THE countdown to long awaited surgery had started and Maureen McLeod finally allowed herself to look forward to a time when she wouldn’t be tortured by constant pain.
But before she could go under the knife for the gall bladder operation, her consultant decided he’d like her to undergo just one more test.
As it turned out, his insistence that she have a last gasp scan before going under the knife may well have helped save her life. For it revealed that gallstones weren’t the problem at all. And instead she was in the grip of something that turned out to be much worse: ovarian cancer.
Today Maureen has battled back to health after a nightmare 12 months during which she lunged from thinking she needed routine gall bladder surgery to battling the same “silent killer” cancer that recently claimed the life of actor Pierce Brosnan’s daughter, Charlotte, 42. Tragically, the former Bond star had already lost his wife, Cassandra – Charlotte’s mum – to the disease aged only 43.
Now thankfully in remission, on Sunday Maureen will reflect on a nightmare year since she was diagnosed as she joins the crowd cheering on runners at the Bupa Great Edinburgh Run, supporting her husband James and her two sons – dressed in distinctive purple Target Ovarian Cancer charity T-shirts – while they link arms to cross the finish line together following what is likely to be an emotionally charged 10k.
They will be just one team among many embarking on the annual run with the intention of highlighting the incredible battle loved ones have endured fighting all kinds of personal traumas.
Looking back now, 49-year-old mum of two Maureen of McLean Place, Gorebridge, admits it’s hard to believe the rollercoaster year since she went to hospital thinking her main challenge was the fight to lose some weight to be fighting fit for surgery.
“All the tests I’d had done suggested gall stones were the problem,” recalls Maureen, an administrator with examination body, SQA. “I went on the waiting list and was told I would have three months to lose some weight. I went back but the doctor wasn’t too happy with the pain I was experiencing when he put pressure on my left side, so he sent me for an ultra scan.”
That revealed what seemed to be a lump around her ovaries but while it might have sounded alarming, blood tests done at the same time to check for the presence of a cancer-related protein CA-125 were clear, suggesting all Maureen had to worry about was either an abscess or a cyst.
“I went for two weeks’ holiday to Turkey,” she recalls. “I thought I’d come back for an operation to remove what was there. I really wasn’t that worried about it.”
However surgery last September revealed a grade 3c cancerous tumour wrapped around her ovaries which had spread to her bowel. “We were devastated,” recalls Maureen. “We just weren’t geared up for dealing with the severity of it all.”
She had further surgery and six sessions of chemotherapy while James, 52, struggled to cope with the stress.
“It all hit me at once,” he says. “I was doing everything, trying to work, going straight to hospital, trying to be a proper husband. Maureen had been ill for a year before all this and not knowing what was going on inside her was disheartening. I’m usually very patient but little things were getting to me – it was just the stress of it all.”
Running and cycling helped clear his mind. A seasoned marathon runner – James completed over 100 marathons when he was younger – it seemed logical to do something for Target Ovarian Cancer, the charity which had helped them both get through their darkest days. Maureen’s sons, Stuart Vickers, 29, and his brother, Scott, 27, agreed to join James, a storeman at Edinburgh College’s Midlothian campus, and also agreed to sign up for the Bupa Great Edinburgh Run.
According to Target Ovarian Cancer, 80 per cent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over 50, although it can occur in younger women. The risk of ovarian cancer is increased in women with a strong family history of the disease.
Early diagnosis carries a 90 per cent survival rate, but because its symptoms – bloating, pelvic and or abdominal pain, difficulty eating and feeling nauseous – are easily confused with other conditions, many women are at in the later stages before the cancer is detected.
Maureen, who will have regular checks to ensure that if the cancer comes back, it can be treated early, agrees Sunday’s race will be an emotional climax to a challenging year during which time they were left staggered by the remarkable support of family, friends, work colleagues and the staff at the Western General.
“I think there will be tears,” nods Maureen. “There’ll be a lot of emotions. It’s going to be fabulous day – I’m so proud of them for taking part.”