Tag Archives: ovarian cancer


Several weeks I literally bumped into Florence Wilks at the front door of the surgery. Our eyes fixed on each other momentarily, my delay was quickly assessing how she was before I spoke, hers was to make a request.

I have known Florence for several years and she openly admitted to all around her as well as on at least one radio programme that she has suffered a late diagnosis of ovarian cancer and has had several relapses but rather than become overpowered with anger and resentment  she has directed her energies into raising money and awareness to fund research and better education for women and doctors into ovarian cancer. Just a reminder about symptoms we should be aware of:-

Carcinoma ovary

The  impact has been profound and I know on a personal level I felt empowered to educate patients, medical students, my peers as well as anyone reading my blog  to make people aware of how to diagnose and manage this disease. My partner, Jane and I have been much more vigilant about potential signs and symptoms and insisting getting a good quality pelvic ultrasound and a well written report not satisfied with ‘ovary not well visualised’ and a test for tumour markers CA125.

I was pleased to be able to say “hello, you look great” and she then told me about the book she was compiling of poems, musings and stories in order to raise money for ovarian cancer. I started to tell her that I was sure I could find sometime to contribute but her eyes fixed on me and said that she wanted my contribution and the deadline was the end of October! I hadn’t written a poem for 50 yrs and then not easily! But she made it quite clear it was the contribution rather than the standard of writing – how could I refuse – she had fought cancer and she meant business!
I put if off wanting to believe I was too busy, hadn’t time, lost her email address but then I was struck down with a viral illness and too weak to do much but I did have time and I was thinking! Then that day I just put the words down on my iPad and realised I had written a poem. I sent it to my children and Jane hoping they would say, ‘good try, but…..’ They recognised it as a poem and I found Florence’s email and it whooshed away into cyberspace. Her reply was quick and she accepted my  motivated endeavour.


I was asked to write a musing of a GP
My thoughts went blank somewhat a degree
Never wanted to be a GP, paediatrics was my desire,
But sometimes in life think about what we require.
A string of Jobs for General Practice took me to an interview
And I was accepted along with the chosen few.
Paediatrics, A&E, obstetrics, General Medicine and ENT
Also including 12 months as a GP trainee.
Fully qualified I returned to my paediatric dream
But overwhelmed with hospital bureaucracy decided to go back to the GP team.
Children are part of families, with parents, siblings, grannies and grandpas too
Patients in the cottage hospital and birthing unit, long stay hospital to visit and view
I wanted to be part of a community, providing a service to all ages with acute and chronic illnesses as well

I started as a GP in South Wales amongst hard grafting men
Chiselling out diamond coal, damaging their lungs again and again
I loved their humour, their ongoing rugby banter, their voices in full swing
Helping them get enough breath to get to the club, that was the important thing
I watched them live a life of courage, I watched them dying a death of suffering
I was part of a great primary care team who took an important part in everything
Patients and staff alike taught me how to care holistically and what empathy really meant
Children with cystic fibrosis and spina bifida who helped with ways to treat and prevent
The high prevalence in this place pioneered the vital research to lead to what we now see.
Now all women take folic acid in pregnancy and others benefit from stem cell therapy
I loved my work in the Llynfi valley even on those wet cold days and nights serving the people
The hours were long the work was tough but the great rewards there was nothing to equal
I had become part of a community, infact I was the news agent’s daughter now come back what better compliment than that!

Then the knight in white armour swept me off my feet to pastures new
I was married in London cheered on by the bus load from Llynfi too
Then after 3 children gradually returned to General Practice in Ealing
What a contrast, a culture shock for me but the new challenge was appealing
Lords and homeless , patients spanning the World from all occupations including the BBC,
Unimaginable varied diseases as well as patients from every trouble spot in the globe to see.
A high prevalence of severely mentally ill often neglected by primary care
But not forgetting those with the stresses of everyday life you have to be aware
Medical students, astounded by the amount of serious disease attend the surgery frequently
We care for diabetics, asthmatics, COPD and heart and stroke patients in the community.
We keenly look out for cancer patients to diagnose early and provide supportive care
Our team look after pregnant ladies and along with families and children’s welfare
I have now become part of this community and despite national low morale I am passionate about my work as an ordinary GP.

Florence is so enthusiastic about her fund raising activities and has such an overwhelming desire and grim determination to fight her disease. It is patients like her that inspire doctors to go that extra distance, to be keen to get to the root of a problem and find out what is the real cause and make it all worthwhile. Be part of the positive energy she exudes as it will only make your life richer and more purposeful.
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Posted by on November 1, 2015 in Training and Advice


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This week I had an email reminding me it is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Week in March and to prepare for fundraising events and this brought to mind the tale of a dear aunt.

It was Easter 1969 when my aunt who was diagnosed with carcinoma of the ovary. She was the head teacher of a challenging junior school in Dagenham and aware of the surplus energy many of her pupils had and as no-one had volunteered to teach imagefootball she had decided to take on the task. However, that did create some problems as she was a Roman Catholic nun Sister Mary Ursula, who wore a full length habit and a stiffly starched headdress as seen in the comedy Sister Act!

