For Anne-Maree Wilton, every day is a gift, one she vows never to take for granted. As an ovarian cancer survivor, she knows just how precious and precarious life is.
This Teal Ribbon Day for ovarian cancer, Mrs Wilton is encouraging women to trust their instincts and get a second opinion if they feel something isn’t right.
She said her diagnosis was unexpected.
“One of my first thoughts was ‘I hope the Whippets aren’t going to outlive me’. I think that was the realisation that it was probably quite serious,” Mrs Wilton recalls of her ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2018.
“It was a lot to take in. I’d gone there by myself thinking ‘there’s something not quite right’. You often put symptoms of ovarian cancer down to all sorts of things – I’m not exercising enough, or I’m not drinking enough water or I’m getting a bit older or I shouldn’t eat that food,” she said.
“It was a shock to find out I had cancer.”
Mrs Wilton said the diagnoses followed years of feeling “not quite right”.
“I’d probably been not well for a couple of years. I had low energy, was a bit off colour and had some other vague symptoms. I came back from holidays where I’d picked up a bug and I just couldn’t shake it – I had it for about five or six weeks.”
Mrs Wilton explains that she then went to see a GP who suggested she was lactose intolerant. When those tests came back negative she sought a second opinion from another GP, who referred her to a dietitian.
Still concerned, and with a gut instinct that it was more than just her diet, Mrs Wilton visited a third GP, who sought appropriate tests that eventually led to her cancer diagnosis.
Mrs Wilton was referred to Cabrini gynaecological oncologist Dr Tom Manolitsas, who performed surgery to remove the cancer and was later referred to Professor Gary Richardson, who put her onto a trial.
“That was really the beginning of my health recovery,” Mrs Wilton said.
“I am really, really well. I’ve got the energy back I had before, I can do things that I love doing like gardening and walking – just enjoying myself.”
Now in remission, Mrs Wilton said she was incredibly thankful that she found her way to Cabrini.
“I feel fortunate, very fortunate. Every day I get up and say ‘I’m happy to be alive’. I feel lucky and fortunate that I found my way to Cabrini because finding my way to Cabrini has made all the difference in my health recovery.
Teal Ribbon Day is a day to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, show support for women living with ovarian cancer, and their families, and remember those who have died from the disease.
Mrs Wilton message to other women on Teal Ribbon Day, and throughout ovarian cancer awareness month, is to always seek a second opinion.
“You know your own body, and if something’s not right. If you go and see your GP and you’re not happy with the results or something’s still not right, go and see someone else,” she said.
Head of Cabrini’s Department of Medical Oncology Professor Gary Richardson said ovarian cancer was something that should be on every woman’s radar.
“I think it’s important that people have general awareness about ovarian cancer and that we are able to support those women who are affected,” he said.
He added that women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer should talk to their doctor about being genetically tested, but other than maintaining a healthy weight and regular exercise, there was not a lot women could do to prevent ovarian cancer. He said clinical trials may offer earlier detection and better outcomes for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the future.
“Our advances in medical technology have the potential to make an enormous impact on the lives of people with ovarian cancer. There is technology being developed that is able to detect small amounts of tumour DNA in the bloodstream, which may become an early test for ovarian cancer in the future.”
Mrs Wilton said the key to getting through cancer was having a positive attitude.
“Health recovery is about positivity. If you’re not an optimist, learn to be one. And if you are an optimist, build on it, because it makes a huge difference about the way you view yourself and the world,” she said.
“I think my life is probably less cluttered now. I think you do focus on what’s important in your life, to make plans for the future but also to live each day.
She also found other ways of managing her pain during her treatment.
“I’m on no medication. Throughout the chemo I did take medication for pain management but I also found other ways to deal with the pain, like I’d have a lot of baths, I’d have two or three baths a day. I just wanted to find other ways to take my mind to different places. Having a bath is not for everybody, but it worked for me.”