World Ovarian Cancer Day - Gill Stannard Shares Her Advice

7 May 2020

Worried about ovarian cancer? On World Ovarian Cancer Day, here’s what you need to do

Every year, roughly 1500 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. More than 1000 more will die from it. But with vague symptoms and no viable screening test, ovarian cancer can be hard to detect. Here, ovarian cancer survivor and TCRN Consumer Advisory Panel representative Gill Stannard shares her advice about what to look out for – and what to do – when it comes to cancer signs and symptoms.

Ovarian cancer symptoms: Know your body

The first step is to keep an eye out for symptoms. According to Cancer Council NSW, they can include abdominal bloating and/or pain, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss or weight gain, tiredness and indigestion, to name a few – vague niggles and pains that can be easily written off as something else.

But writing them off is exactly what you shouldn’t do. In fact, if symptoms persist, it’s time to make an appointment with your GP. Don’t put it off, and certainly don’t feel that you’re wasting your doctor’s time. As naturopath and ovarian cancer survivor Gill Stannard can attest to, even mild symptoms should be attended to as quickly as possible.

For Gill, now a member of the TCRN’s Consumer Advisory Panel, the first sign that something was amiss was a distended abdomen – “I looked six months pregnant,” she says – followed by a sudden convergence of other symptoms.

Ovarian cancer diagnosis: Find a doctor who takes you seriously 

Having worked in heath for more than 20 years, Gill knew something was seriously wrong, so she made an appointment with the GP. An examination revealed what the GP suspected was a large ovarian cyst, but she sent Gill straight to the hospital emergency department as a precaution. It was here that a CA-125 blood test revealed some shocking news:

“I was given a very blunt diagnosis. I was literally told, ‘You have ovarian cancer. Go home and we’ll call you for an ultrasound on Monday,’” Gill says.

Within seven days of her GP appointment, she had surgery to remove the tumour at Melbourne’s Royal Hospital for Women, followed by an extensive regimen of chemotherapy.

Six years later, Gill is among a minority of women to survive ovarian cancer beyond five years. But, while Gill had access to world-class health services in Melbourne, she believes it was the first step in her ovarian cancer journey – seeing a GP who took her heath concerns seriously – that was critical to her survival.

“I do think I’m alive because of that GP,” she says.

Ovarian cancer survival: Advocate for your own health 

Gill’s advice for other women is to become advocates for their own health. If you and your doctor aren’t on the same page, or if you’ve got a niggling sense that something isn’t right, express your concerns clearly during your consultation.   

“Many women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed too late, and it isn’t necessarily because they haven’t seen a doctor,” she says.  

“If you know something isn't right and the symptoms get worse don’t resolve in a week, be persistent. Go back to the GP. If there's no further investigations, consider a second opinion from another doctor.

“Listen to your body. You know when something isn't right, even if you’re not sure what's wrong.”