Friday 18 October 2019

Mother-of-two with just months left after being diagnosed with 'silent killer' planning her dream wedding

'I’m 40 and it’s not looking like I’ll make 41, I’m leaving behind a boy with special needs and another child who’s only ten'

Kathy Armstrong

Kathy Armstrong

A BRAVE mother who has been given just months to live after being diagnosed with a “silent killer” is planning her dream wedding to make precious memories with her family.

Tina Potts (40) says she’s “screwed" as her ovarian cancer is spreading rapidly but she wants to use her circumstances to spread awareness about the disease.

Tina, who is from Wicklow town, told Independent.ie that ovarian cancer can be hard to identify as symptoms such as abdominal bloating, indigestion, changes to bowel movements and tiredness can often be dismissed as other ailments.

She explained: “The last two years have been a bit of a shock, I initially went to the doctor because I’d been having lower back pain for about four or five years and they said I had osteoarthritis.

“Then I went in and said something wasn’t right because I was falling asleep and so tired, I knew it wasn’t me, they said I had hypothyroidism.

“I thought that explains why I couldn’t lose weight, every day I’d been walking, eating well, doing exercise and I still couldn’t shift it.

“I then noticed that if I ate as much as half a cup of soup I felt sick and by that stage I looked about nine months pregnant, I was a little bit constipated and I stopped being regular with my bowel movements, I just knew this couldn’t all be down to my thyroid.

“My doctor said he thought I was constipated from the thyroid medication and he suggested Senokot.

"I went for a second opinion and was told they weren’t happy about my bloating so they sent me in for an ultrasound.”

Before Tina’s ultrasound appointment arrived, she ended up in St Vincent’s Hospital with severe abdominal pain, doctors thought she might have had a burst cyst so they carried out an ultrasound.

From there she was sent to the Mater Hospital, where six litres of fluid was drained from her abdomen.

It was then that she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

“I heard the word ‘cancer’ and I burst into tears, I was put into the cancer ward in St Vincent’s and I was approached about palliative care, I just started crying, I couldn't believe it was happening,” she recalls.

She continued to say: “We were absolutely floored, the thing with ovarian cancer is it’s very hard to detect and I genuinely didn’t know anything about it before this before this.

“When I started researching it online I felt sick, it’s known as the ‘silent killer’ because all the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be explained away by other ailments, like bloating, pains in your side.”

Tina began chemotherapy and had surgery in January 2018, which was when they discovered the cancer had spread to her entire abdomen and the lining of her bowels.

She seemed to improve but it was over Christmas 2018 that her cancer was getting worse again.

Last month Tina told her doctors that she wanted to know what her prognosis was, saying: “I’ve kids, I need to know how much I’m dealing with and the oncologist said I would be told.

“So I went ahead and had a little party for my 40th birthday, so I would have something to look forward to, that was the Saturday and on the Monday I was told I have a 30pc chance of making it to next Christmas.

“I didn’t have a history of ovarian cancer in the family, it just seems like sheer bad luck.”

Tina is mum to Philip, 19 - who has autism, ADHD and dyspraxia - and her younger son Elliott, 10.

She is determined to make special memories with her sons and her partner of 13 years, Jonathan Harris. 

The couple had been putting off getting married while they raise their family but with time against them, they’ve decided to have their special day this month.

Jonathan said: “I’ve been saying to her for years we should get married and she kept saying next year, next year but then when we found out last month that she has less than a 30pc chance of being here at Christmas we decided we should go for it, because there’s not going to be a next year.

“We know things can go downhill quickly with cancer so we decided the sooner the better so she can really enjoy it.

“The wedding’s on March 22, which happens to be Daffodil Day.”

Tina’s friends Patrice McNamara and Melissa O'Neill have taken charge of the wedding planning while she undergoes treatment, with local businesses generously agreeing to provide goods including like rings, bridesmaids’ dresses and flowers for the big day.

Tina said they have set up a GoFundMe to help pay for the rest, as she points out that it wouldn’t be possible to host a wedding as being sick and unable to work is financially draining.

“I don’t think anyone realises how expensive being sick can be, I’m lucky that my friend Sinead has offered to take Elliott whenever Jonathan and I need to be in hospital, which is a lot to ask of someone.

“Things like if we’re going up for a day in the hospital and we have to pay for petrol, parking and then maybe food while we’re there, it all adds up really quickly, plus the bills still come in and need to be paid, you can’t just not pay your bills because you’ve cancer,” she notes. 

The couple stress that their wedding is a special way for Philip and Elliott to remember their mother.

She said candidly: “I've been trying to do things for the kids to remember me by, family days out to the cinema and things.

“I’ve bought a constellation of stars and called It ‘Mammy loves you’, I’ll give them the co-ordinates so that they’ll be able to see those stars and know how much I love them and am looking down on them, it’s little things like that to make the fall not so hard for them.

“It’s really hard to think of things like Elliott's 13th birthday, his first day in secondary school or first girlfriend, I’ll never meet my grandkids – it's those things you live for as a parent that I’ll miss,” Tina said.

“I’m going to get cards for things like their weddings and fill them in now so that Johnny can give them to them then and they’ll know I was thinking of that and didn’t forget, it’s hard but you have to think ahead of the things that are important to you.

“I want them to know that even though I’m not there I’ll still be with them.

“They’re my boys, I need to make sure they’re going to be well-behaved gentlemen, I’m telling them now to be kind to girls and watch their tone, it’s how it’s meant to be.

She also says that she wants to raise awareness about the symptoms of ovarian cancer and how it can be detected.

Her advice to others is: “Pound your doctors, fight for yourself because your doctor might say you’re constipated or that you have IBS or a period issue.

“Trust your gut, you know your body if something doesn’t feel right, ask for a CA125 blood test, an ultrasound or a pelvic exam, they’re three things that give you a high chance of spotting ovarian cancer. 

“Even three of four months can make such a difference if you can get your doctor to refer you for any of those.”

Inspirational Tina said: “The problem is as well people think Stage 3 isn’t that bad but I have Grade C, so I’m screwed.

“I'm a Stage 3 but Grade C is a fast grower and the cancer is moving through me like nobody’s business.

“Remember this is your life, I’m 40 and it’s not looking like I’ll make 41, I’m leaving behind a boy with special needs and another child who’s only ten. 

“And for what? Just because I didn’t have the information? If I had even an inkling what these symptoms could be I would have gone to my doctors earlier and asked about ovarian cancer, it’s your life and you have to fight for it.”

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