WHEN Brenda Quinlan from Douglas, a mother of three grown up children, and a keen swimmer, who prided herself on being very fit, started to experience severe back pain she went to see her GP.
“I was having heavy bleeding as well,” says Brenda, aged 55.
“I knew that wasn’t a good sign. The doctor gave me a tablet to stop the bleeding, but I wasn’t happy.”
Brenda got on with things, giving swimming lessons and going to her part-time office job. In the pool, she noticed her stomach had swollen and her chest had got bigger.
“My Speedo swimming costume felt tighter,” says Brenda.
“I thought I was getting heavy even though I had a poor appetite. My doctor thought I could be starting the menopause.”
Brenda was oblivious to the fact that she had symptoms pointing to the notorious ‘silent killer’, the ‘sleeping disease’, Ovarian Cancer, which is responsible for approximately 272 deaths in Ireland annually: 411 women are diagnosed each year.
Brenda was eventually diagnosed with the disease in 2016.
“Some women believe that a smear test can detect Ovarian Cancer,” says Brenda, who is currently undergoing treatment that is working slowly.
She feels that it is vital she gets the word out so women can be aware of the signs as early as possible.
“A smear test can detect Cervical Cancer, but not Ovarian Cancer,” says Brenda.
The symptoms of Ovarian Cancer can be mystifying. It can masquerade under the guise of other painful illnesses.
“The symptoms of Ovarian Cancer are difficult to detect,” says Brenda.
“Early diagnosis can be the difference between life and death. I didn’t have the CA 125, an elevated level can sometimes indicate ovarian cancer.”
The symptoms of Ovarian Cancer can often be confused with other illnesses.
“In the Spring of 2012 I was having very bad pain,” says Brenda.
“I was very bloated and I had terrible back pain. I was constantly going to the bathroom, urgently needing to pass urine, sometimes leaking. This became a nuisance and an embarrassment at work.
“Gallstones was suspected but there was a long wait for an ultra-sound test. I always put my kids first and I didn’t have private health care.”
Meanwhile, Brenda made sure she ate healthily and kept up her fitness levels as best she could. Her body felt like a dead weight, weighing her down.
“I developed a bad cough,” says Brenda.
“I didn’t know why. I had severe bouts of diarrhoea, so bad I collapsed at home one day, ending up in CUH in December 2013.
“I was going from post to pillar, getting nowhere,” says Brenda.
Her health continued to deteriorate, a lung scan to investigate her hacking cough threw no new light on matters.
“I was given an inhaler and prescribed antibiotics for signs of fluid in my lung,” says Brenda.
A hellish break to Turkey saw her return home and back to her GP, culminating in a visit to the Acute Medical Unit in CUH.
“I felt like I was drowning,” say Brenda, unaware that cancer had infiltrated her body.
“I couldn’t speak. I had no breath.”
When Brenda got the diagnosis of ovarian cancer she had no words to describe the shock.
“I had litres of fluid in my lungs,” she says.
“My primary cancer was Ovarian Cancer. Secondarys were in the lung. I never connected the two. I was freaked out,” says Brenda, who survived the ordeal, despite re-occurrences, and is now intent on raising awareness, alerting other women to watch for the signs of the disease.
She began the long road of treatment for stage 3 Metastatic Cancer; chemotherapy involving the two-drug regimen of Carboplatin and Taxel.
“I was totally in the dark regarding my illness,” says Brenda, who is now getting on with her life as best she can.
“I’m trying to have a good quality of life with my kids for the time I have left.
“And I’m appreciating the good things in life.
“My oncologist, Seamus O’Reilly is an amazing man, who is kind and understanding. I’d like to thank him from the bottom of my heart.”
She is advising women to advocate for themselves.
“Listen to your own body and advocate for yourself,” she says.
“If you don’t feel right; act on it.”
Acting swiftly can save lives.
“If Ovarian Cancer is caught early, there’s a 92% chance of surviving. I want to alert women to be aware of the signs,” says Brenda.
“Ovarian Cancer is often at an advanced stage before it’s diagnosed.
“I want to emphasis to women that recognising the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer and early diagnosis is crucial.
“If one life can be saved, then that is a miracle.”
MAKING A VIDEO
World Ovarian Cancer Day takes place today, May, 8. Brenda features in a new video from Breakthrough Cancer Research which uses the personal experiences of ovarian cancer patients and survivors, highlighting the signs and symptoms to look out for. Find the video at http://btt.lyBEATOC
FREE INFORMATION TALK
There will be a free public information event in Cork this evening. Dearbhaille Collins, consultant medical oncologist at CUH, is speaking at the Western Gateway Building, UCC. Refreshments 6.30-7pm; Talks 7-8pm. For more email firstname.lastname@example.org
Also today, City Hall in Cork will ‘Light up in Teal’ in support of the global initiative, marking World Ovarian Cancer Day.
For more see www.ovariancancerday.org
SPOT THE SIGNS
Ovarian cancer is the 6th most common female cancer in Ireland. Around 411 women are diagnosed each year with 272 women losing their lives due to the disease.
Ireland ranks among the highest in the world in terms of mortality from ovarian cancer. The BEAT Ovarian Cancer Campaign highlights the key signs of the disease.
Knowing the signs and getting help at an early stage is crucial, if you have any of the following for three weeks or more:
Bloating that is persistent and doesn’t come and go.
Eating less and feeling full more quickly.
Abdominal and pelvic pain you feel most days.
Toilet changes in urination and bowel habits.