My Health Experience: ‘They found an ovarian cyst the size of a melon’

Ovarian cancer can often go unnoticed until it’s too late – luckily for Patricia Egan, her illness was treated early

Just over two decades ago, actor Pierce Brosnan lost his 43-year-old wife, Cassandra to ovarian cancer. Earlier this month, his 42-year-old daughter, Charlotte died from the same disease. Often going unnoticed until it is too late for treatment, this cancer affects 350 women each year in Ireland.

Patricia Egan from Tullamore, Co Offaly was just 31 when she was diagnosed with the disease in 2005 but, luckily for her, it was detected and treated early.

“I had just gone to Pope John Paul’s funeral in Rome and then did the Mini Marathon with a friend of mine and all was fine until a few days later when I had a pain in my lower abdomen. Firstly I put it down to muscle strain from the marathon and ignored it – but later that day, I got concerned and decided to see an out-of-hours doctor who told me I had a kidney infection.

I was given antibiotics but this had a knock-on effect on my bowel so after the antibiotic course was finished, I returned to the doctor because I had pains when going to the toilet. I was put on different tablets and although these helped a bit, the pain still lingered. So much so that when I was at a friend’s wedding, I couldn’t dance because I was in pain.

By this point, I was fed-up and got my GP to refer me to Ballinasloe hospital. I was admitted straight away because numerous tests and scans had to be done. The following day, I was told I had a bladder stone. I was delighted as I knew it would only involve a small procedure. But two days later, my gynaecologist told me it wasn’t to do with my bladder after all: they had discovered an ovarian cyst the size of a melon.

He told me I could either have treatment to reduce the cyst and then remove it or have a hysterectomy. I was horrified. Particularly as he said one of the tests (CA125 – a tumour marker blood test) registered very high and they were concerned.

I had to undergo a biopsy, which wasn't a pretty procedure and I screamed the place down when I realised it had to be done twice. A week after I was first admitted, I was sent to Holles Street and, with the support of my brother Kieran, decided to have a full hysterectomy the following day as I was so frightened by the CA125 result.

About a month after my operation, I was told I had ovarian cancer. My sister Anne-Marie and best friend Elaine were with me at that time and asked a lot of questions. Devastation hit me from all angles; it took a good while for the news to finally sink in as all I could think of was how I would tell my mum. And I asked myself why I got something like this as I was a very fit person – I have climbed Kilimanjaro and love horse-riding, walking, swimming and dancing.

I was advised to have chemotherapy as a precautionary measure. A week before my brother got married, I had my first chemo session in St Vincent’s, which I attended on my own.

This was very frightening as I had a reaction to the drug initially and started to panic, but once the speed of the insertion of steroids was reduced, I felt a lot better. I also met a lot of nice people in there and it made me feel less alone with my illness. I had six sessions of chemo altogether and finished in March 2006.

It took at least a year to recover from the surgery and treatment – physically I was very drained and on an emotional level it was very hard to comprehend the fact that I wouldn't be able to have children. It still hits me from time to time, but I know there are other options out there.

Thankfully today all is well with my health. I have regular check-ups to make sure the cancer hasn't returned. I also have yearly mammograms and half-yearly check-ups with my doctor as I need to be sure all is in order.

I cannot express enough my appreciation for all the help I got from the doctors, consultants, medical staff and my family and friends – they have done so much and really supported me through my ordeal.

Since my diagnosis, I have advised all my friends to take the CA125 test. It’s just like any other blood test and although it’s just a marker indication, it can make the difference between first-stage or terminal cancer. A year after my diagnosis, a good friend of mine was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer and she actually died which was a big shock to me.

In some way we are like cars and need regular services and check-ups. I would like to see this [CA125] test be made compulsory for all women who visit their doctor in Ireland – it’s only a blood test but it could save a lot of lives.”

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