Caitlin Delaney had been getting headaches and feeling fatigued for a few months but she put it down to stress. She was looking after two small children, had recently moved house and was coping with the death of her mother-in-law.
“My GP sent me for an MRI to check if it was a brain tumour, which I thought was a bit dramatic, but nothing showed up. But after Christmas 2016 I started to experience some abdominal symptoms.” Caitlin revisited her GP on Australia Day, complaining of pain during intercourse and suddenly not being able to eat chocolate, wine or meat – all of which she normally enjoyed.
At first Caitlin wondered if she was a hypochondriac. “Symptoms for ovarian cancer are symptoms that women commonly experience and so you put it down to something else.” But she felt unwell for so long she started to think she was dying.
A second scan revealed ovarian cancer. “I was shocked but I wasn’t surprised as I had felt something was very wrong.”
Some of the common symptoms are abdominal pain, persistent bloating, increase in abdominal size and needing to urinate often or regularly. Caitlin says: “For the women affected that I have spoken to, although the symptoms can be varied and sometimes ambiguous, the common theme seems to be that all had experience a new symptom and had felt that something was not quite right.”
Caitlin was sent to Dr Selvan Pather at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. At first it was thought Caitlin had Stage 3 high grade serous ovarian cancer but following surgery she was diagnosed with Stage 4 clear cell ovarian cancer.
She says of the diagnosis, “It may sound odd but that Stage 4 diagnosis had an advantage for me as it enabled my oncologist to prescribe a maintenance drug approved under the PBS which is mainly used for recurrent Stage 4 cancer.”
Caitlin underwent cytoreductive or debulking surgery which aims to remove as many of the tumours as possible. This was performed by Dr Pather and Dr Marcelo Nascimento working together as a team. She tried to stay positive.
“Stage 4 clear cell ovarian cancer is the rarest and deadliest of them all. However, I’m an anomaly as I’ve responded successfully to chemotherapy, my tumour makers are normal and all my macroscopic cancer was removed in the debulking surgery. I feel truly lucky to have had this team of surgeons. I feel like they saved my life!”
Caitlin is now officially in remission.
While she was being treated, she sought help in the complementary therapies offered by The Lifehouse LivingRoom.
“During my second chemo session, I had a panic attack – it was suddenly very confronting. The enormity of cancer and what that meant really hit me. Keith Cox (day therapy nurse practitioner) suggested I get some reflexology while I was receiving the chemo infusion. This made a huge difference. It helped get my anxiety under control.”
Caitlin says it made her look forward to chemo as it meant someone was with her and nurturing her. “I’d almost fall asleep and I don’t do that easily. I now make it a point of going to The LivingRoom to continue with the reflexology or specialist massage. Everyone there is very helpful and caring. They treated my husband too as he was also very stressed. It’s important for carers to get support too.”
“I also took advantage of the counsellors and the nutritionists. I am so appreciative of being able to access this support. I had a great deal of help from head of supportive care and integrative oncology Dr Judith Lacey and exercise physiologist Michael Marthick. The staff are up-to-date with the latest research and the treatment – traditional and complementary – is evidence-based. The treatment team has weekly meetings to talk about the patient’s best care options. I just love everything about The LivingRoom and Lifehouse.”
Asked if there was any area that could be improved upon Caitlin suggested that patient support groups could be helpful for Lifehouse patients. “You see people in The LivingRoom and wonder what their story is and how are they handling things. I think being able to share stories would be empowering for people.”
Overall, Caitlin has been extremely happy with her care. “Lifehouse treats all patients equally and there’s a friendly and helpful culture. Even the building with its light and gardens makes you feel better.”
For more info on The LivingRoom: http://www.mylifehouse.org.au/services/complementary-therapy/