Hello there to all of you in the US!
My name is Rachel Vowles and I’m from England. So how come I am here writing a blog for OCSA and what on earth do I have to do with anything?
The story is a great one. I am an OC survivor. I was diagnosed at the age of 38 half way through my first pregnancy. Looking back now it all seems very dramatic but at the time I remember being very grateful that, finally, I was being taken seriously. I’d noticed early on in my pregnancy that I could feel a definite lump on my left side which seemed to be growing at a rapid rate. Even after my 12 week scan where a ‘cyst’ was picked up, I still had to be quite pushy before being taken seriously that this was more than just “a small cyst that many women have and its nothing to worry about”. Now I know a bit more about ovarian cancer, I have learned that it is a cancer which mainly affects post menopausal women and that doctors often don’t recognize the symptoms which can be put down to stress or irritable bowel syndrome amongst other things. The symptoms of feeling permanently bloated, needing to wee more often, abdominal pain and feeling full or difficulty eating.
As you may know, we are very fortunate in the UK to have medical care which is free at the point of access via the National Health Service which we pay for through our taxes. Once I was taken seriously, the NHS machine got moving very quickly and at 18 weeks pregnant I went into hospital where I had the tumor and ovary removed – I was the last operation of the day and believe me it was the longest day of my life!
Fortunately I went on to have a healthy baby boy delivered at 37 weeks. Six weeks after he was born I had chemo – Carboplatin. Not pleasant but definitely better than the alternative.
After I finished my treatment I quickly became pregnant again (never believing that at my advanced age of 39 and with one, chemo blasted, ovary remaining I would ever be able to conceive) and went on to have a baby girl. When she was a year old I had a full hysterectomy and the other ovary removed. This was tough at the time, not least because both my children were born by C-section so this was my fourth abdominal surgery in three years. Looking back now I can see I was exhausted – I had a one year old, a 2½ year old, and a hysterectomy but I was determined to get on with my life and continued also to work part time, at the time I had a fabulous job in theatre in education working with young people and communities. It kept me sane!
But now nearly 7 years after my hysterectomy I am glad to say it does seem like a strange memory of something that happened to me. I never felt like a victim, just someone that cancer happened to, not a hero or ‘brave’ or a fighter, just an ordinary person like you or anyone else. Because that is the thing with cancer, it doesn’t discriminate.
So how come I got to be linked to the fantastic folk at OCSA?
Well, I continue to work in theatre but also, bizarrely, I now also work in the field of knitting and crochet where I edit patterns that are published in magazines and books. I had a friend who was doing the job and she became very ill with breast cancer and knowing that I was an avid knitter and crocheter and I was a bit of a dab hand at maths she asked me if I might help her out. Sadly the cancer took that lovely friend and she is no longer with us.
Recently I was asked to help curate an event called Plush alongside the British Alpaca Futurity. Plush saw lots of makers and sellers, buyers and crafters coming together for a two day event supporting British design and craft and all things woolly and yarny. I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to raise some awareness of the symptoms of OC so we had knitting needles and crochet hooks made which we sold with all the profit going to the UK charity Target Ovarian Cancer – a charity whose aim is to raise awareness of the symptoms of OC, empower women and educate doctors. Our aim was for women (and men too of course!) to take some time out, sit down, knit, crochet and talk to other women about OC and to encourage each other to become aware of the symptoms. Target Ovarian Cancer says that only 3% of women know the symptoms, just 3%! If more of us were aware then more women could be saved through early diagnosis and treatment.
So knitting brought us together – as only knitting can. One of the fantastic folk at OCSA, (Kristin Junkas) saw our advertisement and bought some of our needles and this struck up a conversation between us. I think that the work that OCSA is doing with animals is incredible. I had seen a documentary about how dogs are able to be trained to ‘sniff’ out cancer and I find this absolutely amazing. How incredible are these wonderful animals? It’s just astounding.
I am hoping to join the dog walk in September this year and walk to raise awareness on September 13th. I don’t have a dog but we ‘dog sit’ for friends all the time. I plan to walk around the beautiful Devonshire countryside near my home with this gorgeous creature, Poppy.
I continue with my slightly odd life of knitting, acting, teaching and editing and until the next time send all my best love to friends across the pond!
With very best love,