Marie Hollyhead was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at just 48 years old. As Marie plans for her 5th Christmas since her diagnosis, the mother of two details her journey so far:
“I was diagnosed with Stage 1 ovarian cancer October 2014 and then Stage 4 June 2015.
“For a few months I had been experiencing loss of appetite, weight gain as well as bloating and back pain.
“I was working in a secondary school as vice principal and as I was incredibly busy, I carried on for a little while.
“When I eventually managed to get a doctors appointment, I was given a blood test, this came back clear. But I knew something was wrong. After about two months of ringing and hassling, I was finally given a scan which showed evidence of abnormal growth. I underwent a hysterectomy as I had been diagnosed with ovarian cysts previously. The tumour removed was described by the surgeon as the size of a 36week pregnancy.
“No one ever mentioned cancer, but as is practice the tumour was sent for testing. I received a letter in the post saying I had cancer and given a number at another NHS trust to ring to organise my own oncology appointment. I was obviously devastated, this wasn’t in my plan. It was at this point I met the most fabulous Oncology team, who have supported throughout my treatment, I can’t praise them enough.
“My first round of chemotherapy wasn’t a success so treatment moved to plan B, Marie underwent debulking surgery in July 2015, and in a tragic twist of fate 10 days later her spleen ruptured.”
Her devastated husband was told there was only a 20% chance of surviving the splenectomy. Chemotherapy 2 proved unsuccessful and was stopped Christmas 2015. However, the head-strong mum eventually responded to weekly chemotherapy, which she took over 24 weeks. By the end of the treatment the cancer had cleared from her lungs and liver and was only left in one lymph node.
Marie said: “The results were amazing and we were shocked by the impact the third chemotherapy has had on the disease. I was able to remain treatment free for 21 months.
“I am a strong person and I just get on with it, friends and colleagues have commented ‘Why you?’ and my response has been why not me?
“The treatment has hugely impacted on my family, we were in the process of planning the next stage of our lives, house move and children leaving home. “My daughter had just started university, when I was diagnosed and my son was only 15.
“It’s been hard for them to watch their mum go through all the treatment.
“It was particular hard to lose my hair, in some ways it was harder than the treatment.” Children don’t want to be asked ‘What’s wrong with your Mum?’ Hair loss is that visible sign.
“My husband has been my rock and has managed to maintain a stressful job throughout all the treatment. I think that sometimes with all the support offered to the person suffering from cancer many forget about the immediate family and the impact this has on them.”
As Marie and her family look back on the last few years, Marie admitted that Christmas can be a hard time. “As the nights get darker, it’s harder remain positive and optimistic.’
“But we just get on with it and have as normal a family life as possible.”
Marie has just been accepted on to a clinical trial, which she hopes will enable her to live for longer with the disease.
“I thought I was a strong person but looking back I can’t believe the strength I’ve shown in my determination to get through each treatment and recover from each setback. I’m really proud of myself,” she added.