NOTHING could have prepared Avril for the events of 2012 - the removal of a two stone ovarian cyst.
The busy Belfast civil servant and mother said she had no symptoms warning her that anything was wrong until in the summer of 2011, when she “started to notice a swelling” in her stomach.
But like many others, she put off going to the doctor. She admits she was “in denial at what was happening.”
She explained: “About three years ago this year I started taking Zumba classes because I was overweight,” she said. “I needed to do something. And as the Zumba progressed I started losing weight.
“But as the weight started to come off I noticed around my stomach was hard - initially I put that down to me toning up with all the exercise.
“I never thought of it being anything more as I felt great, had no symptoms and everything was functioning as normal.
“So as I got thinner this thing [the cyst] started to get really big. And it began to look as if I was pregnant.”
In Christmas 2012 Avril and her husband were “out partying and I was still at Zumba three times a week” when a close friend died suddenly.
She says it made her mindful of her own health.
“On February 29 we did a Zumbathon for him (her friend) which was three hours long,” Avril said.
“By that stage the thing [cyst] in my stomach was growing upwards.
“My husband was going ballistic and he was determined that I should go to the doctor. We both knew something was wrong.
“So eventually I went to the doctor.
“It was kind of funny when I said to the doctor: ‘I think I have a problem’, because there was no thinking about it.
“So my case was red flagged as an emergency one to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.”
During the following weeks whilst waiting for her appointment, Avril continued to work as even by that stage, she had no symptoms.
On March 12 she had her first appointment at the Ulster Hospital where she was referred to its gynaecological department.
“Between then and Easter Sunday I had CT scans and ultrasound scans and it was identified as an ovarian cyst,” she said.
“I was told I needed surgery and I was put on a waiting list.
“But the doctor told me that if I experienced pain to come into the Ulster immediately.”
On Easter Sunday Avril was wakened with excruciating pain. Her husband took her straight to the hospital.
“The cyst was pushing down on my kidneys creating this pain,” she explained. “I was in agony. As soon as they saw me I got an injection of morphine.
“I went into theatre the following day for a six hour operation - an operation that saved my life.
“They took 13 litres of fluid out my cyst which equated to two stone.
“The surgeons also took out my womb, ovaries and appendix. The procedure is called a bilateral salapingo.
“I lost two stone overnight, which was the last of my problems at that stage. Then I had to recover and wait for the cancer results which came back as being borderline so I didn’t need any further treatment. I am being monitored, of course.”
The outgoing Belfast woman said she did not realise how ill she was until she started to recover.
“It was a terrible time,” she said. “The doctor did now know when the cyst started or why it started.
“I was told borderline cancer, and that was much better news than a lot of other people got in there.
“The growth was compressing my organs so they had to give me a chest X-ray to make sure my lungs were clear. But they found I had blood clots on my lungs.
“If I hadn’t gone to the doctor when I did it would have killed me. The doctors and the two surgeons saved me although they were very modest about it.”
Avril says the “scary thing” for her is that ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer are not widely talked about.
“If I hadn’t lost weight I might not have known,” she said. “I had been a size 18 when I started losing weight.
“At the time of the operation I was about a size 16. But it was hard to judge because of the lump.
“If I could do it over again I would go earlier, I was just frightened. I knew from the summer before my operation there was something wrong.”
A short time after Avril’s operation, she says the news headlines were dominated with bugs in hospitals.
She does not believe doctors and other professionals get the credit they deserve.
“People drive past the Ulster Hospital and other hospitals every day and they don’t understand what goes on in there,” she said.
“People’s lives are saved day and daily. The doctors don’t think anything of it - but the person being treated does.”