Living with ovarian cancer

Recovery and follow-up

Recovering from treatment

Many women with ovarian cancer have a hysterectomy. This is a major operation, and takes around six to 12 weeks to recover from. During this time you will have to avoid lifting things (such as children, heavy shopping bags) and doing heavy housework. You will not be able to drive for three to eight weeks after the operation. Most women need four to 12 weeks off work after a hysterectomy. The recovery time will depend on the type of surgery, whether or not postoperative problems develop, and what type of work you will return to.

If your ovaries have been removed and you have not already had the menopause, you will enter menopause after your treatment. You may decide to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to control your symptoms. There is no reason why you cannot take HRT after your ovarian cancer treatment. Your GP will help you decide what’s best for you.

Some treatments for ovarian cancer, particularly chemotherapy, can make you very tired. You may need a break from your normal activities for a while. Do not be afraid to ask for practical help from family and friends if you need it.

Practical help may also be available from your local authority. Ask your doctor or nurse who to contact.

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Follow-up after treatment

After your treatment has finished you will be invited for regular check-ups, usually every two to three months to begin with. At the check-up your doctor will examine you. They may do blood tests or scans to see how your cancer is responding to treatment.

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Sex and relationships

Relationships with friends and family

Having cancer is not always easy to talk about, either for you or your family and friends. You may sense some people avoid you or feel awkward around you. Being open about how you feel and what your family and friends can do to help may put them at ease. But don’t feel shy about telling them you need some time to yourself.

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Your sex life

Ovarian cancer and its treatment can affect your sex life. This can happen in several ways:

  • early menopause – if you have not already been through the menopause, removing the ovaries means you will have an early menopause. You are likely to have symptoms of the menopause, which can include vaginal dryness and loss of sexual desire. 
  • not feeling like sex – it is common for women to lose interest in sex after treatment for ovarian cancer. Your treatment may leave you feeling very tired. You may feel shocked, confused or depressed about being diagnosed with cancer. You may also feel grief about the loss of your fertility. It is understandable you may not feel like having sex while coping with all this. Try to share your feelings with your partner. If your sex problems are not getting better with time, speak to a counsellor or sex therapist.

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Money and benefits

If you have to reduce or stop work because of your cancer, you may find it hard to cope financially. If you have cancer or you are caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to financial support.

  • if you have a job but cannot work because of your illness, you are entitled to statutory sick pay from your employer 
  • if you do not have a job and cannot work because of your illness, you may be entitled to employment and support allowance
  • if you are caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to carer’s allowance  
  • you may be eligible for other benefits if you have children living at home or have a low household income

It is a good idea to find out early on what help is available to you. You could ask to speak to the social worker at your hospital, who can give you the information you need.

Free prescriptions

Cancer patients are entitled to apply for an exemption certificate. This gives them free prescriptions for all medication, including medication for unrelated conditions.

The certificate is valid for five years. You can apply for it by speaking to your GP or cancer specialist.

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Talk to others

If you have questions, your GP or nurse may be able to reassure you. You may also find it helpful to talk to a trained counsellor, psychologist or specialist telephone helpline operator. Your GP surgery will have information on these. Some people find it helpful to talk to others with ovarian cancer, either at a local support group or through an internet chatroom.

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Dealing with dying

If you are told nothing more can be done to treat your ovarian cancer, care will focus on controlling your symptoms and helping you feel as comfortable as possible. This is called palliative care. Palliative care also includes psychological, social and spiritual support for you and your family or carers.

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