Huddersfield woman raises awareness of ovarian cancer with artwork depicting Huddersfield’s textile heritage

Gill Kelly

Since recovering from ovarian cancer, Gill Kelly from Huddersfield has been anxious that the disease may return: but she has acquired a new hobby that takes her mind away from her fears and has enabled her to talk more widely about how bloating can be a symptom

Gill, 56, has taken up the pastime of needle felting and her most ambitious project to date, charting the history of Huddersfield’s textile heritage, has been displayed at a national exhibition, showcasing Gill’s story as well as her 1m square landscape.

Gill is astounded that what started as a six-week needle felting course just before the first lockdown in 2020, has given her a new perspective and fresh momentum to raise awareness.

“I think about the possibility of a recurrence every day,” says Gill, who was diagnosed with early-stage ovarian cancer back in November 2017. “But needle felting completely absorbs me so that I don’t dwell on my anxieties.

“I can start at 9pm and suddenly realise that I’ve worked right through to 2am. It has taught me how, with new tools, you can create a whole new life,” adds Gill, who has recently become an activities coordinator at a care home.

Having lost her mother to ovarian cancer just months after her own diagnosis, Gill has had a lot to come to terms with. Her mother had been living with the disease for seven years, but despite having bloating, erratic periods and fatigue Gill never imagined she too could have ovarian cancer.

Instead, the mother-of-two took up swimming to lose weight around her waistline. That was until her cat Humbug jumped on her stomach and caused her to cry out in pain. She then found a lump, which later turned out to be a 2kg tumour.

Gill was fortunate that her feline friend set the ball in motion for her ovarian cancer to be caught early. Since having surgery, Gill has been disease-free. The experience has left her determined to raise awareness for others, having dismissed the symptoms herself.

Often the signs of the disease are thought to be nothing serious, and are confused with gut health problems such as irritable bowel syndrome or food intolerance, says the ovarian cancer support charity Ovacome.

It has come up with the B.E.A.T. acronym to highlight the most common signs of the disease: B is for bloating that does not come and go; E is for eating difficulty and feeling full more quickly; A is for abdominal and pelvic pain felt most days, and T is for toilet changes in urination and bowel habits.

Gill Kelly’s needle-felting piece includes some local landmarks

With no routine screening available — the cervical smear test does not pick up ovarian cancer — it is important for everyone to be aware of the B.E.A.T. symptoms, maintains Ovacome. If these symptoms are persistent or frequent, GPs should request a CA125 blood test.  This can help to ascertain whether further investigation is needed for ovarian cancer.

Gill dreads to imagine what might have been if it were not for Humbug. As homage to the cat world, she has included Huddersfield’s locally famous train station cats — Felix and Bolt — in her soon to be exhibited artwork, which took her over 300 hours to complete.

Well-known icons of Huddersfield are also featured including Castle Hill, the Lion Chambers, the Lindley Clock Tower, Newsome Mill, and Lockwood Viaduct. 

Gill was excited to see her work at the HopePunk exhibition in Coventry, the current City of Culture. She applied to be included after completing a Hope Programme self-management course, organised by Hope for the Community CIC social enterprise and Macmillan Cancer Support.

“I’ve never been arty at all,” laughs Gill. “But something happens under the needle, it is like a miracle really.”

If you are concerned about ovarian cancer, contact Ovacome on its freephone support line 0800 008 7054 or visit ovacome.org.uk

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