Madeleine Hudson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer earlier this year. It took a long time for her to realise that her aches, pains and rapid weight gain couldn't simply be attributed to her age or diet...
"I finally ran out of excuses in mid-February 2017. The extra stone I’d gained over six weeks didn’t just feel like an excess of Christmas goodies; the painful backache, specific to one particular area, couldn’t be blamed on my lumpy old sofa, and my inability to walk upstairs without becoming breathless was just too pronounced. A ten-day wait for blood tests didn’t ease my concerns but at this point I still thought I was simply fat. That was until the doctor rang and told me that something wasn’t right with the blood results and that she’d hurry up my ultrasound scan. It was the ultrasound nurse who told me that I’d got a large lump ‘down there’ and that my ‘poor tummy’ had got so much fluid on it she was sending me straight to A&E.
And that’s really where my ovarian cancer journey rollercoaster began, though the word ‘cancer’ wasn’t actually mentioned at this stage, it was an ovarian ‘mass’.
I had to wait seven hours after being admitted to the medical assessment unit to get a drain in my stomach. Eight litres of fluid disappeared very rapidly after that and the extra stone – and more – disappeared. A CT scan revealed fluid in the lining around my left lung, which accounted for both the painful backache and the breathlessness.
I’ve never been particularly body-aware – any aches and pains were always dismissed as just a twinge, age or fat. I’ve always been active and I’ve never not been able to do anything – I even managed a 40k horse ride in Iceland last year. Even at this stage, the enormity of what was happening to me just wasn’t sinking in. During this first five-day stay in hospital nurses came and went, I got wheeled around various place and had biopsies taken (delayed at the last minute because the blood-thinning injections had continued in error). Nobody ever sat down with me and said 'Look Madeleine, this is pretty serious. It’s looking highly likely that you have cancer. Let’s have a chat about what this may mean.'
"I do worry about the future and what will happen to my girls"Madeleine Hudson
Various people did ask me about what symptoms I’d had and whether I’d realised there was something wrong. Looking back I can identify two specific times when I registered some discomfort and rumblings in my abdomen but they were never bad enough (for me) to warrant a trip to the doctor. Plus, being overweight (13 stone at 5ft 2”) I did feel ashamed of how I looked. I’d joined a gym the year before, ate healthily, walked my dog twice a day and went line-dancing once a week, yet still couldn’t shift any weight. I blamed the red wine I’m very partial to.
I was on the cancer ward for my second stay in hospital for the pre-chemo tests. My lung lining was drained and also my stomach – again. With a three-week gap in between admissions I’d regained all the fluid on my stomach and was waddling around like a penguin again. With my youngest daughter’s 18th birthday on the Monday following my admittance though, I made it clear to everyone that I wasn’t going to hang around.
My three daughters took the news reasonably well. Fortunately, they’re all old enough to look after themselves on a practical level, though not an emotional one. Unfortunately they’re not unused to the world of hospitals and chemo as their father was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2008 and they’ve had years of dealing with hospital visits, chemo, near-death experiences and a (successful) bone marrow transplant in his case. We divorced some years ago and he’s played a very peripheral role in the girls’ upbringing for many years, so earning a living and providing a home falls entirely on my shoulders. And whilst I love being a mum and I enjoy my work, I have advanced ovarian cancer so I do worry about the future and what will happen to my girls.
Beginning in April 2017, I’ve had three chemo cycles, a laparoscopy, hysterectomy and debulking, and I’m now on my fourth cycle of chemo. I’m in the weekly chemo arm of the ICON8B trial for ovarian cancer, receiving carboplatin, paclitaxel (aka taxol) and bevacizumab (aka Avastin), which is not available everywhere in the UK. The trial research is looking at whether weekly chemo, and the addition of bevacizumab, improves patient outcome, which realistically, means extending the time until the cancer relapses. I’m going to do whatever it takes for me, and for my daughters."
Could you be a Voice for Ovarian Cancer Action? Contact Tori@ovarian.org.uk for more info