One woman’s journey, life before and still smiling after a diagnosis of Ovarian cancer…
Be inspired by Hannah Lane, she lives with Ovarian Cancer whilst raising awareness for others.
Hannah is in the waiting room for our zoom interview, after clicking to admit her in, I am met with stunning hazel eyes and a beaming beautiful smile that show off her dimples. Her endearing Huddersfield accent is warm and friendly. After exchanging just a few sentences, it already feels very familiar and as though we could have known each other, or been friends from another time.
Hannah, now 38, carefully tells me about the last few years of her life. Stripping all of the information back and sharing every detail, step by step, she immerses me in her world prior to her diagnosis. A busy world where Hannah was a mother to Nieve then three and two step children. Alongside working, Hannah attended college with her sights set on becoming a counsellor. After falling pregnant with Bobby in March 2018 and after a busy Christmas that year with hospital visits leading up to his birth on the 29th December, Hannah explains “It was such a busy, intense Christmas that year and when Bobby came along, we were a family of six.” At that time, Hannah’s worries were about navigating days out and taking two cars! All of the practical thoughts when you have a large family.
Start of Symptoms
It was shortly after giving birth to Bobby, where things started to change in Hannah’s body and as she talks to me, she reflects back and explains that many of her feelings at that time were perfectly explainable because she had just had a baby and life was hectic. Alongside fatigue, Hannah’s main symptom was severe constipation. “I just thought I’m a busy mum, I’m just about to go back to work after having a baby, I probably need to drink more water, eat more healthily…. it’s stress.”
“I’m a busy mum, I’m just about to go back to work after having a baby, I probably need to drink more water, eat more healthily…. stress.”
She distinctly remembers after a friend’s hen weekend in April 2019, feeling out of sorts. Putting it down to a busy time of drinking more alcohol than she normally would coupled with not eating very healthily, Hannah told herself it was just her body reacting to being out of routine. The constipation continued and after a few GP visits, Hannah was prescribed strong laxatives and encouraged to drink more water.
Also around this time, Hannah had signed up to her local slimming world classes. She was losing weight but she knew that she hadn’t been sticking to the plan and it left her a little puzzled “I wasn’t making an effort to lose weight, it was just coming off.” She told me.
As time went on, symptoms increased and now she struggled to eat properly. Again, she visited the GP and she remembers word for word what she said at that time: “I’m having difficulty eating, I’m having very small meals and I feel full very quickly.”
Around August, the next symptom started. Hannah felt dizzy and light headed, she visited her GP again and was diagnosed with Vertigo. This worsened to a point where Hannah needed to hold on to the walls of her house to keep her balance and she felt too unsafe to drive. An out of hours GP changed the diagnosis from Vertigo to exhaustion and with Hannah’s demanding home life and caring for young children, this was a plausible explanation. However, her gut instinct at that time was that it was something more. She now reflects back and wishes that she had pushed for more definitive exploration into all of the symptoms collectively.
Curiously, like many people do, Hannah turned to Google to carry out some research and her symptoms flagged as Ovarian Cancer. She recalls meeting with a nurse later in August who reassured her that it was more likely to be IBS as she was “too young” to have this type of cancer. Hannah also had a smear test before the Hen trip and her clear result gave her a false sense of security. At that time she hadn’t considered that a smear only detects change in the cervix and cervical cancers.
With symptoms persisting and now with bloating as an added complication, a blood test was suggested for suspected Crohn’s disease. She was reassured that although the test also checks for Ovarian and Bowel cancer, it is highly unlikely that it would be either of those because of Hannah’s age.
Hannah was told, “It won’t be Ovarian cancer, you are too young.”
When the blood test results came back a week later, the markers were out of the normal range. Hannah realised the urgency as she recalls that she received a phone call from the GP, telling her to go to the surgery as soon as possible so that they could organise an immediate referral to a Colorectal consultant, who in turn ruled out Crohns disease and referred her for a CT scan.
After a CT scan and an internal examination with a gynaecologist. All Hannah could think about was,
“It won’t be cancer because it can’t be.”
