EDUCATOR: Sandra Fenton  encourages  others not to dismiss pain or discomfort during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
EDUCATOR: Sandra Fenton encourages others not to dismiss pain or discomfort during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

'Listen to your body': Cancer warrior's call to action

SANDRA Fenton needs no reminder that February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month - the Ipswich great grandmother was diagnosed with the disease the same month three years ago.

"One Monday morning I woke up like I was nine months pregnant,'' Mrs Fenton said of her swollen stomach.

"I went straight to see my GP."

Mrs Fenton learned more about ovarian cancer than she bargained for that month but after beating stage four cancer she said she was only too happy to have the opportunity to help educate others about the disease.

She said the experience taught her to never ignore changes in her body and she has encouraged others not to dismiss pain or discomfort.

"If your body is behaving differently, listen to your body," Mrs Fenton said.

"I had been feeling lethargic but I put that down to age and the change in seasons because I had just moved from New Zealand to Australia, and I was having night sweats too.

"Once I was diagnosed I learnt one of the symptoms of ovarian cancer was pelvic pain. Well, I'd had a niggle, but it never clicked.''

Mrs Fenton said the cancer had spread through the lining of her stomach and to her lungs, and she underwent intensive chemotherapy, and then surgery.

She originally received oncology treatment, including chemotherapy, at both Ipswich Hospital and the Mater Hospital Brisbane, but the expansion of the oncology ward at Ipswich Hospital in 2017 allowed Mrs Fenton to access all her care closer to home.

"The first time I went into Ipswich Hospital for chemotherapy I was in a wheelchair and I was on oxygen 24/7,'' Mrs Fenton said.

"I would often have my little granddaughter with me because she wasn't at school yet. She would colour in, or talk or ask nurses what was happening - they spoilt her like heck.

"By June, chemo had fought the cancer and they were able to operate - something they never thought they would be able to do," she said.

Mrs Fenton will celebrate her 70th birthday this week.

"The oncologist at Ipswich Hospital told me the other day that I am fantastically perfect,'' Mrs Fenton smiled.

"It's been a wonderful journey. I think it was the support I had. Nothing was too much for anyone, from the nurses to the doctors, everyone at the hospital.

"It was difficult for me to sleep comfortably but they were there to support me. A nurse even stayed with me while I told my son about my cancer because we had to do it via Skype."

Mrs Fenton said so many people were touched by cancer and everyone could play a role to support those dealing with a diagnosis.

"If you've got a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer, research it for your own knowledge. Give them space if they want it but never walk away and turn your back.''

Ipswich Hospital Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant Kim Toohill said staff would be wearing teal ribbons, the international colour for ovarian cancer awareness, for Teal Ribbon Day today (28 February 2018).

"Cancer is a deeply personal journey that so many people in the community experience either directly or indirectly as they support loved ones through a diagnosis and treatment," Ms Toohill said.

"The oncology ward team is proud of our role supporting people through this journey and we will wear teal ribbons today to express our solidarity, not just as clinicians but also by helping raise money for important research and support services.

"The expansion of oncology services at Ipswich Hospital last year has allowed people like Sandra to receive care closer to home and most recently we have welcomed another new oncologist, Dr Shu Fen Lee, to provide greater community access to oncology specialists.''


Ovarian cancer can affect women of all ages.

It is most common in women over 50 and in women who have stopped menstruating, and the risk increases with age.

There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer so the best way of detecting the disease is to know and recognise the signs and symptoms. Ovarian cancer cannot be detected by a pap test or cervical smear.

The four key symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
  • The need to urinate often or urgently
  • Feeling full after eating only a small amount

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