Written by Standard Issue

Health

Target Ovarian Cancer: “You’re never too young to know what to look for”

The first Seren Hughes knew of ovarian cancer was when she was being diagnosed with it. At 19. Now in remission, she’s joined Target Ovarian Cancer’s #StartMakingNoise campaign.

Seren and her boyfriend Josh at a festival in summer 2016.

Seren Hughes was 19 and coming into her second semester of an English Literature degree at Salford University when she began to feel bloated and unwell. Within weeks she was told she had ovarian cancer, following the removal of a tumour which had the dimensions of a rugby ball.

That was two years ago. Now training for a marathon and cracking on with the degree which cancer so rudely interrupted, Seren wants to do all she can to raise awareness about the symptoms of the disease among all women. Whether they’re teenagers or pensioners.

It was around February time that I began to feel poorly. I know now that basically, I had all the typical symptoms of ovarian cancer, but had absolutely no clue.

My stomach was getting bigger. I was pretty thin aside from this, so it was noticeable quite quickly. But I’d been going out with my friends a lot and I wasn’t eating so well, so I thought I’d just put on a bit of extra weight. I started going to the gym and eating less, but it wasn’t going away.

I didn’t feel hungry any more, but my stomach was still growing. Also, I had been on my period for three months, but at that point, I didn’t connect the two things.

As the days went on, it started to get really painful to the point where sometimes I just couldn’t get out of bed. There was a week when I was just in my room, not eating or doing anything.

I went back to my parents’ home in north Wales and went to the doctors. I hadn’t been registered with a doctor at uni yet. I hadn’t been ill before.

“None of us knew anything about ovarian cancer, or the symptoms of it before this happened to me.”

My doctor said I probably just had constipation or something, which I wasn’t convinced by. He gave me some medication for that, but also decided to run some blood tests, because I told him about being on my period for such a long time.

I was really poorly and in agony on the way back to uni. I went to a lecture on the Monday morning but I got a call from the surgery to say I had to go to A&E straight away.

The doctor told me to write down what he was telling me and take it with me. So I had a piece of paper saying my CA125 was about 250. I didn’t even have time to Google it to get panicked or see what it could be. I handed the paper to the receptionist at A&E and was wheeled straight through to get a cannula in. I had no idea what was going on, but they seemed quite adamant that it was my appendix.

My mum and dad came to the hospital and I was gowned up and prepared for an operation. But before I went into theatre, they said they needed to do a scan, just to double check.

That’s when they told me: ‘You’ve got a mass on your left ovary and it’s looking rugby ball sized.’ I just didn’t understand how something that size that could fit inside my stomach. But it got so much bigger. I was on a pre-op ward for about a week, and it grew so fast. By the time I left, I looked fully pregnant. My belly button had popped out and everything.

I was on loads of meds. I hardly remember that week. At that point they didn’t know if it was cancerous or not. They would do a biopsy after the operation to remove the mass, which was booked in at the Christie hospital in Didsbury.

Seren in intensive care after the removal of her tumour.

When I got there, that’s when I started to panic. It was like you see on TV programmes – a children’s cancer ward.

I had the operation – they took out the mass, the fallopian tube, and obviously the ovary – and had to stay in intensive care for another week. At the beginning of April, they told me that I had Stage 1C ovarian cancer.

I think because of how ill I’d been, I wasn’t really surprised at how serious it was. When he told me I zoned out straight away, my head went fuzzy and I couldn’t really hear. I still don’t recall much of that conversation, so I’m glad we had a nurse in there as an extra pair of ears for us.

They couldn’t put it down to anything. There was no family history at all. No one in my family has had cancer. It was just one of those random things.

I’m not sure whether they would have planned to do the chemo no matter what, but because of the size of the tumour, it burst when they took it out, so then they had to make sure they’d catch anything which had spread.

Chemo was OK for the first couple of cycles; the anti-sickness drugs and all the other stuff they give you really helped me. But the last few weren’t great. It was like having a hangover every day, with lots of infections.

When I came out of hospital, I didn’t really feel too poorly and I wanted to get straight back to uni, but at the time I got diagnosed, it was right in the middle of assessment time. At first I just deferred everything, but when I was told I was going to have chemo, I decided to resit the year.

My last chemo was in August and I went back to uni three weeks after that.

I see my chemo consultant every three months and also the surgeon. I’ve got a really big scar right up my stomach, so he checks on that. I get ultrasound scans every four or five months. They come around quite quickly and I get blood tests as well, which test for everything.

I’ll be having IVF and freezing my eggs in September. When some people are diagnosed, there’s enough time to have the IVF in between diagnosis and the treatment, but because I had to have the surgery straight away, that wasn’t an option.

It’s been really strange to have to think about having a family and all of those things when I’m still so young. I’m still with the boyfriend I was with when I was diagnosed – we’d only been together a month and then we had to talk about all of this stuff! Maybe not the ideal way to start a relationship, but now we are stronger than ever.

Seren and her friends at her End of Chemo barbecue in August 2015.

I’ll be going into my final year at uni in September and, after that. I have no idea what I want to do. I’ve got lots of ideas but I’m going to go travelling and think about it all while I’m away.

Before that though, I’m running the London Marathon in April. I’m doing everything I can to feel good – exercise and eating well. Since all of this, I really hate feeling ill.

None of us knew anything about ovarian cancer, or the symptoms of it before this happened to me. Once I’d finished my treatment, I contacted Target Ovarian Cancer to see what I could do to spread the word, particularly to young women who might not think it can happen to them.

Basically, you’re never too young to know what to look for. If everyone knew what the symptoms and signs were, there’s a much better chance more people would go to their doctors sooner and informed, and that can make a huge difference.

@TargetOvarian

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Written by Standard Issue

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