Christine Mitchell, 63, from Ardross, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013 after seeing a GP about symptoms that were unusual for her. Fortunately the cancer was found at an earlier stage, was treated successfully, and she remains in good health nine years later.
Christine wants everyone diagnosed with cancer to have the same chance as her and is encouraging people to contact their GP practice without delay if they have any concerns or unusual symptoms.
The retired French teacher first began to experience symptoms in 2013 as she prepared to go on a walking holiday in Snowdonia with partner Sean. Having felt fatigued in the lead up to the holiday after a busy school term, she thought the break would do her good, but she noticed she’d lost her appetite and was eating less, even though she was putting weight on.
Christine says: “I wasn’t myself at all and felt completely wiped. I led a fairly active lifestyle, doing a lot of hillwalking, cycling and swimming, but I found I had barely any energy. I was also very bloated and my stomach had become really hard and tight. I thought it was just constipation or potentially IBS, but decided to book an appointment with a GP practice in Wales at the beginning of our walking trip. I hoped they would be able to prescribe me something that would relieve my discomfort so I could go on and enjoy the holiday.
“However, when I spoke to the GP, he advised we abandon the holiday and go home to get some tests in case there was something more serious going on. He gave me a referral note for my GP and we took his advice and headed back up to Scotland the next day.”
Christine’s GP carried out tests and referred her to hospital for further examination and testing, before she was given a diagnosis.
Christine said “It was such a shock. At no point did I think it was going to be cancer. My surgeon later described my cancer as ‘on the move’ so while it hadn’t fully spread to other parts of my body, it was going that way. I would need surgery followed by chemotherapy. Sometimes, a few rounds of chemo are required before surgery in order to shrink the tumour, but fortunately mine had been found in time and the surgery could go ahead right away.”
On 13 November 2013 Christine underwent surgery to remove her womb, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes and some surrounding tissue. The surgeon also removed some cancerous cells which were found on the outside of other surrounding organs, including her bladder and bowel. She spent a further two weeks in hospital after her surgery and spent some time recovering at home before beginning a six month course of chemotherapy in January 2014.
Christine said: “Although it had been a major procedure and the chemotherapy was very draining, I had so much support from Sean, family and friends that I actually felt like I was in a bit of a bubble. I was so well cared for by my medical team and felt very looked after and protected. Although getting the diagnosis was scary, you know you’re taking action against the cancer, and there is some positivity in that.
The unknowns of cancer can be worse – being worried that you might have it and it being left untreated.”
Christine’s treatment was successful but her recovery was hampered by a previously diagnosed condition which saw her experience a flare up of joint pain combined with fatigue. After much consideration, she made the decision not to return to work. However, in the summer of 2015, she felt well and fit enough again to get back to the hills, and she and Sean went on a walking trip in the French alps.
She said: “When I visited the Alps for the first time since my diagnosis, I had a moment of real gratitude. I wasn’t doing big hills but I was there and I was walking. There had been a time where I didn’t know if I’d ever get to experience that again.”
In the years since, Christine and Sean have continued to enjoy many walking trips and holidays together, frequently returning to France to see friends. However, Christine says that cancer has changed her outlook:
“While I still love to climb hills and go on holidays, it’s small things like gardening, making jam, or spending time with people that I value the most. Not long after my treatment, I was watching a thriller on the TV one night and I just felt a wave of gratitude. It’s the normal, everyday things that are important.”
Christine volunteers for Target Ovarian Cancer where she supports others going through ovarian cancer and she has shared her story at Westminster and Holyrood in a bid to raise awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms.
In 2018, Christine and Sean returned to Wales and climbed Snowdon as they had planned to five years earlier. While there, they also took the opportunity to look up the GP who had advised they go home right away and start tests. They met for a coffee and still keep in touch via Christmas cards.
“I know how fortunate I was to see a doctor who recognised my symptoms and advised I get further tests as soon as possible. My cancer being found at an earlier stage allowed me to make a full recovery, and nine years later I’m living a happy, healthy life. I want everyone to have this chance, and that’s why it’s so important for people to be aware of symptoms and contact their GP practice if they are experiencing anything unusual. Early diagnosis saves lives, so please, if you are putting off making an appointment, don’t. Make that call today.”