Battle with ovarian cancer spurs trek around South Island

When Wendy Gerritsen was diagnosed with ovarian cancer it was nearly too late. Now she’s hopping on her horse to get her message out.

Gerritsen, 54, will spend the next month riding around the South Island on her horse Anmoch to mark ovarian cancer awareness month.

She started in Oxford on the weekend and expects to finish in Melwood on March 2.

For the first week of her journey, she will be riding with her daughters Alex, 20, and Sarah, 19. Then she will be mostly riding solo for the reminder.

Between towns, the horses will be loaded into a horse trailer driven by her husband Stuart.

The money raised on her ride will go to the Ovarian Cancer Foundation to assist with research.

Gerritsen, of Rolleston, was first diagnosed in April 2021.

“It was definitely a shock and I was pretty jolly sick to be fair,’ she said.

After an appointment with her doctor, she was sent for a scan almost immediately.

The scan indicated a growth on her ovary and by the end of the week she had become very sick, putting her in the hospital. There, doctors drained five litres of fluid from her stomach.

“That was my week of freedom, with not having a big tummy, by the end of the week it was huge again.”

She ended up back in hospital, where doctors drained a further seven litres of fluid from her.

Following this, Gerritsen was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer.

Stage three is when the cancer is in one or both ovaries and 

has spread beyond the pelvis to the lining of the abdomen, the bowel or lymph nodes in the abdomen or pelvis.

After the diagnosis, she started chemotherapy. She went through three rounds of chemotherapy and a debulking operation, before another three rounds of chemotherapy, after which she thought the cancer was gone.

“Nine months later it came back so then we did another five rounds of chemo. It shrunk most of the cancer but still left some.”

Following this, she had five more rounds of chemotherapy, then a seven-month break, then another five rounds of chemotherapy, the last of which was in November.

Gerritsen is back to having three-monthly checks with her oncologist to monitor her cancer.

“I’ve still got three tumours in there that they could see, but they are less than half a centimetre.”

“You’ve just got to try not to think too much about it and just get on with life.”

Gerritsen has been passionate about horses most of her life and started riding when she was eight.

She got Anmoch as a young horse just before her diagnosis.

Gerritsen said Anmoch has given her something to take her mind off cancer as well as goals to look forward to.

By riding Anmoch through towns she is hoping to raise awareness for ovarian cancer, and make her conquest more visible as well.

Gerritsen said people need to be aware of the symptoms, even if they don’t seem to be worrying.

“I knew nothing about ovarian cancer until I saw it on Google.

“Ovarian cancer does not have any age on it . . . I would like to see everyone of all ages get a yearly health check.”

Gerritsen said people need to be open to talking about it, and will be handing out cards with the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer along the route.

“People see it as part of a woman’s body, so therefore you don’t talk about it. You don’t talk about the signs of things and what is going on with your body even to friends.”

Along the route, Gerritsen will be camping in paddocks, and is still looking for somewhere to stay in Hanmer, Reefton, Haast and Waimate.