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Coping with advanced ovarian cancer

Get support to cope with emotional, practical and physical issues when you have advanced ovarian cancer.

Advanced cancer means cancer that has spread outside the ovary. It may have spread within the pelvis or abdomen, or further away to other parts of the body such as the lungs. You might have advanced cancer at diagnosis, or the cancer may have come back after previous treatment.

If have an advanced cancer at diagnosis, it may be possible to cure the cancer with surgery and chemotherapy in some women. This depends partly on the exact stage of ovarian cancer.

Unfortunately, cancers that have come back can’t usually be cured. But treatment can often control the cancer and relieve symptoms. This can be for many months and sometimes years, depending on the situation.

Your doctors and nurses will help you to make the most of life and feel as good as possible for as long as possible.

How you might feel

Finding out that you have an advanced cancer can be a shock. It’s common to feel uncertain and anxious and it’s normal to not be able to think about anything else.

Lots of information and support is available to you and your family and friends. It can help to find out more about your cancer and the treatments you might have. Many people find that knowing more about their situation can make it easier to cope.

    Talk to your specialist to understand:

    • what your diagnosis means
    • what is likely to happen
    • what treatment is available
    • how treatment can help you

    Talking about advanced cancer

    Your friends and relatives might be able to support you and talk to you about your cancer. Sharing can help to increase trust and support between you and make it easier to plan ahead. But some families are scared of the emotions this could bring up and don’t want to discuss it. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.

    It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. You can help your family and friends by letting them know you would like to discuss what’s happening and how you feel.

    You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family.

    You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

    Counselling might help you find ways of coping with your feelings and emotions.

    Planning

    Thinking about your priorities and planning what you want to do can help you to feel more in control. You might want to talk about how you want to spend your time and what is and isn’t important to you.

    Some of your future plans might no longer be realistic. But you might get round to doing something you always wanted to do but weren’t able to make time for.

    Physical changes

    As well as having to deal with a diagnosis of advanced cancer, the treatment itself can cause changes that may affect how you feel about yourself. This can lead to a loss of confidence and self-esteem.

    Hair loss

    Chemotherapy can cause hair loss, which for some women can be extremely upsetting and difficult to cope with. It’s not unusual for people who have lost their hair to feel angry and depressed. You may feel worried about how your friends and family see you.

    Remember that the people closest to you will not see you any differently as a person. They will want to support you as much as they can, so it is important to tell them how you’re feeling.

    Surgery

    Having your ovaries and womb removed can be a very emotional experience, even if you were past the menopause when you were diagnosed.

    Surgery will leave a scar on your tummy (abdomen), that will gradually fade with time. But it can be a visible reminder of what you are going through.

    If you need to have part of your bowel removed as part of your surgery, you may have an opening on your abdomen (stoma) with a bag to collect your poo (stools). Although this may only be temporary, it can be difficult to cope with. Your stoma nurse will give you advice and support about this.

    Sudden menopause

    If you were still having periods before your surgery to remove both ovaries, you will have a sudden menopause. This can cause symptoms, such as hot flushes and sweats. The symptoms can be quite intense as your hormone levels fall quickly. The effects can go on for a few months.

    Having menopausal symptoms can be difficult to cope with. Talk to your cancer specialist nurse about this. They can help you find ways to cope.

    Tiredness

    You may feel very tired or weak, especially if you are having treatment.

    Relationships and sex

    Emotional and physical changes can affect your relationships and sex life.

    Feeling as well as you can can

    It is important that you feel as well as you possibly can. Tell your doctor or nurse about any symptoms you have so they can help to control them.

    Coping financially

    You might have extra expenses due to the cancer. Your specialist nurse or GP can help you get grants for heating costs, holidays or household expenses related to your illness.

    Ask to see a social worker. They can let you know which benefits or grants you can claim and help with the claiming process.  

    Who can help

    You can get emotional and practical support through your hospital, local hospice and GP practice. You can also get help from charities and support groups.

    Towards the end of life

    It’s natural to want to find out what is likely to happen in the last few weeks or days of life.

    You might need to choose where you want to be looked after and who you want to care for you.

    You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses if you have questions or want to talk about coping with advanced cancer. Call free on 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

    Information and help

    Dangoor sponsorship

    About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.