Reporter’s story about how her family was affected by ovarian cancer

Laura with her daughter Jade on her graduation day last year.
Laura with her daughter Jade on her graduation day last year.

March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and this week reporter Laura Sturrock tells a very personal story of how ovarian cancer has affected her family and why she’s chosen to raise cash for charity Target Ovarian Cancer.

I never met my grandmother Isobel because she tragically died of ovarian cancer when she was only in her thirties.

Isobel with Derek aged about one year old.

Isobel with Derek aged about one year old.

My father also doesn’t have any memories of his mother because he was only three years old when she died.

Derek Sturrock (68) was born in Dundee in 1948, his mother Isobel was 29 and his father George was 33.

They got married in 1947 at Park Church in Dundee but only three years into their marriage Isobel became ill.

Her symptoms only became noticeable when they were on a family summer holiday in Montrose.

Derek said: “Dad told me that mum got terrible stomach pains when they were on the beach.

“I suspect she’d had them before but had never mentioned it to him.

“She was in so much pain that she asked my dad if they could leave straight away.

“He immediately agreed and they packed up their things, left the beach and travelled home the same day.”

Jade Sturrock painting 'Fragments'.

Jade Sturrock painting 'Fragments'.

Isobel visited her GP who referred her to hospital, where she received the shock news that she had ovarian cancer.

The fact that doctors could do nothing for her was even harder to take.

Derek explained: “My dad was quite surprised that the medical world lacked the ability to do anything.

“I’m not sure if her cancer was too advanced or if there was no treatment available yet on the NHS.

George and Isobel on their wedding day

George and Isobel on their wedding day

“She was unable to look after me quite quickly after her diagnosis and she was on high doses of morphine towards the end of her illness.”

The National Health Service had only been created in 1948 and survival from cancer was poor in the 1950s. Damaging surgery and relatively unsophisticated radiotherapy were the main treatments, assuming the disease was detected in time for anything to be done.

Derek’s father worked as a dental mechanic five days a week and often on Saturday mornings as well.

He was struggling to cope with looking after a toddler and his ill wife so he asked a local nursery if they could look after him.

Initially they said they had no places available, but when he explained that his wife was dying of cancer they agreed to take Derek.

He was sent there full-time, five days a week, aged just two years old and he says he was unhappy there because he was suddenly separated from his mum.

He explained: “I was too young to understand why this was happening. I’ve been told since that I was traumatised.

“I didn’t like being forced to have afternoon naps at the nursery.

“They also played the music from Peter and the Wolf all the time - I really hated it!”

After Isobel died, aged just 32, George and three-year-old Derek went to live in a two bedroom tenement flat with George’s mother - Jessie Macdonald - who was 60 years old.

She played a large part in Derek’s upbringing until she passed away when Derek was a teenager.

Derek said: “My granny was really my surrogate mother.

“I went home to have lunch with her every day and she looked after me until dad got home from work.

“Then we’d all have high tea together, usually sandwiches, tea and cake.

“As a special treat she gave me one bottle of coke each week, which I thought was absolutely great.

“Gran was affectionate and allowed me to stay up late sometimes to listen to the radio.

“She was very proud of my achievements at school, especially when I won the Leng medal for singing.”

While his grandmother did her best to raise Derek he feels sad that he never got to know his own mum and often thinks how different his life would have been had she survived.He hopes research into the treatment and prevention of ovarian cancer will improve the survival rate for women so they get the chance to raise their children.

Reporter Laura Sturrock’s daughter Jade is also getting on board with Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in memory of her great-grandmother Isobel.

Jade (22), a recent graduate of Glasgow School of Art, has agreed to exhibit her work in a ‘pop-up’ display along with three fellow female artists also from the School of Art - Rowan Flint, Catriona Thomson and Hannah Lyth.

This exhibition called ‘Women’s Work: Being Seen’ will be on at The Lillie Art Gallery in Milngavie from Saturday, April 1 until Saturday, April 8.

‘Target Ovarian Cancer’ will receive 20 per cent of any proceeds.

You can also donate by visiting www.justgiving.com/fundraising/TargetOvarianCancer-LauraSturrock

There will also be a raffle at the exhibition - if any local businesses can donate prizes that would be very much appreciated, please email: laura.sturrock@jpress.co.uk