"In July of 2020, I was growing frustrated with my stomach's relentless, painful bloating. Twisting and contorting my body in front of the mirror, I closely inspected my protruding tummy. I worked out regularly and ate well, why was my lower abdomen suddenly so distended?
The pain grew severe enough that my GP advised me to go straight to emergency. The ED doctor could feel a significant pelvic mass but insisted I go home and return the following day for a CT as they needed to keep beds free for COVID patients. I returned for my scan and blood tests and was told I would receive a call from a gynecologist with results in the coming days.
The thought of cancer never once crossed my mind, I was only 26 years old and certain it would be a cyst or endometriosis.
Emma (right) pictured with her sister Katie.
When the doctor did call, I was in disbelief. I had a 13cm tumour on my right ovary, a smaller tumour on my left ovary and a smattering of small implants throughout my abdomen. I asked if there was any good news - had we caught it early? No, he told me, there was no good news.
After a biopsy on my diaphragm resulted in an internal bleed, I was admitted to hospital. It was decided I would stay until my surgery and due to COVID restrictions, I wasn’t allowed any visitors. This was the hardest part of my journey. I was alone, confused and terrified. Thanks to some amazing nurses advocating on my behalf, Katie was given permission to visit me for one hour the night before my surgery. Having her visit, however brief, meant the world to me. I wouldn’t see her again until I was discharged one week later.
The morning of the procedure, I was told to prepare for the worst. Surgery ended up involving the removal of my omentum, appendix, the tumour from my right ovary and my entire left ovary and fallopian tube. I woke up with an incision running from my abdomen down to my pelvis but was grateful to hear they’d been able to salvage some of my right ovary.
My official diagnosis was a Borderline Mucinous tumour on my right ovary, a Borderline Serous tumour on my left ovary and a proliferation of serous implants throughout my abdomen. Borderline tumours are of a low malignancy, although not totally benign. My surgeon describes them as sort of a halfway cancer, they still need close monitoring but move at a much slower pace than other ovarian cancers. It’s fairly unusual to have borderline tumours at my age and it’s extremely unusual to have both serous and mucinous types. That being said, my journey has been anything but predictable.
After surgery, Katie moved back home to help with my recovery. She cooked meals, drove me to appointments and provided immeasurable moral support. Every member of my support network has been phenomenal but Katie has always gone above and beyond. Over the last year she has become my rock, I can’t imagine facing this without her.
Thanks to the preservation of my right ovary, I was able to undergo fertility preservation and freeze some eggs. Unfortunately, my ovary didn’t respond well to the treatment. Several months later it remains calcified, resulting in persistent pain and discomfort. Aside from this, my recovery is progressing well. The implants in my abdomen have regressed and at my most recent surgery, I only had a small presentation of borderline cells in my pelvis.
Throughout my journey, I’ve relied heavily on Ovarian Cancer Australia for guidance. Being diagnosed so young felt incredibly isolating and given the confusing nature of my diagnosis, I wasn’t sure where I belonged. The team at OCA have always welcomed me with open arms, answering my questions and providing support in between hospital visits. My support nurse Fi checks in on me regularly and is always a wealth of knowledge and encouragement.
I’m so incredibly fortunate to have a wonderful care team at the Royal Womens Hospital. My surgeon is a brilliant woman and I have no doubt under her care I will continue to go from strength to strength. This process has shown me just how tough I am and I am so proud of the challenges I’ve conquered with the support of my loved ones. It may not be over yet but I’ve learnt that I’m strong enough to overcome whatever hurdle I face next. "