Gidgegannup survivor urges women to know cancer symptoms

An eastern suburbs woman, who had a shock cancer diagnosis just two months after her husband passed away suddenly, is using Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month to urge women to familiarise themselves with the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Gidgegannup resident Abbie Mitchell initially brushed off her symptoms as a food intolerance, and was then misdiagnosed twice.

Ms Mitchell said more needed to be done to warn women about the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

"I had a pain in my side that wouldn't go away," she said.

"I also had flatulence, diarrhoea and constipation, and my appetite was constantly changing.

"I thought I was lactose intolerant or that it was just period pain.

"I had so many tests and scans to find out what was going on.

"I was eventually diagnosed with an ovarian cyst due to having polycystic ovarian syndrome and then later an omental infarction.

"But they had misdiagnosed me both times."

Just two months after her husband passed away suddenly, Ms Mitchell was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer.

"I remember that moment so clearly," she said.

"I was standing in my kitchen when I received the diagnosis that I had ovarian cancer.

"I was completely distraught. I went from co-parenting with my husband of eight years, to becoming a widow, a single parent and a cancer patient in a matter of weeks."

Ms Mitchell said she knew firsthand how easy it could be to push the symptoms aside, but strongly urged women to take their symptoms seriously and to get the necessary checks.

"Women often misinterpret the symptoms for period pain," she said.

"They know to have regular breast exams, but they don't know about getting checked regularly for ovarian cancer. More needs to be done to raise awareness about ovarian cancer and the symptoms associated with it.

"If I'd known what symptoms to look for, I may have been able to find it sooner and get the necessary treatment."

In 2017, 115 Western Australian women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 94 women died from the disease.

Cancer Council WA's cancer education and screening manager Melissa Treby said ovarian cancer symptoms were not always easy to spot as they could be vague and women often attributed them to other benign conditions.

"Because it's difficult to detect in its early stages, there are more deaths from ovarian cancer in Australia than any other gynaecological cancer," Ms Treby said.

"The key to determining if your symptoms are unusual is if they are new, persistent of troublesome.

"If you have any of these symptoms and they happen on most days for three weeks or more, particularly if you're over 50 or have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, go to your doctor and get a check-up.

"You won't be wasting the doctor's time, and in most cases it won't be anything to worry about, but if it is cancer and you find it early, your chances of successfully treating it are much greater.

"More research is required to better understand the causes on ovarian cancer, but as with many cancers there are steps we can all do to reduce our overall individual cancer risk, including quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight, getting enough exercise and fruit and vegetables, and reducing alcohol intake."

Ms Treby said symptoms included pain in the lower tummy or side, back pain, a feeling of fullness or loss of appetite and indigestion or nausea.

For more information about ovarian cancer, visit cancerwa.asn.au or call Cancer Council WA's cancer nurses on 13 11 20 for access to free cancer publications, confidential support and referrals.