Listen to your body.

That's the message Whangārei mum Andrea Cameron has for women after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October last year.

"With women, we have changes all the time. I knew in the back of my mind something was wrong but I didn't listen to my body," she said.

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February marks Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and the 48-year-old wanted to share her story in the hopes of helping others.

Statistics on the New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation website show one woman dies of ovarian cancer every 48 hours in New Zealand, and out of the five gynaecological cancers, ovarian cancer has the highest death rate.

Before her diagnosis, Cameron said she had been experiencing symptoms for about six to eight months.

She had an increased desire to urinate and less control, she was bloated, had stomach pain - which she said isn't a common symptom, and changes in her menstruation.

"I put all that down to being older and getting older.

"I had all the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and I'd been explaining them away to be other things, even though I knew what they were," she said.

She had been for a scan the year before and at that time everything was okay.

"There was even a poster down in Dunedin that had all the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and I went through it and went 'wow, you've got that, you've got that, you've got that - no, it couldn't be, don't be so dramatic'."


When Cameron went to her doctor, she felt her stomach and asked Cameron if she could be pregnant as she could feel a mass.

Cameron said no, so she was referred to the gynaecologist for a scan.

That scan showed a mass - believed to be cancer - which needed to be removed.

"I went home called my family around, gathered my kids and my parents and told them. I went in to organisation mode. I went in to coping mode."

On October 29 last year Cameron had surgery to remove the 20cm mass which was confirmed to be malignant.

Cameron started chemotherapy on December 13 and her final dose will be on February 14.

"I'm feeling a bit nervous because I've been doing everything I can to make sure I'm well and suddenly I'm just going to be well and just sit and trust that everything we've done is enough to put me in the 85 per cent going to live for five years category."

Cameron has returned to her job teaching at Tauraroa Area School and said it was only when she was introducing herself that she realised she had cancer.

"I had to introduce myself to the staffroom - new people - and I said 'I thought I was going to die, and I didn't'."

"I know I look in the mirror and there's a bald head. I know I've had a massive operation, but my brain isn't allowing me to think about that."

Cameron said she not only wanted to raise awareness of the symptoms, she also believed people needed to know what they are eligible for - for example, those who suffer severe photosensitivity, which is a side effect of chemotherapy - are eligible for prescription sunscreen.

"I put it on the New Zealand Ovarian support group - not one person knew they were eligible for sunscreen, and we're talking women who have had this disease for years," she said.

Cameron encouraged women to listen to their bodies.

"Quite often you feel bad about going to the doctors because you don't want to waste their time and you feel stupid thinking it could be something. It's not always going to be cancer but it could be something else."

For more information, visit the New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation or Talk Peach