Annabel was diagnosed with stage 3C low-grade ovarian cancer in 2008 at the age of 26.
The year before, while working on her feet all day as a Nursing Sister in a busy hospital ward, she experienced symptoms such as feeling full too quickly, an increased urgency to urinate, aches in her legs and painful periods.
“And I was knackered, but I put that down to the shift work,” she said. “Nothing jumped out at me and ovarian cancer was the last thing on my mind.”
Hoping to become pregnant, she went in for a laparoscopy for fertility investigation. Doctors found a cyst and told her, “There’s a degree of malignancy.”
A CT scan showed ovarian tumours the size of oranges and the biopsies diagnosed borderline ovarian cancer. She was admitted to a hospital in Manchester to have her right ovary removed.
“When my surgeon opened me up, he had a bit of an ethical dilemma on his hands,” Titmuss said. “He could see my left ovary was affected too and would need removing also. But I hadn’t agreed to that. So he telephoned colleagues up and down the country for advice. Not because he wasn’t experienced in his field, but because I was 26 and he was just about to take away any ability I had to have my own children.”
The doctor left her uterus as a fertility sparing plan so that she might be able to use a donor egg later to carry her own child.
“However, that was when they still assumed it was borderline,” she said. “Once the histology came back, it was found to be low-grade serous ovarian cancer, stage 3C and it was in my lymph nodes. So I needed chemo and a hysterectomy.”
She completed chemotherapy in November 2008. However, in 2012 her CA-125 levels started rising and she experienced increasing shoulder pain. In 2014, scans showed tumours around her liver and diaphragm.
“Turns out that shoulder pain was due to the cancer growing through my diaphragm and entering my lung,” Titmuss said. “There was an actual hole.”
Since then she’s had multiple surgeries and chemotherapy, taken the aromatase inhibitor Letrozole and the maintenance drug Avastin. In May 2021, she started taking the selective estrogen receptor modulator Tamoxifen.
“I’m pleased to report my most recent CT scan shows my tumours are stable and my CA-125 came down to 33, so the Tamoxifen is still working.”
Married since 2005, Titmuss and her husband, Jay, have two dogs and would have a house full of animals if she could.
“I’d go as far to say that the infertility has been worse than the cancer diagnosis for me,” she said. “I’d planned a life with children. It’s brought a lot of guilt that I can’t give my husband children and seeing all my friends have their babies over the years hasn’t been easy at times.”
While the cancer itself is challenging, she says life has been surprisingly good in other ways. “I’ve had to learn to live in the here and now. I’ve made some fantastic memories and seen some great sights. I don’t put anything off now.”
Titmuss hopes to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.
“I will continue sharing them until my last breath. My symptoms were there but I didn’t know what to look for.”