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Running from ovarian cancer

Friday, May 2018

When Andrea Ibbott was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, her doctor’s advice was to keep running, here’s why.

By Harriet Edmund

Andrea Ibbott, of Kiewa Valley, in North East Victoria is on a mission – to be around for her family and live a long and healthy life.
After an ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2015, the 48-year-old mother and Step into Life Albury member says, including exercise in her routine for the rest of her life is vital. She shares her story.

When did you join Step into Life and why?

I joined in November 2013 when a friend and colleague of mine was at Step into Life Albury. She was looking so amazing and fit that I thought I just had to try it! I was hooked straight away.

How would you describe your fitness and health back then?

Not great at all! I had relocated from Melbourne with my husband two years earlier. In Melbourne, I walked the dogs every day and went to Bikram Yoga three times a week. We moved to a farm in the Kiewa Valley and my lifestyle changed significantly (the dogs walked themselves!). I got out of the habit of exercising, and I was also going through IVF treatments and suffering from severe endometriosis, which had required several surgeries and strong painkillers.

When were you diagnosed with ovarian cancer?

It was in August 2015, after a surgery to remove one of my ovaries. My husband came into the hospital room crying, followed by my gynecologist who also had a tear in his eye and he told me straight up. It was a massive shock. It took my breath away. My daughter was due to be born in the September (via a surrogate mother overseas) and we were devastated. I had waited so long to be a mother and it felt so cruel to be diagnosed at this time. It only made me more determined to get through it.

Did you have any symptoms?

I was lucky in a way because I’d had so many issues in that area of my body and I knew something was not right. I experienced some lower back and pelvic pain, and was up to the loo all night, but I just thought it was my endometriosis playing up. I’d also just had a hysterectomy, so I thought it could have been a complication from that surgery. Luckily, when my ovary was removed the cancer cells were contained within the ovary itself and had not spread. However, many people don’t find to until it is well advanced. That’s why it’s so important not to ignore anything in that part of your body that doesn’t feel right. And, get a second opinion if you are not happy with the first diagnosis.

What did your treatment involve?

It turned out to be a rare type of ovarian cancer, a clear cell carcinoma, and the doctors were not sure how to treat me. Luckily, it was a Stage 1 and they did not believe traditional cancer treatments would have any beneficial effect, so the only treatment was to remove my other ovary, which happened in January 2016. It was a long wait to find out if the disease had spread further. There is no blood test or marker so it’s scary in that way. Regular check-ups with my oncologist are all I can do now.

How has training helped? 

When I asked my oncologist what I could do to prevent the disease from coming back, he said the only thing that was a proven benefit was regular exercise and he encouraged me to continue with Step into Life. So, I returned to the park in the winter of 2016. I was determined to take control of my health in a more proactive way. I wanted to do it for my husband and my daughter, but also for myself.

Why do you love running? 

I decided to participate in my trainer’s ‘Foundations of Running’ program in November 2016. To my absolute surprise, I managed to achieve my goal of running 3km without stopping! I found with some basic techniques I could not only make the distance, but I also really enjoy it. I got a real endorphin explosion from running, and it became almost like a mediative exercise from me – something that I really need in order to feel optimistic about my health and my future. The skills, encouragement and confidence that I gained from my trainers’ Michelle and Suzanne during that program were invaluable. Since then, I have participated in five fun runs including the 2017 Sydney City2Surf and the Melbourne Marathon Festival Half Marathon. I still can’t believe I can now run 21km!

To find out more about ovarian cancer including the causes, symptoms and treatments visit Cancer Council Australia 


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Running from ovarian cancer