Can you imagine going to the doctor because you are feeling bloated and have abdominal pain that won’t go away, and being told that you have ovarian cancer?
At age 34 Sarah Luxon received the devastating news that she had stage 4 low-grade serous ovarian cancer in 2021. With ovarian cancers having a 5 year survival rate of just 37% this has caused upheaval for Sarah and her family as they tried to come to terms with the levels of uncertainty and the challenges the diagnosis poses to both small and big life decisions.
Sarah navigated her way through 2 major surgeries (that resulted in Sarah losing her ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix,uterus, appendix and parts of her bowel and abdominal muscles) and 6 rounds of chemo in the midst of the global pandemic. Then last week, just 8 months after her second surgery Sarah completed an extraordinary challenge. She strapped on her hiking boots, and with the support of two of her best friends she tramped the grueling 62 km of Southland’s Hump Ridge Track.
Sarah took on this challenge because ovarian cancer is not a well-understood cancer, there is no screening programme, there has been very little research and due to the symptoms being vague diagnosis often comes too late. Ovarian cancer accounts for twice as many female deaths as the road toll and four times as many as cervical cancer*. And yet, it remains overlooked and poorly funded. Sarah’s huge task was set to help raise awareness of ovarian cancer during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month (February) and raise funds for research.
Sarah also set this goal for personal reasons, to challenge her body and to have the chance to see some of New Zealand’s beautiful landscape and swim with dolphins. Sarah achieved all that and more, she also learned to be more compassionate to herself and to celebrate her body for all it had achieved.
Every day, one woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer in New Zealand, yet it is not widely known, indeed Sarah didn’t know anything about it until she had been diagnosed. She wishes it was more widely discussed “Cervical screening is fantastic, but it doesn’t detect ovarian cancer. Ovarian Cancer symptoms can be vague, but it’s worth paying attention to your gut feelings. About a year before I was diagnosed, I frustratedly moaned to my husband that it felt like my body was breaking down – surely I was too young for that?? My bowel changes, period issues, my lump, my severe fatigue, my painful bloating. It turned out to be all related – and not due to age.”
You can support Sarah by donating to her givealittle page – https://givealittle.co.nz/fundraiser/walking-and-running-for-ovarian-cancer – during February (Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month). All funds go to Cure Our Ovarian Cancer, a charity set up by Jane Ludemann, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 32. The charity provides support to women with ovarian cancer, raises awareness, raises funds for research and advocates for changes to our health system with the aim to have better outcomes for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
If you experience any of the below symptoms for two weeks, get them checked by your doctor:
- Abdominal, pelvic or back pain
- Eating less or feeling full more quickly than usual
- Peeing more or urgently
- Change in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Painful intercourse
- Menstrual irregularities
Photo: Sarah Luxon raising funds for ovarian cancer by taking on the 62km Hump Ridge Track months after surgery.
*Cancer death rate source: Ministry of Health, Cancer: Historical Summary 1948-2018, Published 2021
*Road toll death rate source: https://www.transport.govt.nz/statistics-and-insights/safety-road-deaths/year-to-date-road-deaths/ (131 women road toll in 2018 4 compared to 249 deaths from ovarian/fallopian cancer)