The next day, Hannah met with her consultant. They explained that, unfortunately it wasn’t good news and Hannah’s worst fears came true, the scan revealed that she did in fact have Ovarian Cancer. Stunned, Hannah fell in to a daze, and can only recall hearing an overwhelming amount of information about a Macmillan nurse getting in touch and being handed a pile of leaflets. The very next day she started her chemotherapy regimen and was told that she would need to undergo surgery.
“I just slid down the wall, everything was a blur. I thought of the kids and knew I had to get up, I had to walk, I had to keep going.”
After an invasive biopsy procedure, Hannah received her formal diagnosis of Low Grade Serous, Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer. According to Ovarian cancer charity Ovacome, ‘low grade serous is a rarer form of ovarian cancer, invasive and slow growing on surface tissue.’ The staging and bloatedness that Hannah had confirmed that the cancer had spread to the omentum, which is a layer of fat, like an apron protecting your abdomen. Hannah feared the worst.
All Hannah remembered thinking was
“I just need to know how long I have got until I die”
On her son Bobby’s first birthday, Hannah went in to hospital and had her operation on the 30th December 2019. She had two surgical teams involved, gynaecology and colorectal with a stomach team on standby. The only certainty at this point for Hannah was that the surgeons would definitely carry out a hysterectomy. As for anything else, they had to wait until they were physically operating before they could make a decision about what else needed to be done.
Not only did Hannah have the hysterectomy, she also had her bowel removed, leaving her with an ileostomy bag. The surgical team also removed a tumour that had managed to fill her pelvis. The stomach team did have to assist during the operation and removed part of her stomach and she also had her spleen removed. Initially a second tumour that was ‘filling’ her abdomen proved to be too hard to remove. After a second attempt, the team managed to successfully take out the tumour. After the operation, the surgeons said that they had also managed to remove 99% of the cancer.
Amazingly , Hannah had a 12 month period after her surgery of ‘no evidence of disease.’ After experiencing painful episodes and a stay in hospital, it was decided that Hannah would have her gallbladder removed. It was then that she was told the news that nobody wants to hear, the cancer had started to grow back. It took until June 2021 for the growth of the cancer to be picked up on scans and show in Hannah’s blood tests. Hannah was prescribed Letrozole, a hormone suppressor and as of February 2022’s scan results, the pea sized cancer behind Hannah’s belly button had shrunk by a third!
“Life has now taken a lot of adjusting too. Physically and mentally I am a different person.”
Despite still suffering with fatigue, but she has certainly come a long way from the woman who was sliding down the wall of the hospital after receiving her diagnosis. She is an active and dedicated mum to Nieve and Bobby, who has now started nursery, something Hannah questioned whether she would ever get to see. A tireless campaigner, a heroine in her own right, and this cancer survivor is raising awareness for Ovarian cancer and women who have a stoma bag. Hannah’s Instagram handle doesn’t mess around @noovariesandastoma, a woman who is not afraid to share pictures of her body for her followers to see and relate. She has even managed to create humour around the trials and tribulations of wearing a stoma bag, with regular images and videos of stoma bag mishaps. This amazing woman has partnered with Ovarian cancer charity Target Ovarian to educate other women around what symptoms to look out for and breaking the stigma around Ovarian cancer being found just in older women. She is optimistic about future treatments that could be available to her, should she need them.
This woman shone at our photoshoot and remembering these moments still gives the Uplifted team goosebumps, we also built up our biceps carrying her shoe collection in from the car!
Hannah Lane is showing other women with a cancer diagnosis that you can still live life, she is not letting her cancer define her and why should it?
Check out Hannah’s current ‘BEACH’ campaign and share @noovariesandastoma.
Eating less and feeling fuller
Abdominal / Pelvic pain
Change in bowel or bladder habits
If you would like any advice or more information about Ovarian cancer, here are just some links to charities that can help and support you or a loved one. Ovacome, Target Ovarian, Ovarian Cancer Action.