Gynaecology Oncology news and patient stories

Helen had 'amazing care' after devastating Ovarian cancer diagnosis

Helen Hills

A woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after suffering from back pain and bloating has heaped praise on the 'fabulous cancer care' she received at Royal Derby Hospital after undergoing ultra-radical surgery to save her life.

Helen Hills put her symptoms down to 'age and over exercising' when she first started to feel unwell in 2020 but after seeing a doctor her worst fears were confirmed. Now she has shared her story to raise awareness of the disease for Ovarian Cancer month and said she cannot do enough to thank the team at Royal Derby Hospital who supported her through her difficult journey.

Helen, who is from Alfreton, said doctors initially thought she had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) but a television advert about bowel cancer prompted her to seek help. After an appointment with a bowel specialist on Christmas Eve 2020, Helen said things started to move very quickly and just weeks later she was diagnosed with Stage 3B/3C Ovarian Cancer. 

She said: "The summer before my diagnosis we were coming out of covid restrictions and we had done a lot of walking. I was getting terrible abdominal pain and lower back pain. It wasn’t really worrying me but what did raise alarm bells was a television advert about bowel cancer.

"My father died from bowel cancer and some of the symptoms were similar so I decided to call the doctor."

After a number of blood tests and hospital visits Helen and her husband attended an appointment where she was told she had ovarian cancer. Helen said the only way to describe how she felt in that moment was "pure devastation."

She said: "It was like everything became blurry and the first word I heard was 'death.' Both my mum and dad died from cancer so it felt like a horrible way of history repeating itself. It was scary and I was devastated for myself and my family."

Helen's consultant and the team rallied around Helen and she was offered ultra-radical surgery, an extensive surgery which can take up to 6-8 hours to perform, where surgeons aim to remove all visible cancer by performing more than a standard hysterectomy.

Helen accepted the surgery, saying "it was the only logical thing to do" to be given a chance at beating the cancer.

She underwent the operation and had both the spleen and any lymphnodes close to her liver removed after scans showed the cancer had spread to those areas.

Following the surgery, Helen was cared for in intensive care before moving to the High Dependency Unit and the Gynaecology Ward. She said everyone who looked after her during the 14-day stay was compassionate and made her feel safe and reassured, at a time where there was lots of change to get to grips with.

She said: "I cannot fault the team. Everyone was just amazing, it was a big operation which I needed to prepare myself for but I always felt reassured and in safe hands. There were times when I was recovering that I felt quite alone but there was one nurse who would always check in on me and she was somebody I could talk to about how I was feeling."

The journey that followed was a "rollercoaster" for Helen and her family with the hard work starting at home, she said.

"The initial diagnosis was one thing but then you have to live with it. When you start the journey you are told what they are going to do and I thought I would have the operation and go straight back to normal and be able to do the things I wanted to do but that wasn’t the case and I really struggled with that.

"It was a huge change for my family and such a rollercoaster mentally and physically.

"I've been a positive person all my life and I tried so hard to keep my spirits up especially during the chemotherapy but on the anniversary of my diagnosis last year I just couldn’t stop crying. It just hit me what I have actually been through.

"That’s the thing about cancer, it is so life-changing. Sometimes you are on top of the world and other days you just feel like enough is enough.

"But I am incredibly grateful. I am so glad I was offered the surgery and that I have the chance to get through this with the support of my family and the incredible team at Royal Derby Hospital."

Sam Foster, Gynaecology Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist, said there are a number of symptoms to be aware of.

She said: "The key to treating cancer is early diagnosis and treatment so please listen to Helen's story and speak to your GP if you have any symptoms such as new persistent low abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort which persists for two weeks or more, change in bowel or bladder habit which persists for two weeks or more, persistent loss of appetite, nausea or weight loss. Other main symptoms that we would advise to be mindful of include new persistent breathlessness or new back pain which persists or progresses over two weeks or more for a cause that you cannot identify. "

A full list of symptoms, and advice and support is available on the NHS website >

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