Belfast Telegraph

Mum was told by doctors for six months she had anxiety - but it was ovarian cancer and it went on to kill her

By Lisa Smyth

A woman who died from ovarian cancer was told she had depression and anxiety for six months before she was diagnosed with the disease.

Geraldine Dallas, from Park, Co Londonderry, was diagnosed in February last year - by which time she was so ill she spent five months in hospital.

It came after months of GP appointments and trips to A&E where she was told she had a range of less sinister conditions, including a stomach infection, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis and even depression and anxiety.

Now her heartbroken children have spoken out about the lack of knowledge of ovarian cancer among the public and medical profession, and the devastation it is wreaking on lives.

Her 39-year-old son, Alfie, said: "I can't allow myself to get hung up on what happened, because it isn't going to change anything for us, but I want the message to get out to other women not to just accept you have IBS or something else if you are worried.

"It seems to be accepted in the health service that ovarian cancer is really hard to pick up, but that isn't actually the case, there are very definite symptoms."

Sadly, Geraldine's story is by no means unique - ovarian cancer is frequently misdiagnosed.

The result is a delay to treatments that help women beat the disease, or at the very least, allow them to spend precious time with their families.

"We will never know for certain that if mammy had been diagnosed sooner that she would have had more time, but I strongly believe she would," said Geraldine's 36-year-old daughter Wendy, also from Park.

"I find that difficult to accept.

"Even if she hadn't had more time, I think her quality of life in the time she had left would definitely have been better.

"By the time she was diagnosed, she was so sick that she spent months in hospital.

"I want people to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer, I want doctors to be more familiar with the symptoms.

"When a woman goes to her GP, I want the doctor to consider and rule out the more serious conditions first before they tick off less serious conditions."

Geraldine, who was devoted to her husband Alfie, her children and three grandchildren, began to feel unwell during the summer of 2015.

Wendy continued: "She just didn't feel right and knew there was something wrong with her.

"She was back and forward to the doctor I don't know how many times, it must have been at least 20.

"She had this terrible tiredness which was one of the main things, she had this burning pain up her right side at night, she couldn't sleep with the pain coming from the bottom of her back and going up her shoulder.

"We thought it was muscle pain and then she started to suffer bouts of vomiting about September.

"It just came on and seemed to happen every couple of weeks.

"One time she was vomiting all night and was really weak at that stage, so we took her to A&E."

Despite numerous A&E attendances and visits to her GP, however, Geraldine was not diagnosed with ovarian cancer until the following February.

Hearing she had ovarian cancer was a devastating blow for the grandmother-of-three.

"They talked about how ovarian cancer could be treated, but not cured," said Wendy.

"We were absolutely gutted, all I can remember is mammy saying she didn't want to leave her grandchildren.

"We had a bad night, we cried all night."

Alfie continued: "The grandchildren were the first thing she mentioned.

"Mum had been told all along she had anxiety and depression and she wouldn't have been anxious or depressed at all, or anywhere near it.

"But the doctors nearly had her convinced that she was.

"There is a very simple message here that you know your own body and if you feel something isn't right and it persists, then insist that the doctor gets to the bottom of it.

"There is a blood test, called the CA 125; it won't tell you for definite that you have ovarian cancer, but if it is raised it certainly suggests that you might have it.

"By the time my mum was diagnosed, she was stage 3C. She was nearly terminal, but things might have been different if she had been given a CA 125 test at an earlier stage."

As part of her treatment, Geraldine went through chemotherapy and a radical hysterectomy in an effort to remove as much of the disease as possible.

She was eventually well enough to return to her home in Park, but the family lived under the shadow that the disease would return.

And in November, they were given the devastating news that she was ill once again.

She was allowed to return home and spend Christmas with her family, passing away peacefully surrounded by her loved ones on December 30.

Alfie said: "We have lost our mum, but if one person reads this and goes to their doctor and is diagnosed sooner as a result, then that is all we can do."

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