'My GP said I was a grumpy teen – but I had cancer'

Published Wednesday, Jan 29 2014, 20:00 GMT  |  By  |  Add comment
When 20-year-old Amy Quinn started to constantly feel tired and miserable, her doctor put it down to her being a moody teenager. But a year later she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

"When, aged 18, I became too tired to get off the sofa and my moods began to swing erratically, everyone assumed I was just being a typical teen.

Even my GP told me I was just grumpy.

But my stereotypical symptoms turned out to be hiding a far more sinister diagnosis – I had an aggressive form of ovarian cancer that has left me infertile and going through the menopause at 20.

Amy Quinn, my GP said I was being a grumpy teen - but I had cancer

© Helen Barrington

Amy was diagnosed with ovarian cancer

I noticed something was wrong in 2011. At first I didn't think it was serious – a pain in my left side and I constantly felt sleepy and full. I also went to the toilet a lot.

But when I became too exhausted to keep going to my musical theatre group and concentrate on my business course at university, I knew something was wrong.

Mum urged me to go to the doctor but, when I did, she dismissed my symptoms as the typical behaviour of someone my age.

'There's nothing to worry about,' my GP said. 'She's just being a grumpy teenager.'

But I wasn't convinced. It'd been years since I'd gone through puberty. My days of hormonal tantrums were well behind me.

As the pain in my side grew worse and no amount of sleep could cure my tiredness, I returned to the doctors three, four times. And my frustration only increased as they shrugged off my worries.

It wasn't until February 2012 – the fifth time I'd visited the GP – she told me I might have a cyst and sent me for a scan. I was so relieved. Finally, I was being taken seriously.

The scan showed a mass, which a doctor confirmed was a cyst. He said they were common at my age and could be removed through surgery.

My parents' minds were eased but I wasn't so sure. Would a cyst really make me feel so bad? Going home, I researched how I was feeling. A cyst didn't fit all of my symptoms – but ovarian cancer did. It was the only disease that explained what I was going through. But that was terrifying. People died of cancer.

Amy Quinn, my GP said I was being a grumpy teen - but I had cancer

© Helen Barrington

After chemo, Amy is now cancer free

Telling myself I was being a hypochondriac, I tried to focus on my life as I waited for the operation.

I carried on at uni and even started dating my now boyfriend Sandy. But no matter how positive I tried to be, I couldn't deny that my body felt like it was falling apart.

By the time my operation took place in November 2012, the pain was unbearable. I felt like I had a knife sticking into my side and spent most of my days in bed.

I was in theatre for four hours and when I came round, the surgeon explained he'd removed the cyst and, although it was likely to be an infection, he'd sent some tissue off to be tested.

I was still exhausted but I told myself that was because of my surgery. 'I'm on the mend,' I thought confidently.

But three weeks later, my parents called me when I was at Sandy's house. The hospital had phoned to arrange an emergency appointment with me after the weekend and they wanted a parent to come with me.

Instantly, I knew it meant I had cancer.

But even my suspicions couldn't have prepared me for how I felt when the doctor confirmed it. Hearing the words aloud was the worst moment of my life.

I couldn't take in anything he was saying – I didn't even cry. I was just numb.

Amy Quinn, my GP said I was a grumpy teen - but I had cancer

© Helen Barrington

Amy has run the Race for Life for CRUK

It was only later I got my head around the details. I had a rare and aggressive form of ovarian cancer called low-grade serous carcinoma. I needed another operation at the end of December to remove the rest of the tumour.

As soon as I got home, I went to see Sandy and explained what the doctor had said. 'You can leave if you want,' I told him, knowing how intense the next few months would be. But he hugged me and promised to stick by me.

Sadly, I had more bad news to come. While I was in theatre, the surgeon discovered the cancer had spread further than they'd realised and he had to remove my ovaries, fallopian tubes and appendix. I was infertile and would go through the menopause in the following years.

Although I'd never given any serious thought to having children, I'd always just assumed I would be a mum. It was devastating to know I'd never experience falling pregnant or giving birth.

I barely had time to take it in before my chemotherapy started in February 2013. My hair fell out and I suffered constant nausea and horrendous pains in my joints. By my last treatment, I was begging them not to give it to me.

Thankfully, it worked and last June I was declared cancer-free.

I'm not out of the woods yet – I've been told my particular type of cancer can return. Sometimes it feels like I'm living with a gun to my head, that the cancer could explode again at any moment.

But I'm determined not to think about it. I've gone back to uni and although it's tiring, I love seeing my friends.

I have no idea what would have happened if my GP had have diagnosed me earlier – maybe it wouldn't have spread so far and I'd still be able to have children. I'll never know.

But I can't blame her. Cancer in someone my age is so rare, I don't expect that she would have recognised my signs.

I'm just glad it was noticed before it was too late – and that I've got a second chance at life."

By Hayley Minn and Sarah Whiteley