Gilly McLaren of Scotland was diagnosed with stage 3C low-grade serous ovarian cancer in 2020 at the age of 33.
“Creating art through my recovery has been a needed escapism. I’ve met many wonderful NHS staff along the way, who I’ve created portraits of, as a thank you gift, for all their kindness. I began a series: ‘Portraits and Tales from a Hospital Bed,’ shared @gillyartist on Instagram” says Gilly.
She experienced textbook symptoms of ovarian cancer for 18 months but struggled to get diagnosed.
In October 2018, she sought treatment for recurrent viral symptoms, urine infection symptoms and bowel changes.
“I had already had IBS for years, but these were persistent changes that I knew were different for me,” she said.
Her doctors misdiagnosed it as a dermoid cyst. A blood test found a CA-125 level of 25, within the normal range of 0-35.
She returned to her GP in December with persistent daily nausea, persistent bowel changes, a lost appetite, and feeling full early. The earlier misdiagnosis led her GP to treat her for irritable bowel syndrome.
In January 2019, a gynaecologist again misdiagnosed her with a dermoid cyst.
“My initial symptoms of feeling full early and nausea subsided, and I resigned to believing I had erratic IBS symptoms,” she said.
That summer, she struggled with increasing weakness and fatigue.
In December 2019, she again felt strong nausea, lack of appetite and feeling full early, along with increasing, persistent pelvic pain.
“I read every medical article I could find on dermoid cysts, scan pathologies and ovarian cancer,” she said. “My ongoing persistent symptoms were pointing towards possible malignancy and research on dermoid cysts was not fitting my symptoms.”
In February 2020, a gynaecological consultant reassured her that she now had two dermoid cysts.
“I tentatively questioned the significant growth of masses, and bilateral masses not fitting the diagnosis of typical dermoid cysts,” Gilly said. The doctor ordered a CA-125 test, which showed that the tumor marker had risen to 113.
A CT scan was ordered, but the consultant who delivered the results over the phone said everything was normal.
“In pain, fatigued and very ill, I pressed one more time for another opinion, stating ‘I have every symptom of ovarian cancer.’ “
Finally, in March 2020, a different gynecologic oncologist looked at her scan and diagnosed Gilly with stage 3C ovarian cancer.
“I would need extensive abdominal surgery to save my life, and this would also take my fertility. This was not just life-changing, but heartbreaking,” she said.
“If I hadn’t pushed for the diagnosis, based on my research, I would’ve waited for routine surgery to remove ‘dermoid cysts,’ undoubtedly pushed back by forthcoming Covid-19,” she said. “The disease would have undoubtedly progressed to stage 4 or beyond.”
View Gilly’s art at gillyartist.com