Hannah was diagnosed with stage 3 low-grade serous ovarian cancer in 2019 at the age of 35.
Her symptoms started with constipation four months after her second child was born. At first her doctors said she was just stressed and that her body was getting back to normal after childbirth.
“I thought I was being a hypochondriac and was making a big deal out of nothing,” she said. But the symptoms persisted, so she returned to the doctor a few more times over the next few months.
“I was told it was IBS and I needed to watch my diet and look after myself,” she said. “Then I started having difficulty eating, no appetite and getting full after a couple of bites. I had heartburn and a backache, too.”
One doctor diagnosed her with vertigo and another said it was exhaustion.
“Over the course of six months I saw a doctor over 15 times,” Hannah said. “Nobody suspected cancer. They only found it because I was referred to a specialist to see if I had Crohn’s disease and the referral included a blood test to rule out bowel and ovarian cancer.”
Hannah said the worst part of her diagnosis was the unknown.
“I had no idea what chemo would be like, but the thing that worried me most was dying and leaving my children behind,” she said. “ My son hadn’t even had his first birthday. I was told he’d more than likely grow up with no memories of me.”
After two doses of chemotherapy, Hannah had a full hysterectomy, omentectomy, splenectomy, bowel removal resulting in a permanent ileostomy, and lost part of her stomach.
“My biggest fear when I went into surgery was what they’d tell me when I woke up, whether they’d managed to get it all or if I’d been through all that and was still going to die.”
With an ileostomy and partial removal of her stomach, Hannah has problems with eating and her stoma.
“There’s always something there to remind me of what I’ve been through,” she said. “I’m menopausal because of the hysterectomy, I have hot flushes and my memory and concentration have been affected. I also have joint pains and feel lethargic nearly all the time. I’m not able to do everything with my children that I want to. I can’t take them on walks because I don’t have the energy. We can’t go on as many days out as I’d like either, and they have to see me in pain and dealing with stoma bag leaks.”
While her low-grade ovarian cancer is incurable, it is treatable, and is being managed with hormone blockers.
“I’ll stay on the hormone blockers as long as they work but nobody knows how long that will be,” she said.
“I’m more understanding of people I meet in public now. I know first hand that you can’t tell what someone is going through just by looking at them.”
“I feel blessed to have been given the chance to be here so I do everything I can to raise awareness and help other people in similar situations,” she said.