From baby dream to cancer nightmare

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FOR Victoria Muir, it was the news she had been waiting for. Feeling a “slight bit of pain” in her right-hand side in February 2010, she contacted NHS 24 for advice.

“You’re probably pregnant,” came the diagnosis.

It was what Victoria, now 33, and partner Brett Hill, 36, had desperately wanted to hear. Their joy, however, was incredibly short-lived – and soon replaced with absolute terror.

Administrative assistant Victoria told how after being told she was likely to be pregnant, she excitedly performed a test.

“It was what we were really hoping for at the time,” says Victoria, “and for it to come back negative, I was just so disappointed but then wondered, ‘well, what on earth is going on then?’”

After scans later on that month, Victoria’s doctors discovered the cause of the pain was a cyst in her right ovary.

“I was sent home and told to come back after two weeks if the pain got any worse, which it did,” she says. “I used to be a nurse and I knew that this pain was not my usual menstrual pain.

“I was taken in as an emergency case for surgery at the Royal Infirmary. They took a sample from the cyst and sent it away for further tests. They said it was cancer.”

For Victoria, the shock of discovering what was really causing her pain was overwhelming.

“I instantly freaked out,” she remembers, “because the survival rate for ovarian cancer is really low.”

It was only the first stage in an ordeal that would see Victoria lose the ability ever to conceive and have her own children.

Her cancer had evolved from endometriosis – a condition in which cells from the lining of the womb multiply and appear outside, usually on the ovaries.

In March 2010, surgeons removed Victoria’s ovaries so that she would still be able to have children with the help of an egg donor.

But an examination in July revealed there were also cancerous cells in her womb and it was decided she would need to have a hysterectomy.

“Of course, I felt disappointed,” she says, “but I would also say that fear kicked in and I just thought, ‘well, it’s either this or I could die’.”

The removal of her womb took place in August that year, one of several surgical procedures undergone by Victoria.

“It was the pain that I remember,” she says of the experience. “You can’t do anything strenuous for weeks and you just feel really tired a lot of the time.”

There were also six rounds of chemotherapy at the Western General between April and August 2010.

She says: “I was vomiting in the first week, but then they managed to find sickness tablets that would work for me.

“Then, about two weeks after my first chemo, my hair started to fall out and that was quite difficult. I got Brett to shave my head. Getting shaved felt like I was taking control.”

For Victoria, the crushing impact of the diagnosis was not only due to its physical effects.

“It was very isolating to have this,” she recalls. “Nearly everyone who gets it is over 60. My oncologist told me they get one person under the age of 40 a year who would be diagnosed with this.

“I thought, ‘why me? Am I a freak?’”

With her energy drained, Victoria started hunting for outside support.

“In terms of services, there’s nothing specific for ovarian cancer because people who get it are generally over 60,” she says.

“The ovarian cancer charities really need to get their profile up. Unless you’re really looking for it, you don’t see anything.”

Eventually, Victoria discovered a “secret” Facebook page through which she was able to connect with other women.

She is also quick to pay tribute to the Maggie’s Centre at the Western General.

“They have a young women’s group there that you can go along to – generally for women under the age of 40,” she says. “It was really good to get to know people in the same predicament as myself.”

Although Victoria admits to enduring dark times – particularly after her dad, Alan, died in his sleep a year-and-a-half ago – she battled through her illness and has been in remission since September 2010.

But then came another hammer blow. Her mum, Carol, 65, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February.

“When my dad died, that was hard,” she says. “I thought, ‘what now?’ Then, when my mum was diagnosed, I just felt that I couldn’t take any more.

“For all of that to happen in just two years, it’s unimaginable.”

Victoria says helping her mum through cancer has brought its own challenge.

“For my mum it was good I was there but, in a way, I felt sometimes like I was reliving it. The good news for her is that it has not spread. She doesn’t need any further surgery, although she still needs courses of radiotherapy.”

Victoria has clear advice for those thinking about how they can protect themselves from ovarian cancer.

“It is not picked up through a normal smear test,” she says. “They call it the disease that whispers because the symptoms are not that obvious at all and there’s no specific testing for it. I hope that women who read this get checked out.”