Step 4: CT scan

Honestly by this point I was just desperate to know if this cyst was malignant or not. I haven’t been a particularly healthy person, in fact, quite the opposite. Drinking, smoking, eating rubbish food, doing no exercise. But I was 28 years old. Who gets ovarian cancer at 28 years old?

The CT scan was fairly painless. I got sent a vile of some kind of liquid in the post which I had to drink an hour and a half before the scan. Honestly I can’t remember why, something to do with helping to show the organs they needed to see.

When I went in I had to have another injection that was also dye. They told me, ‘it will make you warm all over, and it’ll feel like you’ve wet yourself. Don’t worry, you won’t have.’

Cool, thanks for that.

The scan is really quick, it all took about 5 minutes, and I was told I would get a call from my gynae nurse on the Friday with the results.

Obviously Friday came and I sat by my phone. By this time my anxiety was out of control, I was useless in the office and I had decided to get a sick note and stay at home.

If people don’t know what anxiety is, neither did I. But it’s basically how you feel when you’re incredibly nervous. Kinda like when you’re sat in the room waiting to be called in for a job interviiew for your dream job. Your heart is pounding, you feel sweaty, your hands are shaking, and your mind goes blank. You try and you try but you cannot concentrate on anything. It’s like that, but constantly. Particularly when you’re trying to sleep. You know that feeling when you wake up and you want to stay in bed for a while but your eyes physically just will not close? It’s like that

So the nurse called me. She said they hadn’t been able to see properly because of the size of the cyst. They needed to be able to tell what side it was on, whether it had damaged my ovary, whether it was two cysts that had merged into one, because it made a huge difference to the type of operation they would do and how they would deal with it. So I needed to have an MRI scan so they could get a better idea.

Step 3: Dealing with life

In this respect, I did have a few things I needed to sort out. But realistically, I was incredibly lucky. I was living with my parents, and I had the support I needed. I had a good amount of savings and I didn’t have any children or anyone I needed to support.

So the first thing I did was quit my job. I explained the situation, and said even after my recovery time, there would be no way I could go back to running around like a maniac carrying heavy plates and doing that kind of work. So I had to quit.

Next I had to speak to my placement. In this sense, I could not have had a more supportive reaction. It was unbelievable to be honest. They were incredible. They said to me they have been really happy with the work I’m doing, and I could take as much time off as I needed and my place would still be there once I was ready to come back. They even said I could do reduced hours when I returned and they would consider them full days. They were amazing.

But there was still the issue of my dissertation, and the date I needed to have completed my placement and handed in my dissertation in order to graduate that summer. Which was something I desperately wanted to do. I had worked so hard over the last 18 months, it had been tortuous at times and I was so ready to finish and finally get my qualification. My university were of course really understanding, and they told me the date I would need to finish placement in order to graduate, and it aligned with the time off I would need for recovery. They also said I could apply for extenuating circumstances for my dissertation and I would still, again, be able to hand it in and graduate alongside everyone else.

That was a huge relief for me and I was so grateful, I am still so grateful. So many things here could have gone wrong, but everything looked like it was going to work out. I had everything planned and I was ready to go. Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate the possibility of what life had in store for me.

Step 2: Gynaecologist

SO the week after my ultrasound scan, I had to go and meet with a gynaecologist. I went with my mum, but went into the appointment alone. I met the doctor, the nurse and (lucky for me) a student who was going to be observing the whole thing. He told me they needed to do another internal ultrasound scan and he needed to have a feel around my tummy so he could get a better idea of what he was dealing with.

The nurse was lovely, she held my hand through the whole thing, while the doctor did his scan, stopping every now and again to explain to the student what he was seeing. I thought it was the most degrading thing I would ever experience, I was definitely wrong about that.

Then the doctor sat me down. At this point all I knew was that I had an ovarian cyst, and the blood count had made it ‘suspicious’ but they still couldn’t be sure whether or not it was malignant, and for that I would need to have CT scan.

Then he very casually said, ‘your cyst is 21cm, that’s about the size of a large watermelon. Malignant or not, you’re going to need an operation to remove it.’

A large watermelon. Inside my tummy. A lot of people have said, how could you not have noticed and felt it? Don’t get me wrong, I knew I’d put on some weight. But a watermelon? I had no idea. I was in complete shock. The truth is I can’t tell you what else was said for the rest of the appointment because I completely blanked out. 21cm. Watermelon. Operation. And not just any operation. A laparotomy. That’s a huge operation, with a very large incision and a huge amount of recovery time. I honestly didn’t know what to do. I was 2/3 of the way through my placement, my dissertation was due in a matter of weeks. What the hell was I supposed to do? I walked out of the appointment in a complete daze, went home, and thought about how the hell I was going to deal with this.

Step 1: Ultrasound scan

The doctors told me, due to my unusual CA125 levels, I needed to go and have an ultrasound to see whether maybe I had a cyst. He said it’s no big deal, they will just do the scan on your tummy. They may ask to do an internal scan, but you absolutely don’t have to do that, you can say no.

