Ovarian cancer: Una Crudden's mission against 'silent killer'

Una Crudden Una Crudden says ovarian cancer is a low profile condition

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A west Belfast woman has been making her voice heard on a condition known as the "silent killer".

Una Crudden is marking World Ovarian Cancer Day on Thursday by highlighting the symptoms of the disease.

Five years ago, Una was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer.

"I was originally misdiagnosed," she says, "My GP told me I had irritable bowel syndrome.

Start Quote

I didn't drink or smoke. I walked six miles a day. If I can get ovarian cancer, it can happen to any woman out there”

End Quote Una Crudden Ovarian cancer campaigner

"By the time I went back to a doctor two months later, I had swollen so much that I looked like I was heavily pregnant with twins.

"The tumour was 13 inches, and had spread to my pelvis."

She added: "I could feel it sticking into my bones. Nothing could be done. Then I decided to spread awareness about the signs of ovarian cancer."

Last year, 160 women in Northern Ireland were diagnosed with the disease.

Una, a 60-year-old grandmother, is determined to help every woman in Northern Ireland by highlighting what she says is a low profile condition.

Impact

"It's too late for me. I'm terminally ill. But this is a cancer that can be treated, if the signs are caught in time.

"I didn't drink or smoke. I walked six miles a day. If I can get ovarian cancer, it can happen to any woman out there."

Ovarian cancer: The symptoms

  • Bloating on most days, for three weeks or more
  • Persistent pelvic and abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Needing to urinate urgently or more often than normal
  • Changes in bowel habit
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

To raise awareness about the disease, Una took to Facebook and Twitter.

She currently has more than 2,000 Twitter followers and has brought her campaign to a huge audience.

She said: "It's a way to reach people all over the world. The impact is amazing."

Despite undergoing four intensive sessions of chemotherapy, she has also spent the past five years trying to persuade the Northern Ireland Assembly to launch an ovarian cancer awareness campaign.

The mother-of-five, with six grandchildren, succeeded in hosting the first awareness event at Stormont and persuaded Belfast City Council to light up City Hall in teal, the colour used by ovarian cancer campaigners, on Wednesday.

Therapeutic

Four other women living near Una were eventually diagnosed at the same time as her. All had been misdiagnosed initially. All have since died.

"Women are dying needlessly," she said.

Una believes her campaign has been therapeutic for her.

"I have turned a negative into a positive. When you have a disease, people will listen to you more than they will to a doctor reading out a lot of statistics.

"They relate to you as a person. They think, 'that could happen to my wife, or my mother, or my sister, or my daughter'."

At the moment, Una is not feeling very well, but she is a woman on a mission.

Hopeful

"I only finished chemotherapy in December and I have pain over the liver again, so I didn't get much of a break," she said.

"They might not be able to offer me any more treatment. There have not been any new drugs to treat ovarian cancer for 20 years."

Una's youngest son is 18 and he is about to start his A-levels.

"I try to be hopeful and strong. My life span was given as three to five years, and I am into five years now. I feel I am flagging a bit," she said.

However, this will not stop her from taking part in setting up a cancer awareness campaign for the autumn, involving all the cancer charities and the Public Health Agency (PHA).

Una is also delighted about another development.

"Six weeks ago, every GP in Northern Ireland got an Ovarian Pathway.

"That means if a woman presents with any of the signs, doctors have to follow specific procedures.

"It means the doctors will have to take it more seriously. Women like me will not slip through the net so easily."

In the meantime, Una says she will keep working on her campaign.

"It will be my legacy. It saves lives. How many people can say that?"

Find out more online about social media and raise awareness for your charity.

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