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Woman urges others not to ignore symptoms after doctors dismissed her cancer

Woman urges others not to ignore symptoms after doctors dismissed her cancer

Laura was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 34

Laura Andrews was getting ready for her friend's hen do when she first noticed a large, hard lump in her abdomen.

Having already spotted some irregular bleeding outside of her usual monthly period, the mum-of-one admits she was a little concerned.

Laura didn't know it at the time, but she was at the start of a long journey that would see her battle for six months to have her ovarian cancer diagnosed.

A battle which, in the end, would see her spend £17,000 in private healthcare costs after an NHS consultant 'dismissed her symptoms'.

Laura was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 34.
Laura Andrews

"I needed to get an appointment ASAP"

"It was January 2023 when I first noticed a hard lump in my stomach, but I had been having irregular bleeding for a couple of months before that," says Laura.

"It was the morning of my friend's hen do when I first felt it. I have a friend who's a physio and she told me I needed to get an appointment ASAP.

"I spoke to a doctor who said she'd put through an urgent referral for an ultrasound as well as a blood test."

Laura's ultrasound revealed a 10cm lump on her abdomen, which doctors thought was a cyst.

She was then booked onto a two-week cancer pathway where she saw a gynaecologist who told her she'd need to have an MRI scan.

"When I had that appointment, she didn't examine me, she looked at my notes and said she'd book me for an MRI, sometime soon," Laura continues.

Laura says that her consultant based her assumptions on her blood work, which revealed a 'normal' CA125 level.

A CA125 test measures the amount of cancer antigen 125 in the blood, which is a marker for the disease.

Laura explains, however, that her private consultant later told her this was 'unreliable' due to low levels having been found in patients with progressed cancer.

"Everything should have been done in two weeks, but it wasn't. When I rang up and told them I hadn't received a date for my scan, I was told my appointment wasn't for another month," she says.

The wait was agonising, and Laura's friend - who works in private healthcare - suggested she could pay privately to be seen sooner, which she decided to do.

"I had a private MRI scan which was inconclusive. My doctor told me I would need a CT scan but because it looked potentially cancerous, I would need to see an oncologist gynaecologist," she says.

An oncologist gynaecologist is a physician who specialises in treating women with reproductive cancers.

"There was just no empathy at all"

In the meantime, Laura was trying to chase blood test results that she'd previously received while under the care of her NHS consultant.

After multiple calls, she finally got in touch with the doctor just before the Easter bank holiday weekend, a phone call which she describes as 'horrendous'.

"She said to me that if she rang all of her patients with updates on their case she wouldn't have time to do anything else," says Laura.

"And that she didn't think I had ovarian cancer and that I wasn't a priority.

"She said that they were really up against it, because 'all these junior doctors are striking and we were about to go into a four-day holiday'. There was just no empathy from her at all."

Laura could feel a lump in her abdomen.
Laura Andrews

Because the lump was rapidly growing, Laura was told that regardless of her CT scan results, she would need to have it removed as soon as possible.

"I had the surgery, which I was able to pay for privately, as I had some inheritance money from when my father died," Laura explains, revealing that she has so far spent £17,000 on treatment.

"After surgery, they confirmed it was stage 1A cancer, but that it was a rare form and usually a secondary cancer rather than primary," Laura says.

A primary cancer describes the place in which cancer begins. For example, in Laura's case, the ovaries. A secondary cancer, however, is one that has spread from cancer elsewhere in the body.

"Thankfully, mine was a primary cancer. However, my doctor said I should get further investigations just in case.

"They referred me back to the NHS for this and yet again nothing happened for months."

"Every step of the way there's been a fight"

After weeks of chasing, Laura eventually received the follow-up scans she needed to check that there was no other signs of cancer elsewhere in her body.

She is now cancer-free and has an ultrasound scan every six months, for five years.

"My private doctor actually recommended I have an ultrasound every four months. However, my NHS consultant said he thought this was 'overkill' and now I have one every six months," explains Laura.

"Every step of the way there's been a fight to fight.

"There's no empathy. It shouldn't have to be battle after battle. It's nearly a year since my surgery and it's just mental that this is still such a focus point."

Laura had surgery to remove the cancer.
Laura Andrews

Laura is now cancer-free and passionate about raising awareness for other young women.

Ovarian cancer is often described as a 'silent killer' due to its easy-to-miss symptoms.

With many women experiencing vague symptoms such as bloating and irregular menstrual changes, it can be incredibly difficult to pinpoint what's normal and what's concerning.

As Laura emphasises, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, it's important to seek help and to advocate for the appropriate tests.

"It's such a silent one. The symptoms can be diagnosed as something else, so it's not always caught at stage one," Laura says.

"My GP said to me that she thought I was very young to have cancer. But that excuse doesn't fly with me. You can get cancer at any age, please don't use my age as a reason - there's no such thing."

For more information on ovarian cancer - including the signs and symptoms - please visit Ovarian Cancer Action.

Tyla has reached out to the NHS for comment.

Featured Image Credit: Laura Andrews

Topics: Health