I was told I had to go with a full bladder. So i followed my ordered, drank litres of water and showed up. He did the scan on my tummy and absolutely didn’t believe me that I had filled my bladder. He said he couldn’t see anything, and he needed to do an internal scan. I thought, obviously that’s going to be unpleasant, but is it worth possible missing something just because I feel a bit uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable actually. But I agreed anyway. He didn’t say a word. He told me the scan was over, and I could leave. That was it. This was a week after my blood results and I didn’t have a clue what the hell was going on. So I left, waiting for my results, knowing deep down, something wasn’t right.

I got the call a few days later. I did have a cyst on my ovary, and they weren’t able to tell from the scan whether or not it was malignant. I was told I was going to have to go and see a gynecologist at my local hospital and I would need further scans to figure out whether or not the cyst was malignant.

The thing about cysts is that most women get them, or have already had them and not even realised, but they go by your next cycle. I didn’t know this, so I kept my fingers crossed and waiting for my appointment letter to see the next doctor.

How it all began…

Everything started around March of 2019. I was 28 years old doing my Masters in Social Work, in my second and final year. I was working my way through my final placement in the Youth Offending Team, more than ready to finally finish the course and start doing the job I’d been wanting to do for so long.

I started the course at the University of Cumbria, and moved there with a friend. It was pretty tough, I didn’t really know anyone, and I didn’t get given a bursary or any kind of financial aid towards my course so I was working three jobs to try and pay my pay. It wasn’t much of a life to be honest and a lot of things went wrong that year. TO say the least, I was pretty miserable. So I decided to see if I could do my final placement back somewhere in Manchester, and finish the course off back home and move back in with my parents and save to get a place of my own once I graduated.

Everything was going pretty well, I was really happy to be back with my friends and my parents, I was really enjoying my placement and it seemed I was doing a pretty good job there. But a lot of the stress from the previous year had given me a bit of anxiety and some low points. I was doing some waitressing, but doing a full time, unpaid placement really limits your options in terms of employability, so basically I was skint and didn’t have much of a social life.

Sometimes when I get a bit stressed I get a bad stomach. I’m not sure what it is but I get this aching in my tummy. It’s happened a couple of times before, I’ve gone to the doctors, they’ve given me some antibiotics and all has been well. So I assumed it was the same kind of thing.

This time it was a little different. I had developed a stomach infection called h-pylori. Something I had never heard of, no idea how the hell I got it but there we go. I was given a bunch of antibiotics and made a follow up appointment.

I felt a lot better but there was still a little bit of pain and I was still struggling with my anxiety. So I asked my doctor if I could get something to help me with that, and explained that not all the pain had gone away. If I’m honest, I exaggerated a little. It didn’t hurt that much, but there was a little bit of soreness. My doctor decided to do a blood test. A ‘full MOT test’ of everything in my abdomen, just to be sure there was nothing going on. I thought it was probably unnecessary but didn’t really see the harm. So I had the blood taken and off I went. I genuinely thought nothing more about it, until I got the phone call.

I was at placement and I remember seeing the voicemail and listening and something in my stomach just dropped. I just knew something was wrong. I called the doctor back and they said I had unusually high CA125 levels. What does that mean? Haven’t a clue. She said it could mean a lot of things, but it’s associated with my ovaries. I could be pregnancy, a cyst, endometriosis, absolutely nothing, or cancer.

I knew then. I picked up my stuff and walked out of placement and went home, walked through the door to see my mum and just started crying. I just knew. From that very moment, things weren’t going to be the same.

My Story starts…

A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong she is until she is in hot water.

-Eleanor Roosevelt

My mum said that quote to me once and it kind of stuck, I’ve used it ever since and tried to remember it whenever things have felt tough. Because my mum is strong, and she has brought me up to deal with all the shit life throws at you, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do. When actually, the truth is, I’m not brave or strong, I’m human. But sometimes, you get thrown into situations so deeply out of your control, you have to learn to be strong, otherwise you’ll drown.

My name is Cassie and I am 29 years old. Earlier this year I was diagnosed with early stages of Ovarian Cancer, and over the past six months my entire world has been turned upside down. My care free, reckless and frankly irresponsible attitude towards life has been completely interrogated and turned on it’s head, and I’ve had to deal with real things. You may think, being my age, I was already doing that. In some ways I was, but in most ways I was running away from real life. I was trying to sort out a career, getting a qualification in Social Work. But it took me almost 10 years to even figure out that was the route I wanted to go down. I was single, renting a place from my friend and inevitably moving back in with my parents, still going out and getting drunk like a student, refusing to think about the future or accept the fact that, actually, I really needed to get my shit together. Then one day I got a call from the doctor’s that forced me to face all of that. I was not ready, I was terrified, and continued to run for as long as I could. Sadly, cancer caught me, grabbed me, and marched me back into reality. So here I am, six months on, telling my story.