Newcastle survivors of 'silent killer' disease warn women about ovarian cancer symptoms

Two women who became friends while undergoing gruelling treatment for the disease known as the "silent killer" cancer are urging others to be aware of the symptoms.

Primary school teacher Emma Durkin, from Newcastle, thought she was experiencing symptoms of the menopause when her periods first started becoming irregular.

However, the 48-year-old was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year and has since been undergoing treatment.

During the gruelling treatment, she has made friends with Denise Hall, who is also from Newcastle and was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year, and the pair are now trying to raise awareness about the symptoms – which they say too many women do not know about.

Reflecting on her diagnosis, Ms Durkin, who has been using TikTok to share the reality of living with cancer, told ITV Tyne Tees: "The first thing I said was "am I going to die?" and he just said, we can't tell you that.'

"You're given this big bomb to hold but you don't know what to do with it.

"Cancer hadn't enter my mind. When they told me I had ovarian cancer I was completely and utterly floored, so shocked.

"They told me I was going to have chemotherapy and a hysterectomy and I could't take it in."

Emma Durkin (left) and Denise Hall have been getting support from Maggies, in Newcastle. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Ms Hall said: "It's called the silent killer - and I just think we really need to raise awareness about it.

"There's lots of information about breast cancer, there's lots of information about bowel cancer, prostate cancer but the only place I have seen a leaflet was in the Wellwoman clinic at the RVI and actually it's probably too late, because you're there for a reason."

Ms Durkin added: "I just wasn't aware. I genuinely thought a smear test was for all sort of gynaecological cancer - but it's not, it's just for cervical cancer.

"I've spoken to a few women who thought the same as me. I hadn't really heard of ovarian cancer."

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer among women in the UK, with around 7,500 people diagnosed each year.

There is no screening programme for the condition. Cervical screening - also known as smear tests - look for abnormal cells that could lead to cervical cancer - but not ovarian.

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Women are encouraged to be alert to possible symptoms, which include frequent bloating, pain in the stomach or hips, loss of appetite, urgency in needing to urinate as well as back pain or fatigue.

The charity Ovacome, the UK ovarian cancer charity, has created a poster to remind people of the symptoms using its BEAT memory aid:

  • Bloating that is persistent and doesn’t come and go

  • Eating less and feeling full more quickly

  • Abdominal and pelvic pain you feel most days

  • Then talk to your GP about your symptoms

Both women are now cancer free, but are undergoing further "maintenance" treatment.

Karen Verrill, a specialist nurse for the charity Maggies, which is based at Newcastle's Freeman Hospital and offers support and care for cancer patients and their families, said: "A lot of the things that happen are quite common so it's difficult to know what the problem is.

"If you do notice anything different for you, get medical help.

"Cancer tends to be more common in older people and ovarian cancer is more common in over 65s but it can affect anyone. I've come across people with ovarian cancer at the age of 20. It can happen to anyone."

Emma Durkin underwent surgery and chemotherapy as part of her treatment. Credit: Emma Durkin

She added: "Although cancer affects people physically, as does the treatment, it also takes a huge toll on people emotionally, psychologically and so it's important to get help for people who are struggling to cope with the whole package that goes with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer."

Ms Durkin said having cancer had been a "rollercoaster".

She added: "It's been a hard journey, not just mentally and physically but emotionally.

"There were days, especially after my first lot of chemotherapy, that I didn't want to be here. It's horrific."

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