Arklow man hopes to raise cancer awareness with personal message

In September of this year Arklow man Michael Fitzgerald had his world turned upside down when he lost his beloved wife Bridget to ovarian cancer, today Michael has penned an open message in hope that it will make people aware of the silent killer.

As 2019 finally draws to a close, I will have to say it has been one of the most momentous of my life on so many fronts for all the wrong reasons. It will always be remembered by me as the year that Bridget lost her long battle with ovarian cancer, this disease is also known as the silent killer, because it usually has become well established before the symptoms which are frequently associated with other benign conditions are finally put in a row and an accurate diagnosis is conclusively made.

I am writing this piece in memory of Bridget and to also raise awareness of this dreadful disease. I am not trying to frighten or scare anybody and by no means am I qualified to give advice on the subject, all I have to offer is the experience of having lived with this remarkable woman as both of us journeyed down the long arduous path of ovarian cancer, but if by reading this it encourages one person to have themselves or a family member checked out, I feel it will have being a worthwhile undertaking.

The term silent killer is a misnomer; there are several symptoms present in the early stages that can help with diagnosis and in Bridget’s case she told me after diagnosis that many of these symptoms were present for many months before the news that she had the illness was confirmed. The symptoms are as follows:
Bloated feeling.
Persistent swollen abdomen.
Pain or dragging sensation in your lower abdomen or side.
Vague indigestion or nausea.
Poor appetite and feeling full quickly.
Changes in your bowel or bladder habits; for example, constipation or needing to pass water urgently.
Abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding (rare).
As you can see from this list these symptoms are pretty unremarkable and can easily be associated with problems other than cancer.

There is no national screening for ovarian cancer in Ireland at present and cervical smear tests will not pick it up.
Risk factors also have to be taken in to account they can range from
Age (usually older women but not exclusively Bridget was only 44 when diagnosed)
Women who have never had children.
Women who have had breast cancer or have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
Inherited genetic mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
Obesity: Excess body fat as measured by BMI (body mass index), including during the teen years.

If you suspect that something is amiss or you have one or two of the symptoms listed. My advice is please have them checked out by your G.P. There are many painless tests that can be carried out to help the specialists arrive at the right diagnosis such as a CT scan, PET scan MRI scan. There is also a blood test for a specific marker associated with this cancer called CA125. CA125 is a chemical found in blood that is sometimes released from ovarian cancer cells. It is known as a tumour marker for ovarian cancer. It must be noted that not all women with ovarian cancer will have a raised CA125.

Bridget’s long battle with ovarian cancer began on Christmas week 2010 and ended on the fifth of September 2019 with many ups and downs in between. We spoke on many occasions throughout this time about what could have been done differently and the only conclusion we could come to was how important early detection is and to try and get the message out about this so called silent killer. That there are symptoms and signs and do not ignore them. As with all cancers early detection is so important and this is so true with Ovarian cancer.

I thank each and every one of you for your support over the last number of months and years and wish you all a happy, peaceful and wonderful 2020.

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