Mum-of-four Helen Powell has been fighting ovarian cancer for five years and while she remains hopeful a cure will be found, her biggest wish is to get to meet her grandchildren.
Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of gynaecological cancers and survival rates are much lower than other cancers that affect women.
“I’m very lucky because this is year five and the stats are not that good so I’m lucky to be here, and that I’ve been pretty well,” Helen tells Be.
“I was feeling a bit tired but put that down to normal things like working, the kids,” she tells us.
“But I did have a bloated tummy which was unusual for me, and I also couldn’t finish my food which was very unusual for me.”
Within two weeks Helen underwent ‘major de-bulking’ surgery where the tumours were removed. She then had to do three rounds of chemotherapy before being lucky enough to go on a trial to manage the disease, and saw her stay free from doing chemo for a year.
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“I was checked every month after the chemo finished but 12 months later they said the tumour markers were high again and it was back,” Helen, who is an ambassador for the Witchery White Shirt Campaign raising money for ovarian cancer research, says.
“I did another round of chemo but I’ve been very lucky now and I’ve gone nine months without needing any treatment.”
Wanting to throw everything at the disease – which is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women – Helen has signed up to another new trial and hopes she will live long enough to meet her grandchildren.
“It’s surprising how much it becomes part of life, but my life isn’t all about cancer,” she says.
“Life carries on, but it’s always there and that’s the hard thing. Really the statistics are not great and I think ‘am I going to see my grandchildren?’, and the answer to that is probably not.”
The relative five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 46.5 percent, but vary greatly depending on the stage of diagnosis, according to Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance.
Women diagnosed at an early stage – before the cancer has spread – have a much higher five-year survival rate than those diagnosed at a later stage. But only approximately 15 percent of patients are diagnosed early.
“It’s just about having hope. Even for the women coming behind me over the next few years,” the occupational nurse says. “There are so many more options now that weren’t there five years ago.
“The last few years we have made a lot of progress and things have come a long way so hopefully I will meet my grandchildren.”
While cancer has been ever present, Helen says the support from her husband Andy, and sons Jessie, Isaac, Asher and Joseph has helped her stay focused on the positives.
“I’m so proud of their resilience, they really step up, help with each other and are a great team,” Helen says of her boys. “And of course, my husband has been fantastic.
“It’s hard sometimes to remain positive and sometimes you won’t have great days and what matters is whatever gets you through that day. It’s all about support. It really is a team effort.”
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