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When Mavis started having stomach pains, she didn’t think anything of it however a trip to the doctor followed by a CT scan confirmed a terrifying diagnosis.
In July 2018 at the age of 56 Mavis was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer which had spread to her peritoneum, bowel, liver and diaphragm. It was inoperable at this stage.
“I was in complete shock, I had no other symptoms aside from non-specific pain in my stomach and under my ribcage especially after a meal,” Mavis said.
“A plan was made for me under Dr. Zulfiquer Otty, oncology specialist at the Townsville University Hospital. I began nine weeks of chemotherapy which I took to exceptionally well and the tumours were reduced significantly. I was now a candidate for surgery.”
On 5 December, 2018 Mavis was admitted to Mater Hospital South Brisbane and underwent the very first HIPEC surgery performed in Australia.
Dr Sinead Barry from the Mater Gynaecology and Oncology Department explains the surgery is the process of pouring heated chemotherapy drugs all over the remaining cancer.
“HIPEC surgery also known as heated or hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy is the process of heating chemotherapy drugs and delivering them into the abdominal cavity. The surgery attempts to completely remove or destroy all visible tumour cells,” Sinead said.
“This surgery significantly improved survival rates in patients and since Mavis’ surgery we have treated nine other patients with fantastic results.”
For Mavis the surgery was a monumental physical undertaking.
“The surgery lasted ten hours and I was in ICU for three days. My whole body was so blown up and I was attached to so many machines and tubes that I was unrecognisable,” Mavis said.
“For anyone going through this I would say, ‘have faith in your surgeons’. Professor Lewis Perrin, Dr Naven Chetty, Dr Sanjeev Naidu and Dr Sinead Barry led a specially chosen, exceptional team for this procedure.
“I will always be grateful to all the people who assisted that day and those behind the scenes that lobbied for so long to bring this treatment to Australia.”
Mavis returned home just before Christmas 2018 and her recovery was very slow. She then began another nine weeks of chemotherapy in Townsville.
“Since then my health has been slowly improving and I am in remission. I now have check-ups every three months with positive results this far,” Mavis said.
“My best advice to women going through this would be, ‘to ask for help when you need it’. There were many times when depression, anxiety and fear would take over, and it was hard to move past it.
“On my bad days I sought advice from the hospital phycologist and had help within the hour. Talking to a professional taught me techniques to enable me to move forward again, don’t be afraid to access this help.
“There are many Cancer support groups out there as well. I am very blessed to have a wide support network of family and friends that check on me daily.”
Mavis said she is grateful for the opportunity to have the surgery and the time it has given her with loved ones.
“HIPEC is not a cure, but it has given me the greatest gift, the gift of time with the people I love,” Mavis said.
To find out more about cancer care services offered at Mater please visit http://www.mater.org.au/health/services/cancer-services
Finally recognising the symptoms of the disease can be live saving, the Ovarian Cancer Network has the following advice,
Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer
•Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
•Abdominal or pelvic (lower tummy) pain
•Feeling full after eating a small amount
•Needing to urinate often or urgently
•Changes in bowel habits
•Unexplained weight gain or loss
•Lower back pain
•Indigestion or nausea
•Bleeding after menopause or in-between periods
•Pain during sex or bleeding after
It is important to remember all the symptoms mentioned can be caused by other, less serious medical conditions. However, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, which are persistent and troublesome, you should see your doctor. They will be able to examine you and if necessary, do further tests to find the cause of your problems. To donate to ovarian cancer research click here.