‘My way of coping was keeping manically busy’

“My problems started in 2003. I’d been having a difficult year, as both my father and brother died within three months of each other. I noticed my abdomen was expanding, even though I was eating less. I also had lower back pain and constipation. A lot of these symptoms at that time were attributed to stress because of my bereavement.

“I was initially diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. I had a colonoscopy, which was negative, then an ultrasound scan, which showed I had a large mass in my abdomen. My diagnosis was a complete shock.

“I had surgery to remove the mass, and all my ‘female bits’ removed. But unfortunately the cancer had spread to my spleen and I had to have that removed as well. It was a big operation and I’m now on antibiotics for the rest of my life.

“I had six sessions of chemotherapy after surgery, which was quite aggressive. I was warned there would be possibly long-term side effects. I lost the feeling in my toes and my fingers. The feeling in my fingers has come back now, but my toes are still fairly numb.

“Apart from the sense of loss I had already suffered with my bereavements, there was also the loss of my job, identity, femininity and body image. Financially it’s been difficult, as I had to give up my job. I’m only able to go back to a part-time job.

“I feel fortunate that I’m still here after three years. I’m looking ahead, although I don’t know what the long-term outlook will be. I try not to be neurotic, but it’s easy to worry about anything that’s unusual or different. If I have pain that’s not normal for me, I always get it checked out.

“It’s difficult to give advice. I think everyone’s experience is different. Everyone has different ways of coping with things. My way was to try to keep busy, manically busy. I still try to cram as much into every day and week as possible.

“It’s difficult to think long term, but it’s important to just hold on to the fact that the treatment now is wonderful, the support you’ll have is wonderful, and we don’t know what’s just around the corner.

“Sheer self-determination helped me get over it. In our family we just get on with things. We don’t dwell on things and we keep busy. ‘Mind over matter’ is how I’ve been brought up and I think that really helped me.

“The most important thing is to try not to be afraid. Don’t feel stupid or that you’re making a fuss about nothing. I think you know your own body and you know when something’s different or unusual, so get it checked out.”

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