Marie Hollyhead

Mother of two, Marie Hollyhead was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at just 48 years old. As Marie plans for her fifth Christmas since her diagnosis, she movingly tells us about her journey so far:

“I was diagnosed with Stage 1 ovarian cancer in October 2014 but sadly this changed to Stage 4 in June 2015.

For a few months I had been experiencing loss of appetite and weight gain as well as bloating and back pain.

I was a very busy Vice Principal in a secondary school

When I eventually managed to get a doctor’s 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 36-week pregnancy.

No one ever mentioned cancer, but as is standard practice the tumour was sent for testing. I then 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 and very frightened, this wasn’t in my plan. It was at this point I met the most fabulous oncology team, who have supported me throughout my treatment, I can’t praise them enough.

My first round of chemotherapy wasn’t a success and in July 2015 I underwent more surgery and in a tragic twist of fate 10 days later my spleen ruptured.

Marie’s husband, Adam was told there was only a 20% chance of her surviving the splenectomy, but Marie is a fighter and after she recovered from her surgery underwent a different type of chemotherapy.  This too proved ineffective and was stopped at Christmas that year.

Her oncology team devised a new treatment plan of weekly chemotherapy over 24 weeks and Marie responded and the cancer cleared from her lungs and liver and was only left in one lymph node.

Marie said: “The results were amazing, we were shocked by the impact the third chemotherapy has had on the disease and 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 had a huge impacted on my family, we were in the process of planning the next stage of our lives, moving to a new house, and the 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 particularly 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 the family look back on the last few years, Marie admits that Christmas can be a hard time. “As the nights get darker, it’s harder to 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.