Danielle Fulton was very good at “not having time”. She had a full time job. A young daughter. A busy life.
But two years ago, she wound up spending weeks staring at the ceiling – not knowing whether she was going to live or die of ovarian cancer – while she recovered from a radical hysterectomy.
Now, during February – Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month – she is urging other women to “make time”.
“We are our own worst enemies. We don’t put ourselves first,” Mrs Fulton, 43, said.
“The main thing is, if something is not right, get it checked out. And if it is still happening a few weeks later, go back to your GP. I only have a good ending because I got onto it quickly.
“I was already stage two when I was diagnosed. If I’d waited another three months, or four months, it could have been too late by then.”
Mrs Fulton had developed a nagging headache that did not go away. Her menstrual cycle changed – her periods became heavier and more frequent. She felt paranoid, irritable, and at times, suicidal.
“I knew there was something wrong,” she said.
“For me to be feeling the way I was, it was totally out of character, and my body was doing things it had never done before.”
Her GP ordered some blood tests, and performed a pap test. But everything came back clear.
“My husband had been sick, so we initially put it down to stress,” she said.
“But my doctor said if it happened again, to go straight back. So I did.”
An ultrasound soon revealed a tumour the size of an orange on her right ovary. Further blood tests confirmed it was cancer.
“They say if you make it to two years you’re lucky,” Mrs Fulton said. “My first thought was for my daughter. That she would be 11 by then. That she would need a mum.”
Mrs Fulton said she was lucky.
Her cancer was not deemed “invasive,” she did not require chemotherapy.
“The survival rates are getting better for ovarian cancer. It’s about 40 per cent now. When I was diagnosed it was about 20,” she said.
“Walking around, knowing you have something inside you that is killing you … it is hard to explain. Work was hard. I put on a very brave face for everybody, I just didn’t sleep.
“I was a bit naive about it. I’m not a silly person, but I had always thought your pap smear answered those questions but it doesn’t – it doesn’t have anything to do with ovarian cancer.”
Ovarian Cancer Australia’s flagship day, Teal Ribbon Day, is on February 28.
“When you’re older and had children, your cycle does change and become heavier,” Mrs Fulton said.
“But I think there needs to be more discussion about what is normal, and what is something you need to check out.”
She urged women to look after themselves, and not wait if they suspected something was not quite right.
Bloating, feeling full quickly, fatigue, pain during sex, as well as and back, abdominal or pelvic pain were all vague, but common symptoms, of ovarian cancer.
“I put my ultrasound off by two weeks, because I waited until I could get a bulk-billed appointment,” she said.
“I could have come up with the money, but I didn’t feel right spending some of our savings on a medical test that might have been fine. I know I’m not the only one who does that.
“I was very lucky. Very lucky indeed.”