Interview with Penny Kemp – Part One

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 1.35.27 pmWe discuss the symptoms and treatment of gynaecological cancer with survivor Penny Kemp.

What symptoms alerted you to start to talk to a doctor?

When I look back, I can only think of one symptom that was annoying and that was bloating, however I had been bloated for so very long it wasn’t something I noticed in particular prior to being diagnosed. What sent me to the doctor (or emergency room) was having excruciating pain during sexual intercourse. It was so painful I ended up driving to the hospital.

How did you know that you had gynaecological cancer of some sort?

After being checked out in the ER, I was told to go home and that I was constipated. However I persisted and finally a female doctor ordered a CT scan because she said that no woman should ever have such painful sex. They found a 10cm tumour in my right ovary which at the time they did not believe was malignant as I was ‘too young’ (36 yr). We decided to remove the ovary and I was prepped for surgery, however a more urgent case came in through the ER and I was bumped and sent home. It took me 21 days exactly to get back in to have the surgery, when I woke up the nurse said “Doctor found something Mrs Kemp” it turned out to be a small cell carcinoma of the right ovary.

How did you feel in the moment you found out you had cancer?

I fainted. My husband sat next to me and watched me hit the floor as the doctor on call gave us the news that there was very little he could do for me except refer to me The Royal Hospital for Women (TRHW) and hope they could give me treatment. He did however tell me to get my affairs in order. When I got to TRHW a week later I had a CT scan and my cancer had returned and spread. It was that aggressive that it had grown back bigger and spread in just 21 days.

What were some of the processes you went through while fighting cancer? 

I met my oncologist Prof. Michael Friedlander and then pretty much handed my life over to him. He told me all sorts of things, what I had, what they would do, the side effects, and I listened to none of it. I had gone onto to google the day before and read all of 3 lines about ovarian cancer and it was so grim back then that I never looked it up again. I decided that Michael Friedlander was the expert, he could worry about me. I didn’t even find out what I had exactly until my 1 year anniversary, I didn’t want to know anything. He could deal with the medical, I would deal with the mental. My father had survived a ‘terminal’ illness when he was young, he said simply this “do as your told by Prof & the nurses” and that’s what I did. I handed everything over to them.

What treatments did you have and what was your experience of them?

I had surgery to remove my right ovary. I had 6 x 1 week treatments of chemotherapy where I was an inpatient for the week I was on the pump, then went home for 2 weeks off, then back in again. I then had 6 weeks of daily radiation where I had my zap at 7.30am then went into work for the day. I vomited …. A lot! By the end of the 6 chemo cycles I had the most all-encompassing fatigue I could ever image but overall I found that I adapted really well. My oncology team was amazing, I met lots of others in treatment and generally just got on with it. I was on a lot of steroids so I spent my days walking the halls of the hospital and hanging out with other patients that couldn’t get out of bed. The receptionist at the hospital told me from the start – get up and get dressed, every single day.


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