THE first time I noticed something strange was when I was lying on the beach on my stomach. It felt like there was unusual pressure in my abdomen. I was a relatively healthy 28-year-old with a tendency to ignore random aches and pains, so finally decided to go to the doctor over a year later.
The GP felt my abdomen and couldn't feel anything amiss but sent me for an ultrasound anyway. I'll never forget the sonographer asking me if I had been sent by a specialist. I replied no, but immediately realised the implication of her choice of words. "Have you made another appointment with your doctor? Don't leave it too long."
Being the impatient patient that I am, I googled every single term in the ultrasound report. I remember websites explaining the phrase "complex ovarian neoplasm" and letting my mind run away with what that might entail.
I took the ultrasound back to my GP who rang a specialist straight away and made me an appointment for the following day.
She gave me the doctor's name and address, but it wasn't until I was in his waiting room and saw the sign saying "Gynaecologocal Oncologist" that I actually realised this was pretty serious.
He ordered a CT scan and blood test and booked me in for surgery within the week.
Suddenly those things I had ignored didn't seem so harmless
The CT scan showed an impressively large mass in my ovary that was squashing my bladder and uterus. I was astounded to see that the large round thing that looked like a major organ was actually not supposed to be there at all.
Suddenly, I could identify a number of symptoms that had slowly worsened over time, that I had ignored.
Yes, I had always had painful menstrual cramps, but lately I had had to lie on the floor at work for relief. I just thought it was part of being a woman.
Yes, I had actually been going to the toilet more often. Up to 15 times a day, now that I thought about it.
Yes, my pants had gotten awfully tight, but I thought that was merely a reflection of my love of good food and beer. I had lower back pain on and off my whole adult life, so I dismissed the recent bout as a result of working on my feet all day.
The surgeon didn't want to do a biopsy for risk of spilling any potentially cancerous cells into the rest of my body. So I wouldn't know until after the surgery whether it was cancerous or not.
Waiting for the surgery was the scariest week of my life. I was two weeks away from beginning the Honours year of my degree and suddenly I was wondering if my future would be drastically different to how I'd imagined. Would I still be able to have children?
The laparoscopic surgery went incredibly well and the surgeon casually mentioned that he cut out some endometriosis that he had come across while he was in there.
I now have totally pain free periods which I find incredible after enduring them for 15 years.
I had to wait another week after the surgery for the histology report to determine whether the tumour was benign or more sinister. The results revealed that the tumour was mostly benign, and that I wouldn't need chemotherapy. It contained some borderline cancerous cells as well as neural tissue, glandular tissue and cartilage, among other types of tissue.
I remember having learned about teratomas in high school and thinking that these "monstrous tumours" (the Greek translation of the name) were both fascinating and terrifying. They have been known to contain all sorts of tissue including hair, teeth, and even fully formed organs such as ears.
Apparently, teratomas are present from birth and grow slowly throughout life until they show up on a scan, or painfully rupture.
I was very lucky to have discovered it, and am now much more vigilant about going to the doctor when something doesn't feel quite right. I have a beautiful 10-month-old son, and consider myself incredibly privileged to be a mother. My thoughts are often with the other ladies I met in the surgeon's waiting room who have lost their fertility, or in some cases, their lives.