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Spalding Grammar School teacher battles with health issues and shares her experience during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month





A teacher who feels it is important to be honest about her battle with ovarian cancer has shared her story to help raise awareness of the condition – and is also calling for mandatory testing.

Glenys Dawkins, 64, who teaches at Spalding Grammar School, is currently being treated for stage four ovarian cancer and is in her ninth cycle of chemotherapy within six months of being diagnosed.

Glenys – who was initially misdiagnosed with a bowel problem – is supporting Ovarian Awareness Cancer Awareness month to highlight the symptoms of what to look out for. But she also feels that a mandatory screening programme, similar to that for breast cancer, should be introduced.

Glenys Dawkins
Glenys Dawkins

The charity Target Ovarian Cancer highlights that 7,500 women are diagnosed every year and, if diagnosed early, nine in 10 will survive. However, the reality is many are diagnosed too late, and then just two in 10 are expected to survive five years or more.

In our region there are reported to be 600 incidents of ovarian cancer a year and 300 of those diagnosed will die annually.

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Glenys is currently on long-term sick leave and this is the stark reality of what she is facing – and sharing her story and a positive attitude is helping her get through this difficult time.

Glenys Dawkins is being treated for stage four ovarian cancer
Glenys Dawkins is being treated for stage four ovarian cancer

The Gorefield resident, who had insisted on getting tested for the condition after a feature on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and recognising the symptoms, feels it is important to share her experience.

She said: “I share it with everybody and my advice is to be completely honest with everybody.

“Tell everybody what you are going through and what stage you are at.

Glenys Dawkins shows off her tattoo that says carpe diem meaning seize the day
Glenys Dawkins shows off her tattoo that says carpe diem meaning seize the day

“I shared it right from the start with work colleagues.

“I didn’t want people pussy footing around.

“If you have told people it is easier.”

In April last year, Glenys began to severe constipation followed by followed by diarrhoea – which was not a classic symptom of ovarian cancer.

She then went to the doctor’s and was told that she had diverticulosis, which is a bowel condition.

Glenys said: “I thought ‘that's not good’ and they prescribed me antibiotics for inflammation of the bowel.

“I took medication and they suggested I go on a fibre-free diet.

“I was very health conscious so I called this the party food diet – eating jelly – and I did this for three weeks – and it was still bad.”

With a history of cancer in the family, she decided to contact the surgery again in May to ask to be examined after hearing the Woman’s Hour feature.

She said: “They hadn’t called so I told them I am coming in and I am not going to leave the surgery until someone has examined me.

“I knew it was definitely not diverticulosis and there is history of cancer in my family anyway.

“Being 64 and that kind of age - that was when my dad got ill. My doctor examined me and sent me off for blood tests.”

These tests measure the amount of CA125 – cancer antigen – in the blood and a normal range would be between 0-35.

Glenys’ tests showed more than 6,000 and as this is a high marker for ovarian cancer she was sent for an ultrasound at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn.

It was noticed that there had been a build-up of fluid in her left kidney and during a follow up with a consultant in the gynaecological department they found several tumours.

These had spread out from abdomen and Glenys was told in August that she had stage four ovarian cancer.

She said: “In September I saw an oncology consultant and I started treatment in October.”

With frequent trips to hospital – Addenbrookes in Cambridge, Peterborough City Hospital and QEH - Glenys has described feeling ‘institutionalised’ but these visits are necessary for chemotherapy to redact the tumour and shrink it to a manageable size for surgeons to operate on.

She is regularly having chemotherapy sessions and is treated with a cocktail of drugs to shrink the tumour.

Glenys said: “The tumour has to be small enough to get out without leaving anything behind.

“I am given steroids and anti sickness drugs after three chemicals.

“I get really fatigued – it knocks out any fast growing cells and the blood and white blood cells so I can be very anaemic and have no immune system.

“That is the worst part as I have to be socially isolated from people.”

But this experience has encouraged Glenys to make the most of life.

She had a tattoo, which reads Carpe Diem meaning ‘seize the day’, to remind her to enjoy life while she goes through treatment – and even tried stand up comedy for the first time at the South Holland Centre.

Glenys said: “I started doing gardening to keep my mind off things.

“I try and be honest and ask myself ‘has it been a good or a bad week?’

“The pattern of it is that it is just amazing how quickly you can be institutionalised.”

Glenys also takes solace in knowing everything about her condition and has been watching a television series called On the Edge, which is filmed at Papworth and Addenbrookes and she has met some of the medical staff who feature in it.

She said: “It is a really interesting series and I say to the staff – I see you on the telly.

“By watching that you actually see that you are not in as bad a situation as some people.

“I have found it supportive.”

Although the symptoms do not always seem obvious Glenys is determined to bring awareness to ovarian cancer and believes a smear test that includes a CA125 test should be mandatory.

She said: “I didn't have the classic symptoms and I don't even get discomfort from it.

“But the minute you get to 50 or 55 there should be a public screening for everybody.”

A spokesperson from Target Ovarian Cancer said: “Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is a key time for discussions to be held and we ensure that during this month we are as high profile as possible to help women who have been diagnosed or are concerned about any symptoms.”

According to Target Ovarian Cancer – across the East Midlands Cancer Alliance percentages of those with ovarian cancer receive:

• Early Diagnosis (stages 1 + 2) 30%

• Late Diagnosis: (stages 3 +4 and unknown) 70%

• No Surgery or Chemo: 23%

East Midlands Cancer Alliance survival and mortality:

• One Year Survival: 64%

• Five Year Survival: 33%

• Incidence: Nearly 600 a year

• Mortality: Over 300 a year

• To access further information, or speak to a specialist nurse for advice about your concerns, contact Target Ovarian Cancer – www.targetovariancancer.org.uk

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