Body

"My doctors thought I had a UTI. It turned out to be cancer": What it's really like to find out you have the world's trickiest-to-diagnose cancer

One woman's story of how her whole life changed in an instant.

By Rebecca Sullivan
Annabel Dance, 46, was wrapping up long shift at the medical centre in Victoria where she works as a nurse, when she felt overcome by extreme tiredness.
It was a Friday afternoon and she'd been incredibly busy at work, so Annabel just assumed her lack of energy was due to her jam-packed schedule.
But then she started to get the shivers. She checked her temperature and had a low-grade fever.
She also didn't feel particularly hungry.
"I had a great deal of tightness in my stomach," Annabel told Now To Love.
On Monday morning, her temperature had spiked again, so she took the day off work.
She made an appointment with one of the doctors at her medical centre, who suggested that Annabel might have a urinary tract infection (UTI), because she was needing to use the bathroom more frequently.
"I know the symptoms of a UTI and I didn't really feel that I had many of those symptoms," Annabel said.
Nonetheless, the doctor did an on-the-spot urine test, and it came back "slightly positive", perhaps an indication that her body was at the tail-end of recovering from a UTI.
Annabel was prescribed antibiotics, but her condition didn't improve at all.
She returned to the doctor the following day and underwent a blood test and an ultrasound.
While the blood test came back negative, the ultrasound showed she had a large amount of fluid in her abdominal cavity. She needed to go to hospital immediately to have it drained.
Annabel went into hospital on a Tuesday, and just a few days later, she was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. Image: Supplied
After waiting in emergency for 10 hours, she was finally admitted and had a CT scan at 10:30pm.
Half an hour later, the doctor came into her room to deliver some horrible news.
"He said things weren't looking good and there was a suspicious area on the CT scan," Annabel said."I remember him saying that I had the right to know and that he didn't want to hold off from informing me. He told me to prepare myself for cancer. It was 11pm, I called my parents and the next day I was admitted to oncology."
Doctors later drained more than five litres of fluid from Annabel's stomach.
"They send all the fluid that gets drained off for testing and look at the cells, and that determines what kind of cancer diagnosis you receive. I knew it was some sort of reproductive area," she said.
"But the results came back and I was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer."
Ovarian cancer is one of the hardest cancers to detect, and there is no cure. Image: Supplied
Annabel says the diagnosis was "incredibly devastating", especially as she had "no real symptoms".
"I left work on a Friday and just a few days later I found out I had ovarian cancer," she said.
Sadly, Annabel's experience is not uncommon. Ovarian cancer is one of the hardest cancers to detect and there is no cure.
With the benefit of hindsight, she wishes she had been more proactive about prioritising her health.
"It's very easy to look back and said 'Oh I did have some symptoms', but you don't think to put them all together. I've always had a weight problems and I put the tiredness down to being busy," she said.
Seven months after her first diagnosis, she's been through six cycles of chemotherapy and a hysterectomy, as well as part of her stomach removed.
Annabel hopes sharing her story will encourage other women to take a closer look at their unusual health symptoms. Image: Supplied
Now, her prognosis is "quite good". "I have responded incredibly well to the chemo."
Annabel hasn't been back to work since her diagnosis, which has put a strain on her "financially and emotionally".
She was also an active volunteer with the Girl Guides community, but had to give up her role because of the risk of infection, as the chemo has weakened her immune system.
"I have to go into isolation because of the high risk I could catch things from visitors."
"You just have to be able to take each day as it comes and have no expectations about what you're going to be able to achieve. There were some days when I just couldn't get out of bed.
"The first time I went to have chemo, it was traumatic. You just have to have faith that things are going to work out. You can keep yourself health and do exercises and eat well."
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But despite being handed such awful news, Annabel says she's chosen to remain positive and use her experience as a way to educate others about ovarian cancer.
"I'm very happy talking to people about it, because as a nurse, I feel that I've been in a position where I feel that I can educate people. I've been very open with my friends and family about what I've gone through," she said.
And she wants Aussie women to start taking their own health seriously.
"I really hope that women really start to listen to their bodies and seek medical help when they need it. So many women say 'I don't have time'. When you've got cancer, you've got all the time in the world. You can't work and do lots of outdoor activities. You suddenly find the time when you're sick.
"A lot of women can find the time to take their children to the doctor, but not themselves."
She encourages all of us to stay on top of our regular health checks, including mammograms and cervical cancer screening tests.
"For a few minutes of discomfort having your breasts squashed or getting a pap smear, it's nothing compared to what it's like to have ovarian cancer. If I can stop one woman from going through this, then it will be worth it."
These are the risk factors associated with ovarian cancer. Image: Supplied
These are some of the signs that you could have ovarian cancer. Image: Supplied
For more information and do to donate money to Ovarian Cancer Australia, visit ovariancancer.net.au