Julie is a Melbourne based teacher and busy mother of three. It was an incredible shock to her when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013 at age 41.
“I’d had low grade abdominal pain for a few months before I saw my GP. After an ultrasound and laparoscopy for what they thought were cysts, my gynaecologist realised I had something more sinister going on. The initial biopsies from the laparoscopy confirmed it was cancer and a week later I had a full hysterectomy. It was a radical solution, but a life-saving one.”
Tissue samples from laparoscopies and hysterectomies are reviewed by pathologists who are trained to make a cancer diagnosis. Hysterectomies (removal of the uterus and ovaries) are major operations. Julie required a blood transfusion and follow up surgery to stop internal bleeding. Pathology staff routinely work around the clock to ensure correctly matched blood is delivered quickly to patients in these emergency situations.
“I became very aware of the importance of my pathology results. The full pathology report after my hysterectomy showed my tumours were extensive and a couple were malignant, which helped my doctors decide I should have chemotherapy. During chemo, blood tests every 3 weeks monitored my white blood count, which can drop dangerously low. I was always glad when they came back high as it meant I could progress with treatment and get to the end quicker. I also got tested regularly for tumour markers like CA125. Before the hysterectomy, my CA125 was several hundred. Immediately after surgery it dropped to 38 and during chemo it continued to fall. It gave me a way to monitor my improvement.”
And most importantly for Julie, pathology results have given her the ‘all clear.’
“It’s been a tough journey but it’s also made me stronger. I continued to teach my wonderful 6th graders throughout my treatment and I hope I shared my experiences in a positive way that they will remember as they grow up. My children proved incredibly resilient and I’m amazed how much of support they were to me. It’s really made me think about just how strong a person I am and I’m showing this in new ways. I’ve even taken up running for the first time and am working towards running 10kms in October.”