The following article was originally published by 9Honey. A link to the article is here.
It’s been five years since Rachel Reeve’s mother, Rose, died, and the gravity of her loss hits her most mornings when she would usually call her mum after the school run.
“You sort of get on with life when you’re a mum and you work, but then I stop and think that I’d really like to just have a chat to her,” Reeve, 47, tells 9Honey.
The Newcastle local remembers her mother’s bad run of luck over the years when it came to her health, detailing her several operations and shares her story for World Ovarian Cancer Day (May 8).
“After having me, she had to have a hysterectomy, and then when I was about two her appendix burst and she was in a really bad way in hospital with that,” Reeve recalls.
“Then when I was in my twenties, she had to have her gall bladder out.”
In 2013, at the age of 73, Rose was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the second most common gynecological cancer after uterine cancer but the deadliest.
“Her symptoms were basic things you could put down to anything, like food poisoning or period pain or women’s problems,” Reeve says.
“She had an upset tummy, bloating and a feeling of being full. She had some weird toilet problems but, again, nothing too unusual.
“It wasn’t until it had been going on for a bit that she went to her doctor, who sent her for a CT scan, and that’s when they found the problem.”
Following her diagnosis, Rose started treatment almost immediately.
“She found out in December and started treatment in January, they wanted to get onto it. She’d had a hysterectomy to remove her uterus but she kept her ovaries,” Reeve says.
“Mum did three rounds of chemotherapy and after that they did a debulking operation, a surgery where they cut you from sternum to pubic bone. It’s just horrendous, they open you up and take out anything covered in cancer.”
Rose was in intensive care following the surgery and then underwent three more rounds of chemotherapy.
“They said they were happy, that there was no evidence of any cancer left. Mum rang the chemo bell following her final session and that was it,” Reeve says.
For the next three years, Rose was “petrified” the cancer would come back.
“She got on with life and put everything into it, just getting out there and spreading the word about ovarian cancer and raising money for it,” Reeve says.
“That’s all she thought about, helping other people. She spoke at women’s fundraisers and all sorts of things. She did a couple of media interviews as well.”
In 2016, the cancer came back. Rose had been “feeling a bit off again” and a scan confirmed the terrible news.
“She basically had to go through that whole thing again, three rounds of chemotherapy and then a second debulking surgery which, with a scar there from the first one, took her ages to recover from, but she was determined to fight,” Reeve says.
“She wanted to stick around, if she could.”
Rose thought she’d beat it once more, ringing the bell to signal her final chemotherapy session in December 2016.
By March 2017 it was back, and this time it had spread to her lungs.
“It got really aggressive that last time, it just went nuts. From there it was really quick, from March to when we lost her in May. That was it,” Reeve says.
The family was able to be by Rose’s side during her final days, in a hospital room they decorated with photos.
“Mum and I owned a fairy party business, she had been a teacher, and I put a fairy door on the wall of her hospital room,” Reeve says.
Rose was conscious right up until four days before she died.
Reeve is determined to continue to share her mother’s experience to raise awareness of the signs of ovarian cancer that are missed by too many women until it is too late.
“Pretty much straight away I shaved off my hair. I went from long dark brown hair to a super short white blonde pixie cut, and I raised $5,000 from that.”
The following year, she took her mum’s place at the local Stop Ovarian Cancer event.
Now, she is lending her voice to the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) for World Ovarian Cancer Day (May 8).
“The problem with ovarian cancer is that the survival rate is so low,” Reeve says.
“People get really sick really quickly because they aren’t able to get an early diagnosis. That’s what Mum was pushing for.
“Women think their pap test diagnoses ovarian cancer. It doesn’t, so you’ve got to listen to your body and step up if something feels wrong. Get to the doctor. Most women don’t find out until it is in it’s late stage. It happens really quickly.”
Rose was tested for the BRACA gene mutation that can increase the risk of some cancers and came up negative, which was a relief for Reeve, however she undergoes frequent checks.
Reeve’s sons Tyson and Marcus, now 17 and 12, were 12 and seven when their grandmother died, and she says the loss was particularly hard on Tyson, who was very close to Rose.
“I had my birthday recently and Tyson came to me and handed me a little box, saying, ‘Mum, I hope you like it, I think you will.’ It was a rose gold necklace with a rose gold pendant. It’s beautiful,” she says.
“Mum loved him very much, she loved them both but was very close to Tyson.
“After her last diagnosis I remember her saying to me that she would really have loved to have lived long enough to see the boys grow up a little bit more.”
Rachel is an ambassador for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation’s ‘2km a Day in May’ fundraising challenge. During May, ACRF is calling on Aussies to walk 2km everyday and raise funds for cancer research. All funds raised through The ‘2km a Day in May’ campaign will help ACRF scientists access cutting-edge technology that drives innovation — ultimately saving millions of lives.