Following up on a symptom that Margaret Dobell thought was just a minor part of ageing literally saved her life.
Despite having gone through menopause years earlier, the then 61-year-old started spot bleeding but figured it was just part of the long process of the change of life.
When it kept recurring over three months she decided to go to the doctor and despite a pap smear coming back clear, she was referred to a specialist for more testing which saw her diagnosed with cancer of the uterus.
"It was a weird feeling to be told you have cancer. I don't think I can actually explain it. What was even stranger, and scary, was that I got the news over my husband's phone while we were in the car with my father-in-law and sister-in-law," she said.
Despite a family history of cancers in the men in her family, Ms Dobell, from Ballarat in Victoria's Central Highlands, could not see the link between the prostate cancer that killed her father but which her brother survived, and the throat cancer that took her other brother's life, but her specialist said it was "in the genes".
Ms Dobell's diagnosis was a rare and aggressive form of uterus cancer and within weeks she underwent major surgery in Melbourne.
"They took everything out, lymph nodes, every possible thing they could in the area and tested it," she said.
When she was in ICU following surgery it was discovered she was allergic to morphine when she stopped breathing while her family were present.
"I didn't know they were going through more than what I was. You don't realise sometimes either what family are going through and what impact the cancer has on them."
Because she was diagnosed early, the surgery removed all signs of the cancer and she did not need chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
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"I had six or seven days in hospital and when I came back home to Ballarat it felt like an eternity before I got the call that the surgery had cleared everything," she said.
"Your whole life is hanging on a phone call when your life is already hanging in the balance. You don't realise the impact until you live it."
Ms Dobell said it was scary to think what might have happened if she had assumed the bleeding was something else, or something normal, and let it go longer before seeing a doctor.
"If I had let it go six months I might not be here now," she said. "You should never assume it's something else, or that it's normal. Go and get any symptoms checked out."
Ms Dobell has made sure her adult children and four grandsons know the family history so they too can act quickly if they notice any changes.
"There's always a fear and it is scary, but it makes you live life to the fullest," she said.
February 4 is World Cancer Day and Cancer Council Victoria's Cancer Research Giving Day, where every dollar donated from 9am to 9pm will be matched by donors, doubling its impact. To donate visit cancerresearchgivingday.com.au
"In 2020, even with the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on our fundraising, we spent $23.7 million on cancer research. Together we can continue to fund world-class local research to improve diagnosis, detection, and treatment for every cancer," said Cancer Council Victoria chief executive Todd Harper.
"For 12 hours, every dollar you give will have twice the impact for the 34,675 Victorians diagnosed with cancer each year and will bring us closer to a future without cancer," Mr Harper added.
Contact Cancer Council's nurses on 13 11 20 for cancer information and support.
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