I had only seen her when we as a family visited London as she was not allowed to stay anywhere other than a convent. We always had great fun as children when we visited as she always managed to produce a special meal usually afternoon tea and we were allowed to explore the convent grounds play with the animals they kept as well as have a singsong or dance to popular songs around the piano. We also helped to serve soup to the unusual people who came to the back door. I was always puzzled by these visitors but despite being as inquisitive as usual I never got any satisfactory answers to why these people came.

She had been to see her team play in the schools cup final and was overjoyed that they had won. She had run up and down the pitch cheering them on like any other football coach but in full nuns habit!
Unfortunately, shortly after this she was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and incidentally found to have advanced Ovarian Carcinoma. She like many others showed very little in the way of symptoms.

Coincidentally, I had applied to do voluntary work in Dr. Barnado’s children’s home in Barkingside, Essex, helping with spins bifida children who had been taken into care and was accepted. They provided free accommodation and meals and this gave a country girl a chance to be able to explore London. What’s more I would be near Upton Park Hospital where she was having frequent admissions for treatment.

It wasn’t long before she made her mark there with frequent colourful visitors ranging from high ranking priests to ex-pupils. There was never a dull moment especially as she took it upon herself to visit the male wards (bearing in mind that in those days many patients were in hospital for weeks on end) equipped with mouth organ to orchestrate singalongs usually the old cockney pub songs or football songs especially as she was a keen West Ham supporter!

Needless to say it was appropriate that she was the first person I told when I received my A level results and full acceptance to Medical school. Sadly she died the day I left to go home to prepare to start my career in medicine. This was my first experience of being with someone so ill and eventually dying. She was only 41yrs of age and died within months of being diagnosed. She was so open about how she felt and what gave her the most comfort. Her insights, her humour and her fears along with her many words of wisdom formed a good base as I embarked on my medical training.

It is sad that even after 45yrs only 3% of women can very confidently pick out a symptom 

Carcinoma ovaryIf ovarian cancer but if diagnosed the prognosis has improved considerably. 

The disease is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths in women and experts fear the lack of awareness may contribute to low survival rates in the UK compared with elsewhere.

Ovarian cancer

We as doctors are increasing our awareness and  vigilance  about investigating women when presenting with suspicious symptoms. We need you to come to us if you have suspicious symptoms.

    image          It  may simply be persistent bloating don’t assume it is Irritable Bowel Syndrome –  GET CHECKED

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Posted by on January 25, 2015 in Training and Advice


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How can Yew help?

Recently I posted a blog talking about the history of yew and its use in medicine but I didn’t complete the story

This remarkable tree, the Yew in the Central Himalayas, is used as a treatment for breast and ovarian cancer. But western medicine in order to satisfy their criteria had to find a way of isolating the drug from the natural source.
Pacific yew’s bark were first collected in 1962 by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) who were under contract to NCI to find natural products that might cure cancer.
When this was found to be a potential anti-cancer drug there was outcry from the environmentalists including Al Gore as when collecting the bark this led to destruction of the tree.It was then found that the leaves of European yew (Taxus Baccata)were also an appropriate source which is a more renewable source than the bark of the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia). This ended a point of conflict in the early 1990’s. Docetaxel (another taxane) can then be obtained by semi-synthetic conversion from the precursors.

The precursors of chemotherapy drug Paclitaxel can be derived from the leaves or needles of the European Yew Taxus Baccata

Paclitaxel is a chemotherapy drug. It is also known by its original brand name, Taxol. The drug is made from the needles of a particular type of yew tree. It works by stopping cancer cells separating into two new cells, so it blocks the growth of the cancer. It is a treatment for various types of cancer, including

Ovarian cancer
Breast cancer
Non small cell lung cancer.
AIDS related Kaposi’s sarcoma
We know that clippings from the Hampton Court Yews have already been used along with those from many other sources to help many hundreds of cancer patients. However it is my opinion that we need to be clear about the exact location of the batches of clipping that are used. At Hampton Court there are also avenues of yews, which are more important a source of origin than a yew hedge or maze. This is because yews in an avenue can be more readily identified as being female or male and, if it is not already becoming apparent in taxol research, it will become increasingly important to separate clippings into their gender origin. At present such attention is not given in the collection of clippings and if gathered from hedges or mazes, which are also to be found at Hampton Court, then the task of establishing gender is extremely difficult as both sexes of the yew grow so close to each other in such environments. Thus the yew avenue offers a better chance of gender selection at the outset and consequently vastly improves further research potential.

But how can you help?
If you or someone you know has a Yew hedge or tree the annual clippings can be used to produce this important anti-cancer medicine. When I lived in Isleworth those of us who had Yew trees/ hedges did this each year.
Lime hurst Ltd offer cut-and-collect service for Yew clippings ( tel : +44(0)1243 555110. )
Limehurst are involved in the harvesting and processing of medicinal & cosmetic plants and have been collecting Yew hedge clippings in the UK since 1992 for use as a cancer treatment.
Another organisation offering similar service is Friendship Estates
Tel:+44(0)1302 700220
Between July and September his company come and collect the clippings of one years hedge growth , which are then used as raw material for the production of ant- cancer drugs


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