When did you first find out you had ovarian cancer?
It was four years ago, in 2014.
How did you feel when you were told?
Having experienced little in the way of symptoms it came as a massive shock. The first couple of weeks were a blur of appointments with much uncertainty. Awaiting a formal diagnosis and treatment plan was hugely stressful as I tried to process everything and realised plans for the summer were going to change.
Learning that my cancer was incurable was devastating and took a while to sink in, thankfully treatment was an option with the aim of keeping the cancer managed.
What treatments did you have to have?
In the 18 months following diagnosis I had a hysterectomy followed by chemotherapy. I then had to continue to take an angiogenesis inhibitor drug. This was to help stop the growth of new blood vessels that the cancer needed to grow.
How long did these treatments help manage the cancer?
These interventions helped keep the cancer at bay for about 18 months. During my treatment also I underwent genetic testing and it was discovered that I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation. This carries with it a higher than normal risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.
In 2017, blood tests and a CT scan confirmed a recurrence of the ovarian cancer and I underwent another bout of chemotherapy. With a successful response to the chemotherapy the next stage of my treatment was influenced by the outcome of the genetic testing. For the past six months I have been on a drug called Olaparib (also referred to as Lynparza), that is specific to the gene mutation. The drug is what is referred to as a PARP inhibitor, which means it prevents the cancer cells from being able to repair themselves properly. When the cells cannot fully repair themselves, they die.
It’s shown to be particularly effective in keeping ovarian cancer under control amongst women with a gene mutation like the one I carry, as the cancer cells already have repair errors. So it’s very specific and tailored to my situation.
How did you come across ‘personalised medicine’?
After I first started being treated for the cancer, I decided to get involved in the Public and Patient Involvement Panel (PPI) for the Yorkshire and Humber NHS Genomic Medicine Centre.
I heard that Yorkshire and Humber were putting in a bid to recruit cancer and rare disease patients onto the 100,000 Genomes Project. It captured my interest as genome sequencing was key to making personalised medicine a reality for a range of cancer types, and ovarian cancer was one of the cancer types being looked at.
At the time I got involved I didn’t know my cancer was caused by a genetic mutation so didn’t appreciate how personalised medicine would become so relevant for me.
What do you think about personalised medicine now that it has relevance for your own treatment?
Having been prescribed Olaparib it has given me confidence that my treatment plan is tailored to my particular circumstances and I feel fortunate to be eligible for the drug. It shows the ways in which personalised medicine is impacting cancer treatment and no doubt gives hope to other women in similar circumstances.
You can read Jo’s blogs for Yorkshire Cancer Research here.