Phyllis Quigley’s hand moves up her mouth as she recalls a horrible part of her life.
Phyllis is an ovarian cancer survivor and she decided to go public with her story in order to help others battling the illness.
“It was a horrible, lonely time and the one thing I wanted, I didn’t have - that was someone to talk to,” says Phyllis.
“That’s why I am doing this interview. I want women out there to know that there is hope, there is support and if someone needs to talk, I’d be willing to listen to them.”
Phyllis, from the Waterside, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012 when she was 63 years-old.
“I just remember not feeling right. I suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and I went to my doctor thinking how I was feeling had something to do with that.”
Phyllis’ doctor referred to a consultant in Altnagelvin Hospital where she had a colonoscopy (an examination of the large bowel).
A while later, Phyllis suffered a prolapse and was sent immediately to a gynaecologist.
“The gynaecologist did a few scans and after the results came back he asked me if I wanted the good news or the bad news.
“He told me heart, liver and lungs were all healthy but there was a cist on an ovary.
“They then sent me for an ultrasound - the same kind of thing you have done when you are pregnant and there on the scan was the cist.
“I remember asking the girl what size was the cist? I asked her if it was the size of a tomato and she said ‘yes, a beef tomato.”
Phyllis then gave blood samples in order for consultants to determine whether the cist was cancerous but her levels came back as inconclusive.
“The consultant said my levels at that time were around 59 and she said had they been over 100 she would have been able to diagnosed with me ovarian cancer.”
After the appointment in Altnagelvin, Phyllis made her way home but waiting for was a letter.
“The consultant at Altnagelvin told me she had spoken to a specialist in Belfast but then as soon as I got home there was a letter from the specialist telling me he wanted to see me.”
Phyllis travelled to the City Hospital in Belfast where she met the specialist Mr. Price.
“He was a lovely man, originally from Strabane. This would have been December 2011 and Mr. Price said they weren’t going to operate on me before Christmas and I eventually had my operation on January 7, 2012.
“I hate thinking back to that Christmas because I spent it with my sister and my brother-in-law at home.
“It was just a horrible horrible time. It was too quiet and looking back now I wish I had have been in a house with plenty of relatives and noise - I felt so lonely.”
A few days before the operation, Phyllis caught the train to Belfast with her older sister Elizabeth.
“I was so thankful of the company on the way up to Belfast because believe me, the thought of going for an operation for something as serious as this is very very scary.”
It wasn’t until after the operation that Phyllis was heard the news she had been fearing all along - she had stage two ovarian cancer.
“I remember it well. The doctor visited me two days after the operation and told me they had removed the cyst, but they also removed my ovaries and lymph nodes.
“He told me I had stage two ovarian cancer and as a result I had to then undergo chemotherapy.”
The chemotherapy treatment took its toll on Phyllis almost immediately.
It left her feeling unwell, weak and mentally she was at breaking point.
“I remember sitting here in the house one day with a friend. I’d already completed two bouts of chemotherapy but I told my friend I couldn’t do it anymore - it was just unbearable but through my own prayers and people praying for me, I got through it.”
It was during her chemotherapy treatment that Phyllis started to visit the Foyle Hospice. She’d attended a routine appointment at Altnagelvin Hospital and told the cancer nurse there that what she dearly wanted was to talk to someone.
“The cancer nurse contacted the Foyle Hospice and they contacted me - I don’t where I would have been had it not been for the hospice.
“My chemotherapy treatment left me extremely weak and for days after I wouldn’t have been able to drive anywhere. Moving from one room to the next was a chore but thanks to the Foyle Hospice, a volunteer driver picked my up at my house, took me to the hospice for counselling and left me home again - it really helped me through some dark times.”
After completing her chemotherapy treatment, Phyllis went on to avail of Action Cancer services and is now a member of the Derry cancer support group, the Pink Ladies.
“I want women out there to know that there is hope. My battle with cancer was made that little bit worse due to the fact I live on my own but with the help of the medical professionals, the Foyle Hospice, the Pink Ladies, Action Cancer and friends and family, I improved.
“The Pink Ladies are amazing - to me they are angels of hope.
“I am not out of the woods yet. I still have to get my bloods checked every few months because stage two ovarian cancer means there is a chance it could come back but I am just trying to get on with my life.
“I’ve met some amazing people along the way - some of whom have become close friends but I can’t repeat myself enough - every woman knows her own body and if you think something is not right, go and see your doctor - it could save your life,” smiles Phyllis.