Like most ovarian cancer patients, Associate Professor Siobhan O’Sullivan had no symptoms and was seemingly the picture of health. When she finally started to feel ‘out of sorts’, a blood test and a CT scan revealed the grim diagnoses. ‘Ovarian cancer was the last thing on my mind and at the time I did not completely understand the seriousness of my diagnoses.’ To this day, it is still ‘difficult for friends and family to really appreciate that I have a disease that cannot be comprehensively treated. I often wonder how long it will be until I am no longer healthy enough to live independently. I also wonder about my death. Will it be quick? Will I suffer? My life is very much framed around ovarian cancer.’ Even though Siobhan’s cancer is terminal, she is trying to make the most out of her time. ‘I am raising awareness about ovarian cancer, connecting with people and I still have a sense of humour. I have also set up an award for scholars undertaking research in the field of Animal Studies, one of my fields of research.
So, my life has changed profoundly. Ovarian cancer is a horrible disease. We are urgently in need of ways of detecting and treating the disease. Ovarian cancer has fallen behind many other cancers in terms of survivability, and we need to turn that around. Solutions require research and research requires funds. We need the community to be dismayed that women still face such a deadly cancer and we need to turn that dismay into action. Research is the only way we can improve outcomes for women with ovarian cancer. As an academic at UNSW Sydney I have dedicated my life to research. I believe in the power of research to solve problems and make the world a better place.
It’s been almost 18 months since Siobhan’s diagnosis, but she says that ‘in some ways it feels like I was diagnoses just yesterday. But in other ways it seems like my entire life has about cancer. It is hard to remember a time when I was cancer free. But I am grateful for the time I have. That time affords me the ability to do things that are important to me, and the includes raising awareness about ovarian cancer, educating others about the disease, and advocating for funds and research so other women will not have to go through what I have been through. Raising awareness about ovarian cancer and the urgent need for funds, research, and solutions, brings great meaning to my life and energises me to keep going. I know that it is too late for me. But it is not too late for future generations. Felling as though I am doing something to make things better for other women, in the future, helps me cope.’