Treatment will cause some physical and emotional changes. Some women experience limited side effects from treatment, while others are more severely affected.
There are ways to reduce or manage the discomfort that side effects may cause.
It is common to feel tired or fatigued during or after treatment. Most women who have chemotherapy start treatment before they have had time to fully recover from their operation. Travelling to and from hospitals and clinics for treatment can be tiring.
If you are working during the treatment, or if you have a home and family to care for, you may feel very tired. Women who are on their own may also feel fatigued.
Your tiredness may continue for a while after treatment has finished. Some women find that it takes them up to 1–2 years to feel well again. It may help to talk with your family and friends about how you feel and discuss ways in which they can help you. You may need to plan your activities so that you get regular rest breaks.
"I rested as much as possible, but I don't think that I got good sleep because of my fear and uncertainty. I also found that after lying around and resting, I lost a lot of muscle mass." — Patricia
It is natural to feel low or depressed after a cancer diagnosis, during treatment or when you are recovering. Some people feel sad or depressed because of the changes that their cancer has caused. Others are frightened about the future.
There is a difference between feeling down and feeling depressed. You may be depressed if you are in a low mood for most of the time, or if your sadness lasts two weeks or more. Some of the other signs to look out for include feeling flat, teary, anxious or low most of the time, loss of interest in and pleasure in normal activities, having negative thoughts about yourself most of the time, or feeling tired a lot of the time.
Talk to your doctor if you experience one or more of these signs for a few weeks or more. For further information on support for depression, see the Beyond Blue website.
Depression will not go away by itself – you will need specific treatment. There are many effective treatments for depression, including both medication and non-medication options, such as counselling. Being honest with your doctor about how you feel will help you get the right type of support and care.
"My advice to other women is: be kind to yourself, this is really tough. Don’t feel like you have to be strong all the time. It is ok to be sad at times. You don’t always have to ‘keep it together’." — Patricia
In women who are still having periods, an operation to remove the ovaries will bring on menopause. This means that your periods will stop and it will no longer be possible to become pregnant.
The sudden onset of menopause can be physically and emotionally difficult. Menopausal symptoms include hot flushes, mood swings, trouble sleeping, tiredness and vaginal dryness. Symptoms may be more severe than a natural menopause because the body has not had time to get used to the gradual loss of hormones.
Some treatments for ovarian cancer can impair your fertility . Younger women and those who hope to have children may feel deeply upset if told that they can no longer have children naturally.
For some women, having children is a long-held dream. You may feel extremely upset if you are told you will be infertile. Even if you had not planned to have children or have finished having a family, the removal of your reproductive organs may make you feel less feminine.
These feelings are all understandable. It may help to talk about your feelings with a family member, friend, counsellor or gynaecology oncology nurse. There are also fertility specialists that can support you and provide information on the fertility options available. Talking to someone and becoming well informed about your options can be valuable.
Talk to your doctor about your fertility before treatment. You may be referred to a fertility clinic.
After surgery, during radiotherapy or chemotherapy, some women have bowel problems, such as diarrhoea, cramps or constipation. These can occur for some time. Ask your doctor or dietitian for advice about eating and drinking, and see the tips below for ideas to prevent or relieve these side effects.
Try and avoid becoming constipated, as this will put more pressure on the bowel. Talk with your doctor, nurse or dietitian about ways to prevent constipation.
Surgery may sometimes cause the bowel to become blocked (bowel obstruction). However, this blockage can also occur because the cancer has come back. If you have symptoms such as feeling sick, vomiting, or abdominal discomfort and pain, you should see your doctor or specialist as soon as possible.
A bowel obstruction can usually be relieved with treatment in hospital. Occasionally, another operation may be needed to unblock the bowel.
Sometimes fluid can build up in the body:
To find a qualified practitioner, see the Australian Lymphology Association website. You can also contact Cancer Australia for a copy of the Lymphoedema – What You Need to Know booklet.
Reviewed by: A/Prof Martin K Oehler, Department of Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Lucinda Hossack, Cancer Genetic Counsellor, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Kevin Palumbo, Radiation Oncologist, Adelaide Radiotherapy Centre, Flinders Private Hospital, SA; Nicole Wilton, Support Programs Manager, Ovarian Cancer Australia, VIC; Ilka Carapina, Consumer; and Cancer Council Queensland Helpline Operators.