Miracles do happen – Danielle’s story

26 Aug 2021

In June 2015, I was busy planning my dream wedding to the love of my life, Scott, when my life changed dramatically. I was violently struck down with extreme pain in the right side of my stomach and by the time the paramedics arrived, I was hugging the toilet. Given my symptoms and how I presented, they were convinced it was my appendix.

Admitted to the hospital, I went through a barrage of blood tests and an ultrasound, followed up with pain relief and an unexpected diagnosis of a potential borderline ovarian tumour, covering an area of 8cm.  Thankfully, borderline ovarian tumours are not cancer, they are abnormal cells that form in the tissue that covers the ovary.

Once my pain was under control, I was released from the hospital and advised to see a gynaecologist as soon as possible. Luck was on my side and I was able to get an appointment the very next day.

It took only one look at my hospital report for the doctor to book me in for day surgery, with a 3 month wait period. However, six weeks later I found myself again in debilitating pain, this time I would describe it as the most excruciating pain I have ever felt in my life.

Admitted once again to the hospital, I remained in extreme pain for over 12 hours, I was left screaming in agony as the pain relief they gave did absolutely nothing. Finally, it was decided I would undergo immediate emergency surgery.

Over the six weeks since diagnosis, my 8cm “potential” borderline tumour had grown to a much larger 13cm and had twisted my right ovary. During my emergency surgery, the surgeons were able to successfully remove the tumour and repair my ovary, post-surgery testing came back confirming a borderline tumour.

Before I knew it, I found myself at an appointment in the Gynaecology Oncology unit at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Randwick and my gosh, hearing these words were tough. They wanted to remove my right ovary and tube. “When?”, I asked. Tuesday was the answer! Say what? Yes, I had five days’ notice that I was being admitted for further surgery.

What about my wedding? Will I recover in time? So many questions were running through my head, but I knew deep down that it was the best, and the right, thing to do.

The surgery went to plan, and I commenced a program of regular check-ups and blood tests, to be done every six weeks. At my first six-week check, I mentioned to my doctor that I had begun experiencing some pain on my left side. Further investigation’s revealed that I potentially had another borderline tumour, on my remaining ovary.

Now my specialist was suggesting that they also remove this ovary and tube, however did not want that to happen. While I have two older kids, my now new hubby didn’t have any kids and we planned to start a family of our own.

Taking this into consideration, my specialist agreed to remove the tumour (testing came back confirming a borderline tumour again) and I then went through IVF to retrieve and freeze embryos – we were lucky enough to get six embryo’s from my single ovary!

My specialist still wanted to remove my left ovary and tube but I somehow managed to convince her to let me keep it until I had a pregnancy. Thorough testing took place before I was given the green light to undergo a frozen embryo transfer. During all of this, I was also booked to see a genetic councillor as I have a strong family history of breast cancer.

But as it turned out, the countless needles, medication, and bruises all over my stomach were worth it. During my very first ultrasound, at seven weeks we were told we were having TWINS!

Yes – we were ecstatic, there were two heartbeats. To think a mere few months earlier, we were questioning if having a pregnancy could even be possible.

Now here is where the magic happened, to clarify, I had only one frozen embryo transferred, and we amazingly ended up with boy/girl twins. I had somehow managed to fall pregnant naturally, at the exact same time that the frozen embryo was transferred - what a miracle to be blessed with.

Given my medical history and the fact I was now carrying twins, I was deemed as a high risk pregnancy but apart from requiring medication for morning sickness, I had a pretty good pregnancy, until I hit just over 26 weeks. My body was unable to cope anymore and after I suffered a huge bleed, I went into early labour and the twins were born that night.

As a result, my health took a backseat for the next few months while the twins fought for their own precious lives.  A year and a half after the birth of our twins, who are now healthy and happy kindergarteners , I underwent surgery to remove my remaining ovary and tube. Testing came back and confirmed that my ovary was covered in borderline tumours.

Surgical menopause set in following this surgery, as the doctors had explained it would.

There were the constant hot flushes, the sleepless nights, and any other symptom you name, I got it.  Two years later, in June 2020 I was finally ready to have my uterus out.  Post-surgery testing confirmed that I was all clear, there were no tumours on my uterus.

Now begins the journey of being tested for the BRCA gene. With my personal history and a very high history of Breast Cancer on the side of my maternal Grandmother, my Oncologist suggested it will be a good idea. Fingers crossed.

I will be forever grateful to my surgeons, doctors and nurses who have kept on top of my diagnoses and who cared for me after each surgery. Moving forward, I hope to help raise awareness of the importance of regular screening for women, including Pap tests following my experience with a positive test for pre-cancerous cells, about a year before my ovarian tumour.

My greatest lesson through all of this has been to never take anything for granted and to always appreciate the little things in life.

Danielle was also lucky enough to be selected through DNA screen to finally get her BRCA testing done - thankfully everything came back negative.