Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer as Aussie mum thought stomach ache was a normal ‘female issue’

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“Outside, nothing had changed – the sun still shone brightly and people went on their way happily,” Rose wrote in her journal.

“Yet learning the reality of what was happening within me had instantaneously changed my whole world.”

It was December 6, 2012, and Rose, 73, was reflecting in her diary upon what should have been a routine visit to the doctor.

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The grandmother had been suffering persistently from bloating, lower back pain and stomach aches.

Never one to complain, she had put up with the pain – but by the time she sought medical attention it was too late.

Rachel says her and her mother Rose shared a unique bond. Credit: Supplied

Sitting alone in her doctor’s surgery, the former school teacher was told the devastating news that she had late-stage ovarian cancer.

It’s a moment she later described as feeling like she was frozen in time.

Her daughter Rachel Reeve says her mum “loved to journal”, and had expressed exactly how she felt upon stepping into the outside world immediately after her doctor told her she would likely die.

“I found her journal from the day she found out,” Rachel tells 7Life.

Rose was over the moon when she was able to ring the “end of chemotherapy bell” in the hospital ward.
Rose was over the moon when she was able to ring the “end of chemotherapy bell” in the hospital ward. Credit: Supplied

“She describes the feeling of sitting in the office and, even though her life had been changed forever, when she stepped out, the world kept churning.

“Everything and everyone was as they were.”

Within weeks of the December 2012 diagnosis, Rose was due to start chemotherapy.

The family spent the Christmas holidays together knowing the road ahead would be a tough one and, in January, Rose entered chemotherapy with determination.

Rachel is now raising awareness for ovarian cancer in honour of her late mother.
Rachel is now raising awareness for ovarian cancer in honour of her late mother. Credit: Supplied

It wasn’t the only medical ordeal she bravely faced.

She also underwent an invasive operation to remove cancer and suspicious tumours from her body.

The surgery, paired with six rounds of chemotherapy, was successful and, in April that year, Rose joyfully rang the “end of chemotherapy bell” in the hospital ward.

“It was such an amazing day,” Rachel says, recalling how her bond with her mum was strengthened during the treatment period.

During Rose’s treatment, Rachel shaved her hair and took her wig shopping.
During Rose’s treatment, Rachel shaved her hair and took her wig shopping. Credit: Supplied

“I became her hairdresser when her hair fell out and we went wig shopping too,” the 47-year-old says.

Given the ‘all clear’, Rose wanted to draw on her experience to try to help others, and threw herself into campaigning for ovarian cancer awareness.

As she juggled three-monthly check ups with family life, she became an ambassador for Ovarian Cancer Australia and raised money for more research into the disease.

A lover of literature, she also penned her first poem, titled The Whispering One, highlighting symptoms of the “silent assassin” that often disguises itself as stomach pain.

Her aim – to urge women not to dismiss pelvic pain as a “normal female issue”.

“That’s what she wanted to do – not to scare others but warn people to get check ups,” Rachel says.

Cancer returns

By late 2015, Rose’s abdominal ache was back – and by March the following year, she was told her cancer had returned.

Then aged 75, she had another six rounds of chemotherapy and surgery.

But March 2017 brought shattering news – the cancer had spread to Rose’s lungs and other vital areas around the body.

Rose passed away before she was able to see her grandchildren grow up.
Rose passed away before she was able to see her grandchildren grow up. Credit: Supplied

Her only option was a clinical trial.

“She thought about the trial, but she didn’t want to live the rest of her life in pain,” Rachel says.

“She wanted to enjoy what time she had left.”

Fundraising and awareness

So the grandmother opted against treatment, and did her best to continue her fundraising efforts and to raise awareness about ovarian cancer whenever she had the chance.

By May 2017, she was back in hospital, with her family rallying around as they tried to accept their matriarch was facing her final days.

“We decorated her room with family photos and she was made comfortable,” Rachel says.

But Rose had two special events in mind that she was determined to embrace.

For her daughter’s birthday, she was able to sneak out of the hospital to spend the day celebrating with Rachel.

“It was a 41st birthday I will never forget,” Rachel says.

During her four year battle, Rose helped fundraise and raise awareness for the disease which in the end, stole her life.
During her four year battle, Rose helped fundraise and raise awareness for the disease which in the end, stole her life. Credit: Supplied

Rose had also promised to be a speaker for an upcoming ovarian cancer awareness event – something she was steadfast about doing despite her condition.

So Rachel helped dress her mum in her very best, settled her in a wheelchair and took her to the event, where she read out two poems before introducing the keynote speakers.

Back in hospital that night, Rose’s condition rapidly deteriorated.

And a week after Mother’s Day in 2017, the beloved wife, mother and grandmother died.

Promise in poems

The passing of her mother was life changing for Rachel, who called her mum her “family partner in crime”.

“She was the one who could understand me, the one who was there during the birth of both my children,” she says.

She wants to honour her mum’s final wish to save more women’s lives, and she hopes Rose’s passion for literature may help facilitate this.

An excerpt from Rose’s journal detailing the moment she found out she had cancer.
An excerpt from Rose’s journal detailing the moment she found out she had cancer. Credit: Supplied

Rachel is now an ambassador for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

And she is raising awareness of The Whispering One, hoping to spread the word that pain anywhere is not okay and for women to seek medical attention sooner rather than later.

THE WHISPERING ONE (reproduced with the permission of Rose’s family)

Well, you may ask now “What is it?”

And might not know when it comes to visit

For the “Whispering One” won’t announce its arrival

But it will threaten your very survival.

This problem called the “Whispering One”

Does not have a sense of fun

It comes along with quiet stealth

And begins to attack your life and health.

The symptoms of the “Whispering One”

Should be known by everyone

When they appear they are quite subtle

So please don’t handle them with rebuttal.

Tummy or pelvic pain we first mention

Next comes bloating or tummy distention

You might also have the need to wee

And to do that quite frequently.

Feeling full can also show

Something else you need to know

Low back pain is another indication

As is diarrhoea or constipation.

Any sign of vaginal bleeding

After menopause needs your heeding

Change of weight, either down or up

If unexplained needs a check up.

Indigestion can be another clue

Excessive fatigue needs attention too

You must become a real expert

And to these changes be alert.

These are all symptoms to keep in mind

And if after four weeks you happen to find

That three or four keep on repeating

Then with your doctor please seek a meeting.

The problem is, as you can see

These signs can simple ailments be

So that is why without a doubt

We have to sort this problem out.

There is no reliable screening test

To help diagnose this horrid pest

The pap smear is not an answer

It does not diagnose ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer doesn’t discriminate by age

It can appear in women from any stage

So whether you’re 80 or only 18

This cancer can be incredibly mean.

You must know these symptoms and your body too

And listen to what it’s whispering to you.

It seems to be very clear

That what is really needed here

Is in research we must invest

And your help is needed in this quest.

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