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Tracey Hong on Ovarian Cancer

Tracey HongI was admitted to Liverpool Hospital for emergency surgery for a bowel obstruction. To finally wake up in Intensive Care on assisted ventilation with a diagnosis of advanced Ovarian Cancer. The ovaries and fallopian tubes had been removed, my appendix and part of my bowel taken as well. Cancer was found in my stomach, liver and. How was this possible? I hadn’t felt anything other than constipation as a result of the bowel obstruction. But, there it was that diagnosis…now what??

Devastation was the only emotion that I could remember…how could I not have known…why me?? Alone with my thoughts in a hospital bed…the tears flowed not only out of fear but, also for the realisation that I would NEVER have children now.

The logical part of my mind now took over, okay this was not what my life was going to be…I will not be defined as this disease nor will I wallow in self-pity or sympathy! So with a deep breath I started the cancer rounds…finding a gynaecological oncologist…a medical oncologist…a cancer care centre…the scans, blood tests, the questions. My life became appointment after appointment, not one week passed without an appointment for one thing or another.

Chemotherapy began and so did the nausea, the hair loss, and don’t even start with the tiredness. 18 weeks of toxic drugs designed to kill cancer cells, yet destroying the healthy ones as well. The routine blood tests began to show improvement…yes, the important CA125 marker was dropping with each round! But, as it dropped so did the iron level until it was transfusion time. A whole day spent receiving chemotherapy and blood…12 hours hooked up to an IV.

At last success…the scans and blood tests showed no cancer. Finally I could breathe deeply again…life could slowly start again.
However, a niggling feeling remained…what if???

Then in 2014, the pain and constipation, the same symptoms began again, this time I was put on to Provera to stem the bleeding that started hard and fast. Again…please no not again! Scans and blood tests were run and the results weren’t good.

I knew it had returned. This time in the uterus…that one part of my reproductive system that remained. I was referred once again to another Gynaecological Oncologist…time for surgery yet again!

Off to The Royal Hospital for Women at Randwick…Macquarie Ward…a huge surgery was planned and carried out…I woke this time in High Dependency in Prince Of Wales Hospital before being transferred for recovery back to the “The Royal”. The uterus had been removed and was equivalent in size to a 5 month pregnancy, as a result of its size it had adhered some of the pelvic lymph nodes to the para aortic and they could not be safely removed! This time the cancer had changed to Uterine Cancer…it seems a rare combination yet had been seen before…oh the joys!! So new drugs, new side effects and new lifestyle to combat this insidious disease. I became photo sensitive and spent many days and nights, scratching my skin until it was raw. Heavy duty antihistamines were my only relief, but, it meant no driving and I slept for days! I found myself embarking on a complete change in my diet…hmmm chemo surely changes your tastes!! So, cutting sugar and gluten from my diet helped me handle the effects on my body with a brilliant side order of massive weight loss!!

All was going well…though the cancer still exists…I was feeling well so decided on a break from anymore traumatic procedures and toxic chemicals. January 2017, I was feeling a little off so decided to ask my medical oncologist for blood tests and a scan…something just wasn’t feeling right. Results came back with a hasty call from my Medical Oncologist…present yourself to emergency we are transferring you to Liverpool Hospital you have Acute Renal Failure.

What a month…I had a bilateral kidney stents put in as doctors had found a mass in and around the bladder…so now I will have stents put in every 6 to 9 months. On discharge I saw my Medical Oncologist again with blood results showing that my CA125 marker was the normal range…the high side of normal, but still good. We decided to have a wait and watch regime.
Today, I’m slowly recovering from kidney procedures and infections as a result of the procedures…I still smile and laugh and yes, at times cry. This life is for living and making the most that I can possibly make of it. Quality of life isn’t my mantra…Living my Life with Passion most certainly is how I wish to continue.

This is all possible due to my strong belief in myself and a positive attitude that just won’t take no for an answer. And of course,  friends and family, they are my lifeline. Without them being there when I need help, or to vent or in fact to say stop over analysing things and smile, I might not have had my nothing will stop me attitude.

If I could say just one thing about this journey….please question your doctors…ask them for explanations, query the side effects of drugs and the protocols, research your diagnosis so that you are well versed with questions. I have told all my doctors from my family doctor to my Gynaecological Oncologist that I’m keeping them young by questioning things…clarity is knowledge…and remember there is no such thing as a silly question, only misinformed assumptions and guesses. A sense of humour, the ability to smile and the strength to speak up are all valuable tools that I have found to help me on this path.

So, ladies and gentlemen, smile, be strong, laugh, love and live! Be you!

Tracey Hong's Journey with Ovarian Cancer was originally published in Southern Highland News.

She said there were two websites she had found extremely useful over the past several years.

The Australian Gynaecological Cancer Foundation (www.agcf.org.au) provides information on understanding, prevention and management of all gynaecological cancers.

It also raises funds that go towards research for the prevention and early detection of gynaecological cancers in Australia.

The Australian Society Gynaecological Oncologists (www.asgo.net.au) works to improve the standard of care for women with gynaecological cancers as well as research into gynaecological cancers.