Ten GPs failed to find cancer

Mel Ensbey, of Alstonville, is sharing her story to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, a disease which kills 850 women each year.
Mel Ensbey, of Alstonville, is sharing her story to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, a disease which kills 850 women each year. Jay Cronan

MEL ENSBEY has a wish: that no other woman goes through the hell she did.

In 2004, the then 20-year-old Alstonville woman began experiencing constant fatigue, unexplained weight gain, irregular and painful periods, abdominal bloating so severe she looked as though she was nine-months pregnant.

The list went on: Constipation, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and frequent urinating.

Yet despite the numerous symptoms and visits to at least 10 GPs in the area, including the family doctor who had treated her for eight years, it wasn’t until 2006 that Ms Ensbey was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

“After GPs continually dismissed my case and failed to refer me on to a gynaecologist I demanded a referral,” she said.

“As ultrasounds had detected nothing I demanded a laparoscopy, which is often the only guaranteed way of checking what exactly is going on.

“That test marked the turning point in my life, from then on I was never the same person again, physically, emotionally or mentally.”

Despite ovarian cancer being one of the least known cancers, this year more than 1500 women will be diagnosed with the disease and more than 850 will die – that’s a rate of one every 11 hours, making it the sixth-most common cause of death in Australian women.

Ms Ensbey was diagnosed with IIIA borderline ovarian cancer, meaning her treatment was surgery rather than chemotherapy.

Yesterday she spoke of the frustration in getting the medical profession to take her complaints seriously.

“I have been called a hypochondriac, and one GP even said that ‘at least we know it’s nothing serious because you have had the symptoms for so long’,” Ms Ensbey said.

“Society needs to be educated about ovarian cancer, as women still believe that a pap smear detects ovarian cancer. It doesn’t, it only detects cervical cancer.”

Ovarian Cancer Australia said the chances of survival are much greater if the cancer is caught in the early stages, which means doctors’ and women’s awareness of the symptoms is crucial.

Unfortunately it seems many are not. The mortality rate has remained at a constant 80 per cent over the past decade.

“There is no funding for research and no funding for awareness. GPs don’t know about it and there are no brochures in their clinics,” Ms Ensbey said.

Unfortunately early last year Ms Ensbey received even more devastating news – her cancer had become invasive.

Yet, far from succumbing to her understandable fears, Ms Ensbey wants to educate others and spoke to The Northern Star to help promote Ovarian Cancer Awareness month.

“I just want women to be aware and not be disheartened by my experience,” she said.


Women over the age of 45 are at greater risk; however it can affect girls as young as seven.

Having few or no pregnancies, never having taken the pill.

A high-fat diet, being overweight, smoking.

A history of cancer in the family, especially ovarian, breast and some bowel cancers.

Being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.

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