Emily Duncan of West Lothian in Scotland was diagnosed with stage 3c ovarian cancer at 19 years old in 2012.
Emily’s problems started a few months after the birth of her daughter. For over a year she visited her doctor repeatedly with worsening complaints of stomach cramping, bloating, bowel and digestion issues, spotting, painful sex and fatigue. “I was told it was bad periods, a possible urinary tract infection, and then anxiety. I began to believe my GP and doubt myself. I can vividly remember saying to my partner (now husband) ‘Am I making this up?! Am I going crazy?’”.
Emily eventually saw a gynaecologist who raised the possibility of endometriosis and booked exploratory surgery. “I remember waking up and being asked to bring someone with me when they told me the results. It was then I knew it was serious. As soon as I heard the word cancer everything went blurry and my hearing was like being underwater.”
Further surgery followed. This time removing her uterus, cervix, ovaries, lymph nodes, some diaphragm and part of her bowel, requiring a colostomy. “I began chemotherapy a few weeks later and after this I had four years without further treatment.
During this time, Emily’s daughter started school – and Emily returned to studying, qualifying as a paediatric nurse. Her daughter 16 months old at the time of diagnosis, is now 11 years old.
Her cancer returned in 2016 and further surgery and treatment was required and restarted in 2018, which is unfortunately very typical of low-grade serous.
When Emily was first diagnosed, low-grade serous ovarian cancer had only been recognised as a unique cancer for eight years and was treated exactly the same as the very different and more common high-grade serous type. Now, Emily says, it is treated very differently.
“When I recurred I was treated with a hormone inhibitor called letrozole, I was then treated with bevacizumab before being lucky enough to try a newly researched drug called trametinib. Though the drug stopped working for me, the results were published this year. It is the first positive trial randomised clinical trial for my cancer. It’s exciting that these are options which didn’t exist when I was first diagnosed and shows how far things have moved along since then.”
Instead of a carefree life in her twenties, Emily has lived in the shadow of cancer. She says “there is a lot that is challenging and difficult including infertility. The fear and isolation of living in the unknown and not being able to plan for years ahead is very real. I find myself wondering if I will see my daughter reach specific milestones.”
“Yet at the same time, I appreciate the little things in every day so much more. Family is very important to me and we make spending time and taking holidays together a priority.”
“I am lucky to have an incredible oncologist Professor Charlie Gourlie who specialises in my cancer. I’m so supportive of Cure Our Ovarian Cancer who help fund his research. When you live with this cancer, research is everything. It’s your hope of a future.”