Letitia is a mother of two boys and runs an online interiors store and decorating business, The White Shed. An Adelaide girl who followed her heart, married a farmer and moved to the country, she lives on a farm with her family. In 2013 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
I had just lost about 30 kilos through the Michelle Bridges challenge when I found this little bit of a lump in my tummy that I could feel pulling on my abdominal muscles.
I was actually feeling fantastic, I was working out with a personal trainer, I didn’t have the tiredness or lack of energy that a lot of people have with cancer.
What I did have was frequent lower back pain and abdominal pain – little things that are also symptoms of endometriosis. And because I had polycystic ovarian syndrome, I put my symptoms down to that.
I never once thought, ‘it might be ovarian cancer.’ Never. I had no family history. I went to the GP and they suspected I had a hernia, so they sent me off to a reconstructive surgeon.
An MRI showed a mass of lumps on my abdominal wall and through my pelvis. Initially they thought it was a severe case of endometriosis, not cancer.
I was referred to a gynaecologist to clean it all up – she put me in for a laparoscopy, biopsied my ovaries, took out my fallopian tubes… all the normal operations for endometriosis.
Then she called me two days later to let me know that actually, I had ovarian cancer. The first thing that went through my head was, ‘My God, my boys. What if they don’t have a mum?’
Five days later I had a hysterectomy, followed by 18 weeks of chemo. Then I had another operation to remove another tumor, which was hidden the first time. I’ve had multiple surgeries now, about five, and then six weeks of five-day-a-week radiotherapy in Adelaide.
I had very little time to process the situation, but I was surprisingly calm. I actually felt very lucky, because I’d already had my children – I have two beautiful boys, they’re nine and eleven – before they took my reproductive organs out. I was just like, ‘right, what’s the plan? What are we going to do about this?’
I’m a fairly positive, practical, person, so I wasn’t going to wallow. I’ve got two children to live for, a lovely husband, everything in my life was brilliant, apart from the fact that I had cancer.
I also think going through something like this makes you appreciate your life a lot more and embrace the opportunities that come your way.
My amazing family helped me cope, as did having full faith in my doctors. I tried not to Google or read too much into it, and just left them to do the treatment. You just do what you’re told.
My doctors are absolutely amazing people. My oncologist has boys the same age as mine and she spends her weekends and nights working around the clock trying to save people, it’s so inspiring.
I’ve also met absolutely amazing people in the chemo room, who have become my friends for life. I met a lot of young women, my age and younger, in the chemo room – this isn’t just an older women’s disease.
I’m on maintenance chemo now, once a month. I’m one year out now with a clear scan and I’m really, really happy. I totally expected to be told I was having another operation at my last scan; I’m well prepared for it to return. My aunt, who isn’t biologically related, died recently of ovarian cancer, and I’ve also lost someone from the chemo room.
It’s so important to know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. If you’re worried about anything, see a GP. If you’re not happy with their opinion, see someone else. I hear so many stories of women getting the run around. Persist! Know your body, know the symptoms, know if something changes and if it’s not right for two weeks or more, see someone.
This February, Ovarian Cancer Australia is calling on all Australians to #KnowAskAct by being aware of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, asking about family history of cancer, and acting to help Ovarian Cancer Australia by raising funds and awareness. Visit ovariancancer.net.au to find out more.