Three years ago Glenrothes woman Elaine Drysdale knew little or nothing about ovarian cancer.
Like many thousands of women she led a fit and healthy lifestyle, exercising regularly,took care with her diet, was a non-smoker and drank only in moderation - life threatening illnesses were certainly far from her thoughts.
But her life was turned upside down on Christmas eve 2012, when at the age of 46 she received the shattering news that she had joined the 7100 other women that are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year.
“Getting confirmation from my doctor was truly devastating, it came as a complete shock as it’s just something you think happens to other people, not yourself, especially as health wise I felt fine,” Elaine told the Gazette.
But having ignored some of what she now knows to be the early symptoms - the desire to go to the toilet more, stomach aches, fatigue, back pain and feeling bloated - dismissing them indigestion and niggles of everyday life, Elaine carried on as normal.
“I put to my age and not wanting it to inhibit my lifestyle, I even started pelvic floor exercises to see if that would help,” she explained.
“While all the the time the cancer was developing unchecked because I didn’t know any different and didn’t do anything about those early warning signs”
Following the diagnosis Elaine underwent a hysterectomy operation and embarked on a six-month programme of chemotherapy vowing to tackle the illness head on.
“Once myself and my family had overcome the shock of the situation we quickly realised the best way to beat this illness and get through the treatment programme was to stay positive at all times, I saw that as my defence mechanism,” she explained.
Elaine came through the treatment and went into remission, and decided to use her first-hand experiences of the illness to help other across Fife finding themselves in similar positions, involving herself with a number of help groups and cancer-related charity organisations.
But with a 70 per cent chance of the cancer returning, just three months on Elaine received the news she had dreaded that the illness had had indeed come back, more vigorous and widespread than before.
“The news was a blow but It has made me more determined than ever to beat this illness and to use my experiences to benefit and bring about a better awareness of ovarian cancer,” said Elaine.
In December Elaine joined MPs, leading health professionals and fellow cancer sufferers in Westminster in a bid to raise awareness.
“It’s so easy to ignore the signs but women need to listen to what their bodies are telling them and go to see their doctor, by catching this illness early it gives them a massive advantage in beating cancer for good,” said Elaine.
Meanwhile Elaine’s own private battle continues, in April she undergoes atmospheric pressure plasma jet treatment at the Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy.
As with all of her treatment so far, Elaine is approaching it in a positive fashion, despite her latest diagnosis not being a good one.
“It’s the latest, most advanced type of treatment, so hopefully that will give me a fighting chance of beating this, but whatever happens, if my experiences can help other potential sufferers then it will have been worthwhile,” she added stoically.
Councillor continues fight...
Fife councillor David Graham raised a motion at the full meeting of Fife Council last week, urging the local authority, as well as the Scottih and UK Governments, to raise more awareness of ovarian cancer.
Cllr Graham’s wife Sharon lost her battle with the disease in February last year, and he vowed to carry on her fight to raise awareness of the cancer, which affects one in 50 women in their lifetime.
“As a promise to Sharon I committed to continuing her work to the best of my ability,” he said, “in firstly campaigning for awareness through the media to inform as many people as possible about the symptoms and what to watch out for, and secondly to campaign to improve the knowledge of medical professionals about what they should be looking for to improve the time which it takes to get to diagnosis which shall in turn improve survival rates.”
His motion received unequivocal support from fellow councillors, and commenting after the meeting he said: “I am delighted that my motion received unanimous cross party support today and thank all councillors in Fife for their support.
“Too many women die of this horrible disease every year. This is caused by the massive lack of awareness from throughout the wider community.
“I urge the local community and GPs to take up the opportunities which are out there and available to them to make themselves more aware of the symptoms.”
Cllr Graham is supported in his campaign by the Target Ovarian Cancer charity. Rebecca Rennison, director of public affairs and services, said: “It’s fantastic that Cllr Graham is raising awareness of ovarian cancer. Sharon, his wife, was a tireless campaigner and throughout her lifetime strove to raise awareness, and we’re incredibly grateful that Cllr Graham is continuing the work that she put in motion.”
Awareness month in March - and how you can get involved...
Over 65 per cent of women in Scotland diagnosed with ovarian cancer had either never heard of it before, or if they had, they didn’t know anything about it prior to their diagnosis. A study in 2012 by Target Ovarian Cancer also found that only three per cent of women surveyed were very confident about spotting any of the symptoms of the disease, and the same study found that nearly half of women believe incorrectly that cervical screening is able to detect the cancer. Symptoms to look out for include a swollen or bloated tummy, needing to go wee more, stomach pains and the feeling of always being full. This March, 50 is the magic number forTarget Ovarian Cancer. Because one in 50 women will develop ovarian cancer in their lifetime, the charity is asking everyone to tell 50 people about the cancer and raise at least £50. For more, go to www.targetovariancancer.org.uk