I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in May this year (2011) when I was 36 years old.

My journey with ovarian cancer didn’t begin with my diagnosis. It began when my Nan was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 61 and eventually passed away from the disease at the age of 66. This was the first time in my life that I had lost somebody that I loved. Then just 5 years ago my Aunt at the age of 55 was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Twelve months before my diagnosis my Dad underwent testing for the BRCA 1 gene after my Aunt, his sister tested positive. He too tested positive which meant that there was a 50% chance that he had passed on the gene to his children. At the time it was recommended that we, his female offspring, considered having a full hysterectomy after we had ourselves finished having children. It was also suggest that we be tested and I talked to my GP about this. I remember discussing with him that ovarian cancer occurred in women who were older. So it didn’t seem urgent that I be tested; I planned to but it was not a priority.  After my diagnosis it was assumed that I too carried the BRCA 1 gene. This was confirmed towards the end of my treatment. My sister who is 4 years younger than me also tested positive.

My husband and I have a little boy who is now 4 and we had begun trying for another child. I underwent a laparoscopy in June 2010 and it was found that my fallopian tubes were blocked, the cause of which was unknown.  So it was recommended that we try IVF to fall pregnant.  We underwent two IVF cycles, the first in late 2010 and the second in early 2011. Neither cycle resulted in a pregnancy.  It was after our second IVF cycle that I noticed some pain and discomfort from the time I ovulated through to the end of my period. I put this down to tender ovaries following the egg retrieval procedure.  My next period was the same.  By Mother’s Day the pain started again but this time it was more severe.  My stomach was distended, I needed to go to the bathroom frequently, and I didn’t need to eat much to feel full.
The pain became so bad that I could not sleep without medication. I went to my GP on a Monday and he ordered an abdominal scan for the Tuesday afternoon.  However on Monday night I went to the Emergency Department at the Hospital, and after a negative pregnancy test and a script for stronger pain medication I was sent home, the A&E doctor assuming my symptoms were related to the IVF procedure.  On the Tuesday I rang the IVF clinic and saw my IVF Gynaecologist who preformed a pelvic ultrasound.  After a second opinion my diagnosis was an abdominal abscess for which I was given antibiotics. By the Thursday morning my pain was worse and I started vomiting.  My husband rang my IVF Gynaecologist who asked us to come straight in.  He operated that afternoon, and what was going to be a procedure to remove the abscess turned into my diagnosis.

The next five days I spent in hospital recovering from the surgery. The pain in my abdomen was getting worse from the tumour.  I was then transferred to the Oncology Hospital where  I was the youngest patient there.

Chemotherapy would start in two days time. My treatment plan would be to have 3 rounds of chemotherapy, then surgery to remove the tumours and a full hysterectomy. After surgery I would have another 3 rounds of chemotherapy.  Following a recent study in Japan, I would be given chemotherapy every week during my treatment. This is different from the standard procedure where chemotherapy is given once every three weeks. The study had shown that by having the chemotherapy every week the outcomes for long term survival were better. The downside was that the accumulative toxic effect of the chemotherapy was greater. I would become much sicker and required six blood transfusions during my treatment.

In late July I came to Melbourne to have surgery. The great news was that there was no cancer to remove; the chemotherapy had worked.  As great as this news is, it was so hard to put on my dancing shoes.  I had just had major surgery, another nine weeks of chemotherapy to face, symptoms of menopause to deal with, not to mention the fact that I would not be able to have any more children.  But wouldn’t I prefer to be alive and raise the child I have – you bet. It still hurts though.

It has not been an easy road to travel, and the love and support I have been given from my family, friends, doctors and the oncology nursing staff has been wonderful. I know my journey is not yet done, however what I don’t know is where I’m going to from here. I just know I want to be well and live.

I hope that by telling my story I can help to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, and motivate people to support the tremendous effort that the Women’s Cancer Foundation invest in finding the best treatments for women suffering ovarian cancer, to give me and others the best possible quality of life.

Natalie King


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