What cancer were you diagnosed with?

Ovarian cancer


What age were you diagnosed?

30


What has helped you to thrive?

Retraining as a yoga teacher and a shaman and studying meditation have all helped me to thrive. I am able to use daily practices to stay in the present moment and not get caught up in the inevitable fear and anxiety of what will happen in the future. My focus is always on living and loving as much and as best as I can in each moment. Yes I still have moments of fear but I am always able to bring my awareness back to the present. This has helped me so much over the past four years since diagnosis.


Fiona's Story

By society’s standards, my life before cancer was great. Ambitious from a young age, I had completed my PhD in my mid-twenties and had dedicated my working life since to a career as a researcher, working for several NHS Boards as well as the Scottish Government. My passion for improving the healthcare system and promoting holistic health and wellbeing motivated me to juggle a 140-mile daily commute, a full-time job, volunteering and part-time study to train as a psychotherapist.

While, in my ‘spare time’ I trained for London Marathon. To say I was putting myself under unnecessary pressure would be the ultimate understatement, but I didn’t see that. To look at me I was the vision of impeccable health. I exercised daily, I ate healthily, I never smoked, and I very rarely drank and never in excess. I thought I was happy, and society encouraged this. A day didn’t pass where I wasn’t rewarded with comments of praise and admiration for juggling life and spinning every plate imaginable. Well-meaning phrases like ‘I don’t know how you do it. It’s incredible’ became the norm for me and I felt encouraged to do more, to push more, to keep trying harder at all costs.

Yet, somehow, I still found myself facing a death sentence at just the age of 30 when, in January 2016, I was diagnosed with high grade, serous, stage four b, non-genetic ovarian cancer.

At the time of diagnosis, I was told that my cancer was incurable, inoperable and terminal. I had tumours throughout my abdomen and fluid on my right lung. Suddenly, everything I had identified as ‘me’ came to a standstill. It was the ultimate wakeup call from the universe that something was wrong with the ‘perfect’ life I and been in such desperate pursuit of.

I started chemotherapy (paclitaxel and carboplatin) in February 2016 to ‘manage my symptoms, alongside the maintaince drug Avastin.

In May 2016, following a positive response to chemotherapy, I was unexpectedly approved for surgery and had major debunking surgery removing my womb, cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, omentum, appendix, spleen, part of my bowel (I have a colostomy bag), part of my liver, part of my pancreas and part of my diaphragm. The recovery was hard.

In August 2016 I was told my cancer was in remission and I had a period of 16 months with ‘no evidence of disease’. Then, in December 2017, I was rushed to hospital with chest pain. My right lung had collapsed due to 2.5 litres of cancerous fluid. My cancer had returned.

To buy me time, and avoid chemotherapy for as long as possible, I fundraised to receive further doses of Avastin privately, having already received my total NHS allocation. This cost £2000 every three weeks. This enabled me to stay well enough to start an immunotherapy trial in September 2018 where I received Durvalumab, Avastin and Olaparib. I was the only Scottish patient on the trial and one of only 11 women across the UK. The results were incredible. All of my abdominal tumours resolved and I was able to stay on the trial, relatively symptom free, for 16 months. However, during this time there were muktiple tumours growing in my right lung and around my heart and on New Year’s Eve 2019, my oncologist and I made the decision to take me off the trial. 

In January 2020 I started second line chemotherapy (this time just carboplatin). I am aware that this treatment won’t cure me, and is just to help manage my symptoms, but I feel relatively well and I am grateful for every extra day I get with the people I love and who love me. I am also extremely grateful to the NHS.