Helen Goldstraw, 54, from Stoke-on-Trent, explains how Ovacome supported her following an ovarian cancer diagnosis
Helen and her husband, Steve, are indebted to Ovacome for its help
Helen Goldstraw was at her GP surgery in September 2019 attending a regular asthma review with a nurse when she mentioned she was still getting regular, quite heavy periods, despite being told she should be menopausal. “It was just a throwaway comment, but the next day, my GP rang and asked would I mind if they referred me for an ultrasound scan. I said that was fine and was sent for it the next week.”
The scan revealed Helen had a very large ovarian tumour. “It was a shock as I hadn’t thought I had any symptoms prior to the scan and felt physically OK. Life suddenly snowballed. I was referred to another consultant, and within two months was given a full hysterectomy.
“However, they discovered while operating that the tumour – which turned out to be a rare type called a granulosa cell tumour of the ovary – had also spread to my bowels. They had to get a bowel surgeon in and I ended up getting a stoma as they had to cut away part of my bowel. I was told this temporary fix could be reversed in the future.”
“Once I’d recovered physically and was thinking straight again, I found myself starting to suffer mentally. I thought, ‘where do I go from here?”
Over the next six weeks, Helen rested at home while she recovered from the surgery. “I have always been quite fit and healthy and recovered pretty well physically. I was
told my type of tumour was quite a ‘good’ one to have as it doesn’t require any other treatment such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and I was given a blood test that showed everything was clear. However, once I’d recovered physically and was thinking straight again, I found myself starting to suffer mentally. I felt quite taken aback and in shock from the whole thing and thought, ‘Where do I go from here?’ I had lots of questions but I was at a bit of a loss as to where to turn.”
In January 2020, two months after her surgery, a friend of Helen’s got in touch and told her about the charity Ovacome, which she had seen advertised online. “It was fantastic timing as I was desperate to talk to someone, and when I went to its website, I saw its focus in January was on people who had been given stomas through ovarian cancer. It was massively helpful to find out more, to get some practical tips and read about others going through the same thing.”
Helen discovered the charity was opening a West Midlands community support hub that month – to provide support and information to women affected by ovarian cancer and give them a place to meet with others in the same boat – and decided to go along to the launch. “My husband came with me and we had a really good day. We listened to the stories of others who had been through the same experience, and there was such a wealth of information there. I learnt about things such as caring for stomas, which I hadn’t been given a lot of advice on, and met other ladies who had gone through the same thing.
“My husband was also really surprised to see how many other men were there, and he was able to ask his own questions. People were coming up to him and offering him support, which was just fantastic.”
“It’s lovely to know if I need to ask a question there is always someone there at the end of the phone”
Since the launch of the hub, Helen has continued to be in touch with the charity. “Although I haven’t been back yet as I don’t drive and it’s a bit of a distance, they are just a telephone call away and have offered me so much advice, support and practical tips via message and phone. I’ve had text messages telling me about all the things the charity offers – such as advice for friends and family and one-to-one or group meetings – so it’s good to know I can attend those things in the future. It’s also lovely to know that if I need to ask a question – even if it’s something really minor – there is always someone there at the end of the phone.
“They have a wealth of information and resources, and I have joined an online forum run by the charity, which has lots of advice and is a great place to ask questions. I’m thankful for that support.”
Helen also believes the work the charity does to raise awareness of ovarian cancer is vitally important. “I’m very lucky my doctor was switched on enough to pick up on my symptoms, as I totally missed them. It’s easy to overlook the early signs of ovarian cancer – such as bloating and indigestion – as they can seem unimportant, so the more awareness there is, the better. The charity offers knowledge, support and advice on every stage from early diagnosis to life after cancer, which is a lifeline for women.”
Helen at a hub open day with Ovacome ambassador Richard Riley and Athlete Kevin Brown
Ovacome West Midlands ovarian cancer support hub
TOTAL RAISED: £31,566
The charity will use the money raised in The Candis Big Give to provide community support hubs for those affected by ovarian cancer across the West Midlands, working with 150 people a month. The hubs will provide a knowledge base and a place where women affected by the disease can get together to develop support networks and friendships. The money will also help to fund symptom awareness materials and campaigns to raise awareness of the disease among marginalised groups, so that women can get an earlier diagnosis and treatment. ovacome.org.uk
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