In November 2007 – just months after a normal pregnancy and delivery of her sixth child – Shianne Revet, 35, of North Battleford, Saskatchewan knew something was wrong.
Abdominal pain, gas and cramping just wouldn’t go away. She visited her doctor repeatedly over the next few months and was told her symptoms were probably caused by the stress of her hectic life.
At one point, Shianne was given medication for gas pain and there was discussion about the possibility of irritable bowel syndrome. But she wasn’t examined or tested until February, when her symptoms became so acute that she couldn’t urinate. A test for a bladder infection came back negative, and when her doctor “examined my tummy on the outside, he sent me to emerg immediately.”
An emergency consultation with a gynecologist confirmed that Shianne had an abdominal mass. She was scheduled for surgery that night. The gynecologist removed Shianne’s right ovary and a mass that he was confident was a benign cyst. Ten days later, Shianne instead learned that she had stage Ic ovarian cancer and would need a complete (radical) hysterectomy.
“My reaction was shock, overwhelming fear and disbelief,” recalls Shianne. “As much as I was in a lot of pain and discomfort, the emotional wear and tear of watching my family deal with this was much harder. My husband felt helpless and it was particularly awful for our oldest daughter who was about 16 at the time.”
For reasons that still have not been fully explained to her, Shianne was referred to another gynecologist for the hysterectomy. “With the second surgery, I asked a number of times if I should be in the city with a cancer specialist and I was told no, that he could do it just as well, that it would be faster with the gynecologist and we needed to be fast.
“At this point, I was assuming they were doing what was best for me, although I had this nagging feeling that I should be seen by more of a specialist. My only contact with the medical system up until then was having babies and every one of my pregnancies went well – my labours were all normal,” says Shianne.
Shianne has since learned that if ovarian cancer is suspected, it is recommended that surgery be done by a gynecologic oncologist – the only gynecologic cancer specialist with the training to perform the complex surgery that ovarian cancer may require. Survival is improved when the initial ovarian cancer surgery is performed by a gynecologic oncologist, according to a research study at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
The second surgery went ahead and while no further evidence of ovarian cancer was found, it was discovered that Shianne also had stage Ia uterine cancer.
For two months, Shianne waited for an appointment at the cancer centre so she could begin chemotherapy. Shianne was given no information about ovarian or uterine cancer and what she read online about ovarian cancer “stopped me in my tracks because there was so much awful stuff on there. Unfortunately, I never went to the Ovarian Cancer Canada website and I don’t know why because looking at it now, it’s such a great site.”
Calls to her gynecologist and to the cancer centre resulted in confusing responses about “waiting for paperwork.” After two months, Shianne placed a panicky call to the cancer centre and got an appointment for the next day. From mid May through the end of September 2008, she underwent seven chemotherapy treatments.
It was during this time at the cancer centre that Shianne was given Ovarian Cancer Canada’s free You Are Not Alone book and DVD for newly diagnosed women – something that would have been helpful to her from the time she received her diagnosis. She is particularly grateful to family and friends from across the country for their support to her and her family through meals, phone calls and prayers.
Fortunately for Shianne, despite her delayed diagnosis and the other challenges of her journey with ovarian cancer, her disease was caught early and her prognosis is good. “I feel I have a normal kind of life again, although it’s definitely different,” she says. “Ovarian cancer doesn’t dominate my every thought like it did before.”
Shianne met Anne Chase, an ovarian cancer survivor and Ovarian Cancer Canada volunteer, at a cancer support conference in Regina in 2009. Anne encouraged Shianne to become involved in Ovarian Cancer Canada’s awareness program and in the spring of 2010, Shianne began to tell her story to well women and to grade 12 students to educate them about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, and to encourage women with persistent symptoms to get them investigated.
“I speak especially to the younger women because I was young when I was diagnosed. I want other women to have some information about ovarian cancer, so they can be their own advocate. I want women to be able to say for themselves that something is wrong here and if their doctor is not going to check it out, then they need to go elsewhere and get somebody to listen.”
“I’m so grateful to share my story,” says Shianne. “Hopefully it will help even one woman – so she won’t have to go through what I went through. That would make it all worthwhile.”
Photo caption: Shianne and her husband Sheldon were sent by their families on a trip to Maui in the spring of 2010.