Hazel Lynes knows only too well the difficulties of spotting the ‘hidden’ cancer that can wreak havoc with women’s lives.
Ovarian cancer survival rates were as low as 30 per cent when Hazel, from Mynydd Isa, was diagnosed in 2011.
She was carrying a cyst the size of a rugby ball positioned between her ovaries, yet was convinced she was suffering from appendicitis.
Fortunately, she was one of the lucky ones and after surgery at Liverpool’s Women’s Hospital to remove the massive growth and an extensive course of chemotherapy at Clatterbridge Hospital on the Wirral, she was given the all-clear three years ago.
Now she is campaigning for better awareness of ovarian cancer among women across Wales and in June joined Hannah Blythyn, AM for Delyn, at the National Assembly to call for more support for women affected by the illness.
“The symptoms of overian cancer mimic other diseases because of where the ovaries are in the body. It is really hard to diagnose because the symptoms are very woolly – I had a pain in my side and I thought it was appendicitis,” recalled Hazel, 69.
“Some women get a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome while sometimes there is no diagnosis. Even after seeing someone four or five times doctors can find it very hard to come to conclusions.”
Around 350 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Wales every year, with 240 women losing their lives to the disease.
Those grim statistics appear in a report into the illness highlighted by Hazel on her visit to Cardiff, part of her work as a volunteer ambassador for Target Ovarian Cancer.
The national charity is calling on the Welsh Government to launch a national ovarian cancer awareness campaign to ensure women know the symptoms and the importance of going to their GP.
Hazel has also set up a local support group, which meets regularly at the Gladstone Library in Hawarden and Venue Cymru in Llandudno.
She said: “We try to work with GPS and educate them in various ways. One in 50 women get ovarian cancer, but a GP might see one case every five years.
“Members of the support group have taken leaflets to companies at Chester Business Park that employ large numbers of women, such as M&S and MBNA.
“Ovarian cancer is the fifth or sixth worse cancer, but it has got a very bad survival rate. There is a need for more information so women can spot the symptoms.
“I consider myself an educated woman and yet I knew nothing about it and I had no idea about the symptoms, whereas with breast and cervical cancer you know what you are looking at.”
The Pathfinder Wales report found only one in five women could name bloating as a major symptom of ovarian cancer while just over a third visit their GP three times or more before being referred for tests.
Over a quarter wrongly assume that cervical screening will detect ovarian cancer.
Tell-tale signs include bloating and pelvic or abdominal pain – but being diagnosed at the earliest stage the cancer doubles the chances of survival.
Hazel visits groups and organisations as a guest speaker for Target Ovarian Cancer, talks which she dedicates to three close friends who did not survive the illness.
She added: “After being given the all-clear I have had a couple of pains in my side. I told my GP I should be checked, so I’ve had two scans which were clear – it is always going to be on my mind.
“That is why the Welsh Government and health bodies need to invest in ovarian cancer awareness, care and support. I have been through the system and received surgery and chemotherapy and it is so important that every woman living with ovarian cancer in Wales feels counted, and receives the best care and access to new treatments.”
Hannah Blythyn said: “I was very pleased to attend Target Ovarian Cancer’s event in the National Assembly to mark their major new Pathfinder Wales report.
“Many of us will have a friend or family member who has been affected by ovarian cancer, and as the Pathfinder Wales report underlines, raising awareness must remain our key focus.”