Newcastle school teacher's warning to women after mistaking 'silent killer' cancer for menopause

Emma Durkin wants to raise awareness of ovarian cancer and the reality of having to have surgery as well as chemotherapy. Credit: NCJ Media

A primary school teacher who thought she was going through the menopause was devastated to learn that she in fact had ovarian cancer.

Emma Durkin was diagnosed with the disease, known as the 'silent killer', after suffering from very few symptoms.

The 48-year-old has now undergone a major operation to remove the cancer and will soon start chemotherapy.

The mum-of-two, who lives in West Denton, Newcastle, said that when her periods became irregular she thought she was starting the menopause.

She started to suffer from pain and was told she had an abscess on her right ovary which needed to be drained.

Doctors at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) also found a cyst on her left ovary and removed them during key hole surgery. They also took a biopsy during the procedure which revealed she had ovarian cancer.

Ms Durkin said: "This has been a massive shock. I wasn't expecting it, it was completely out of the blue. I had never heard of ovarian cancer.

"I was always up to date with my smear tests and I thought they would pick up anything down there but they don't. Ovarian cancer is known as the silent killer because it's really hard to find.

"Three specialists looked at my scans and not one of them picked up the cancer. I wouldn't have known if it hadn't been for the biopsy. I would have just gone on not knowing and thinking I was going through the menopause."

The 48-year-old mistakenly thought she was experiencing symptoms of the menopause before a biopsy revealed she had cancer. Credit: NCJ Media

Emma first visited A&E at the hospital in Newcastle in January after she felt a sharp pain in her womb which left her unable to move.

She had an MRI scan and was informed that she had an abscess on her ovary, which she was given some antibiotics for.

Four months later she started to suffer from pain in her left kidney. Ms Durkin returned to the hospital where she had another MRI scan and was told the abscess had returned and was wrapped around her kidney and her bowel.

Three days later, she had key hole surgery to remove the abscess and a cyst, while a biopsy was taken.

'I was terrified'

At the beginning of June Ms Durkin was asked to go back to hospital where her consultant told her she had cancer.

"He basically just said I'm really sorry to tell you you have cancer," she said. "One of the first things I asked the doctor was 'Am I going to die?' and he couldn't answer. I was terrified. I looked at the survival rates and they're not very good.

"I had a meeting with my consultant and she was brilliant, she talked me through everything. She told me that they weren't expecting it.

"None of the specialists had looked at the scans and saw it. It was picked up from the biopsy. I'm lucky that they have caught it early."

Ms Durkin, who has three grandchildren, underwent further surgery to remove the cancer earlier in July. She had a hysterectomy to remove her womb and surgeons also took away some of her lymph nodes and her stomach muscle.

The year one teacher, who has been left with a 40cm wound up her stomach, said: "I think everybody thinks of cancer as you being poorly with no hair. You never hear, or tend to see, the surgery side of it.

"I had 44 staples in my stomach and I was really sick. When I was in hospital I had almost given up, it was just horrific.

"The nurses are amazing and so is the consultant who did the operation - he's basically saved my life. They're worth their weight in gold."

Ms Durkin has another scan in August to establish whether all of the cancer was removed. She is also due to have further treatment.

"There are spots around my bowel but the chemotherapy will kill it," she said. "I have got six rounds of chemotherapy and I'm absolutely terrified. I'm going to be having it all the way up until New Year."

Ms Durkin, who has praised her family for their support since her diagnosis, is urging other women to watch out for the signs of ovarian cancer.

"I just want people to be aware," she added. "It's a silent killer and it's killing women. If you have any issues to do with down below go and get them checked out. If you think something is not right get a second opinion."

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?According to the NHS, symptoms of ovarian cancer include frequently (roughly 12 or more times a month) having:

  • a swollen tummy or feeling bloated

  • pain or tenderness in your tummy or the area between the hips (pelvis)

  • no appetite or feeling full quickly after eating

  • an urgent need to pee or needing to pee more often

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

  • indigestion

  • constipation or diarrhoea

  • back pain

  • feeling tired all the time

  • losing weight without trying

  • bleeding from the vagina after the menopause

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