Byline: JANE PICKEN
WHEN Shirley Taylor's tummy swelled up the grandmother put it down to middle age spread and the usual experiences of most women going through the menopause.
But a short time later the 61-year-old, from Vigo in Birtley, was feeling even more unwell and in pain.
Still, she had no inkling that in a few weeks' time surgeons would be removing a tumour the size of a football from her abdomen, along with her ovaries.
But now, five years on and with the cancer in remission, Shirley is helping to spread the word about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
It's this kind of knowledge which could save a woman's life, as the sooner problems or concerns are flagged up with a GP, the quicker treatment can be carried out.
"I had definitely been feeling unwell but I just put it down to getting older," said retired restaurant cashier Shirley, who lives with husband Harry, 62.
"At that time I didn't know anything about ovarian cancer so it was a very frightening experience, but the nurses and doctors were marvellous and all my friends and family rallied round.
"When they told me the tumour had been so big, it was a shock. I don't think I slept much that night."
Although Shirley had been feeling ill for some time it took a drastic change in her symptoms to get her to seek medical advice.
The turning point came when husband Harry came home one night to find her doubled up with pain.
Her GP initially thought it was a tumour and the next morning she was sent straight to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for further assessment.
That assessment was carried out by a gynaecologist at one of the hospital's rapid access clinics, where blood tests and scans were used to find out more about the cancer.
Doctors discovered a high risk of malignancy, so Shirley was immediately referred to regional specialist unit the Northern Gynaecological Oncology Centre, also based at the QE.
Here experts in the field of ovarian cancer treat patients with the illness, usually through surgery and chemotherapy.
For Shirley the decided course of action was surgery, which went ahead in May 2003, followed by six rounds of chemotherapy.
"With the surgery they managed to get all of the cancer but there were a few cells floating around which is why I needed chemotherapy," added Shirley.
"I'm not really sure why I became ill but my mother had breast cancer and that could be a reason."
Medics want to stop ovarian cancer being referred to as the 'silent killer' and research shows the correct identification of common symptoms could improve the speed of diagnosis.
It's the fourth most common cancer in women, and every year nearly 5,000 families lose women they love to the disease.
But now women are being urged to find out if they could be at risk of the disease.
Although only one in 10 cases occur where ovarian cancer is present in the family, women should still talk to their GP if two or more close relatives have had ovarian, breast or bowel cancer. …