Health

Doctors thought woman, 23, was pregnant but it was actually deadly cancer

When Emma Colledge became so bloated that it felt like she had a watermelon in her stomach, doctors initially thought she must be pregnant. But the then 23-year-old took multiple pregnancy tests that came back negative.

While waiting for a hospital appointment she experienced pain so severe that we went to A&E, where the shocking truth was revealed.

Speaking to Chronicle Live, the prison officer explained how her symptoms started six months prior to this ordeal.

Emma, now 24, said: “I started a new job in a prison in the March and we were doing restraint training.

I was laying on the floor and I thought I could feel a ball in my stomach. It felt like I was laying on a watermelon. I then started going to the toilet more.

“I was thinking that maybe it’s not IBS but something else, like eating lots of salty food.

“I know people say don’t Google it but when I Googled my symptoms it always said that ovarian cancer is found in people mostly aged 50 and over.

“Even though I had the symptoms, I thought it was IBS – even the doctors were telling me it could be that.”

Emma, from Durham, said she became so bloated that doctors said she looked like she was pregnant.

She knew she wasn’t, and took pregnancy tests which revealed she was not.

By September 2022 she was referred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead.

But while waiting for an appointment, the pain got so bad she went to A&E – and that’s where an ultrasound scan revealed a huge cyst.

“At first, they thought it was just a cyst but then the doctors asked my mam to come in because there had been some complications on the scan,” Emma recalled.

“When the doctors did the CT scan, they saw all of the cancer.

“It had spread to my stomach and the stomach lining. The cyst was so big that they couldn’t see anything else because it had started crushing my kidneys. I thought I was too young to get ovarian cancer. It’s not common. But it was.

“The doctors sat me in a room, and my first question was: ‘Am I going to die?’ and they told me I wasn’t. My mam started crying. I was crying too but then I was reassuring her.”

Emma had the cyst and one ovary removed during a five-and-a-half-hour operation.

This was followed by a nine-and-a-half-hour surgery to carry out a full hysterectomy, along with the removal of her appendix, spleen and some of her bowel. She had a temporary stoma.

Emma added: “Seeing the scars and the staples from my surgery really affected me at first but now I don’t care. It shows what I’ve gone through.

“A few days after my surgery I surprised the doctors by being up and walking around- I was determined to get my life back.”

She then underwent six rounds of chemotherapy at the specialist Teenage Cancer Trust unit at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle.

Now she wants to raise awareness that it’s not just older people who can get ovarian cancer.

Emma added: “I’m determined to make sure that every young person knows about the signs and symptoms of cancer. I want to let people know that it’s not just old people who get ovarian cancer.

“If you’re worried about anything, it’s really important to get it checked out, you won’t be wasting anyone’s time and if your symptoms persist, don’t give up, keep going back to the doctors for help.”

Symptoms of ovarian cancer include frequently (roughly 12 or more times a month) having:

  • A swollen tummy or feeling bloated
  • Pain or tenderness in your tummy or the area between the hips (pelvis)
  • No appetite or feeling full quickly after eating
  • An urgent need to pee or needing to pee more often.

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

  • Indigestion
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Back pain
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Bleeding from the vagina after the menopause.

If you experience any unexplained signs you should speak to your GP.


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