It was a good holiday. Far North Queensland in winter; it was warm. The afternoon before we were to go home the next morning, I was lying on the floor between the two beds in the hotel room reading the local newspaper. I’ve always been someone who reads lying on their stomach; I even did my homework that way if I was allowed. My five year old son was jumping across from one bed to the other, just for entertainment. He was never a boisterous boy, but seemed to be having fun and I wasn’t concerned. He frequently sat on my back while I was reading and I would, without warning, spring to my hands and knees and take him for a ride. I was obviously engrossed in what I was reading because when he bounced from the bed onto my back I was instantly in shock. I felt like all of the organs in my body had been shifted and tears came to my eyes. He hadn’t hurt me, but something had happened. He asked if I was okay. I told him that I felt like my stomach had just gone “bloop” but I was otherwise fine. As the evening progressed I felt bloated but I didn’t think anything of it.
On the plane I did up our seatbelts and I couldn’t stand the pressure across my pubic area. I had the seatbelt as loose as I could and as low across the top of my legs as I could. On the four hour flight I was uncomfortable. I just couldn’t get comfortable. We went home and carried on as usual. The next day I was shopping with my mother and son and pain through my abdomen became unbearable. I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t sit, I could stand the waistband against my skin. “Leave us here and go to the doctor,” Mum said. So I did. I went to the doctor and he sent me for a chest x-ray and told me to take Buscopan. I picked them up from the shops and we went home. I lay down on the floor that night and couldn’t stand the pressure on my adbomen. The next day I went back to the doctor and he sent me for an ultrasound.
I lay down for the ultrasound and lifted my shirt. The radiographer looked at me and back at the screen. I asked him what the problem was, and he said, “I can’t see your organs, just a mass.” I told him I didn’t understand. He said that all he could see was a mass, it was blocking his view of everything. He said he needed to phone my GP and organise a CT scan. I still didn’t understand what he was saying. I went in for the CT scan and drank the horrible aniseed flavoured contrast. I lay in the machine still trying to comprehend what a “mass” meant. After the CT scan I was asked to do an x-ray. I lay on my back then he asked me turn over. I lay on my stomach and couldn’t stand the pain. I got off the table and went into the bathroom and vomited. I squatted trembling on the floor next to the toilet.
I got dressed. I couldn’t take any more. I just wanted to go home. I walked out of the centre and out to the street. Someone was following me, they were saying something, I didn’t know what it was. I saw my mum and went towards the car. She got out of the car and stood between me and the woman behind me, who had been asking me to sign a form. Mum signed it for me and I got in the car. When she got in she told me I was grey and looked sick. I did up my seatbelt and told her I was going to pass out or throw up or both. Everything was going dark. She handed me a plastic bag and I threw up the aniseed contrast and bile. She drove me back to the doctor. He made a phone call and became agitated with the person on the other end of the phone, demanding that they see me immediately. He left the room and I could hear his voice but not his words in the hall. He came back and told me to go to the University Clinic of the hospital tomorrow, first thing.
I arrived at the hospital first thing. Mum dropped me off and had gone to get the scans and would meet me there. When they called my name I felt like my hearing was fading. I felt like I could barely move. I followed the man into a room and lay down on the bed. He pushed on me and it was agony. I closed my eyes and held my breath. “You’re not in any pain, I can operate in two weeks,” he said. “I am in pain,” I replied. “Then why aren’t you saying anything?” he asked. “I have a high pain threshold and every touch is agony, even the waistband of my pants,” I said. He looked at my face. “I can operate in two days. Go to the preadmission clinic tomorrow and I will operate at 7am Friday.”
Lying on the bed to go into the operating theatre, Mum was beside me. I suddenly felt scared. “I don’t want to die,” I whispered. “You’re not going to die. That’s why you’re here.”
When I woke up nothing made sense. There were tubes in my arms, between my legs, out the side of the bed. I didn’t know who I was or where I was or how long I’d been gone.
A day later a doctor came to my room. She had a Canadian accent and a casual demeanour. She sat on the end of my bed, swinging her leg and chewing gum. I asked her what had happened and who she was, and she smiled at me. She told me that she was a gynaecological oncologist. I didn’t understand. I was with a bowel surgeon, who was talking about the need to resection my bowel. She said that she would meet with me later.
I was taken to an office later. She was there and so was a social worker. The doctor told me that I had a one point four kilogram (over 3lb) tumour in my abdominal cavity, measuring 15cm x 16cm x 12cm (approx 6″ x 5″ x 4″) and it had started to adhere to my bowel. It was an ovarian cancer, an aggressive one, and they estimated it grew to that size in six months. They said that if it was left untreated it would have taken over every organ in the body and there would have been nothing they could do. She started to talk about chemotherapy and the rarity of this kind of cancer. They said that for some reason the cancer had haemorrhaged internally and the fluid from that had pooled in my pelvis which caused the pain. They were looking at me and I was nodding like I was listening, but all I was thinking about was how my five year old son, in his simple act of being a child, had saved my life.