Sue Rizzello shares her personal journey following her ovarian cancer diagnosis and encourages employers to do more to raise awareness of its symptoms.
Like many women, when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012 it came as a huge shock. Naturally, the first reaction was a mixture of ‘not me!?’ disbelief, along with a gut-punch of raw fear. The next was anger.
Somehow, I had been completely in ignorance of all the signs and symptoms. Nobody had ever flagged them. Unlike breast cancer symptoms and cervical cancer, it wasn’t a topic of discussion among my friends. Even my GP hadn’t recognised the signs.
Ovarian cancer is insidious, with a nebulous set of symptoms that present in different ways and combination for different women. Yet some are common – as outlined so clearly by Dr Sharon Tate from Target. Guess what? I had the bloody lot. I just didn’t know what they signified.
I was only diagnosed when a smart locum ordered a panel of blood tests, checking for CA125 inflammation markers, which can be an indicator for ovarian cancer, among other things. The sky-high CA125 results kicked off a frantic process of scans and exams until we knew where I stood.
I was diagnosed late, at stage 3C. I had only a 20% chance of surviving for five years or more. I’ve survived nearly 10 – and still welcome every birthday, Christmas and wrinkle that I thought I would never see.
Workplace ovarian cancer awareness matters
Occupational health support wasn’t something I had easy access to – as a very small business owner, I was out on my own. However, even when working in big corporates and agencies for 20 years, I don’t recall any awareness campaigns around ovarian cancer. Healthy eating, definitely. Anti-smoking, obviously. Heart health, yes. Blood pressure, check. Breast cancer posters in the Ladies, almost universal.
Even when working in big corporates and agencies for 20 years, I don’t recall any awareness campaigns around ovarian cancer.”
Wider awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms can save more women from the terrifying experience of discovering that their ovaries have betrayed them. Women of all ages must know what to watch for, and so should all men. Around every man are wives, girlfriends, mums, sisters, aunts, female cousins or friends. Everyone has female colleagues at their place of work.
OH clinicians and health and wellbeing owners could have a huge and direct impact too, if they knew the signs and the importance of workplace awareness.
There are almost 15.5 million working women in the UK workforce. Workplace education campaigns would be valuable, especially in sectors with high female employment such as health and social care, wholesale and retail, and education. Let’s not forget either that line managers are often the recipients of recurring absence notifications and responsible for OH referrals or encouraging GP visits, if worrying sickness absence patterns emerge.
Nobody can bear sole responsibility for improving this situation. However, OH and workplace health and wellbeing teams can do a huge amount to help women help themselves, if they simply arm themselves with the right information and incorporate the warning signs for ovarian cancer into their thinking.
To make a positive start in your organisation today, please order an ovarian cancer awareness raising pack right here.