10 December 2020•
~ 4 minutes
"My diagnosis of ovarian cancer came after many months of persistent abdominal pain and bloating. As a fit and healthy (or so I thought) 21-year-old Health Science student, I wasn’t too concerned about my symptoms at first. I assumed that it was probably just period pain or perhaps a food intolerance of some sort. But then I discovered a lump in my belly.
I went to see three different GPs over the course of four months. My symptoms were firstly dismissed as “stress”. Next I was tested for coeliac disease, but the results came back negative. Following another blood test, I was told that I was pregnant (which I definitely wasn’t!). The doctor shrugged it off as a false result, and told me that I probably had IBS. I wasn’t convinced; I felt like something was being overlooked. But the doctor assured me that there was “nothing to worry about”, and who was I to question a qualified medical professional?
I began to wonder if it was all in my head, and I was making a big deal over nothing. Then a few weeks later, I woke one morning in excruciating pain. The pain was so intense that I couldn’t stand up straight, I couldn’t eat, and every movement made me feel like I was going to vomit. I may not have a medical degree, but I know my body better than any doctor possibly could. I knew that something was very wrong, and I needed answers. I went to see another GP who, thankfully, took my concerns seriously. She sent me to have an ultrasound, which revealed an 18x15cm tumour on my left ovary.
I underwent surgery to have the tumour removed, along with my ovary and fallopian tube, omentum, and lymph nodes. I thought that the nightmare was finally over, but my sense of relief was short-lived. Four days after the operation, my surgeon sat beside my hospital bed and broke the news which shattered my world. The tumour was malignant. I had ovarian cancer, and it had spread into the fluid in my abdomen, meaning that I was going to need chemotherapy.
What followed was a gruelling three-and-a-bit months of pain, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, fainting, night sweats, whole-body aches, chills, hair loss, mouth ulcers, crippling anxiety… you get the picture. The hospital became my second home. I had to take time off work and defer subjects at uni. When I looked in the mirror, I barely recognised the timid, skinny, bald, bruised, scarred figure staring back at me. But despite all of this, I consider myself lucky, because I’m still here.
Being diagnosed with cancer at a young age is frightening, and being diagnosed with a rare type of cancer is very distressing.
Having experienced both, I resolved to use my story to raise awareness and educate others about the importance of early detection; to advocate for improved treatment options and responsive support services; to make a difference for other young cancer patients and other women with ovarian cancer.
So I joined the Victorian & Tasmanian Youth Cancer Action Board (YCAB), I became an ambassador for Ovarian Cancer Australia, and I began volunteering in Palliative Care. I started signing up for every charity fun run I came across to raise funds for cancer research. I’ve spoken at conferences and community events, and shared my story with nurses and medical students through the ANZGOG Survivors Teaching Students program. I’ve been interviewed for TV, radio, newspapers and magazines.
I returned to uni to complete my Bachelor’s degree in Health Science, then went on to graduate with a Master’s in Occupational Therapy. I landed my dream graduate role at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and am now working at the Olivia-Newton John Cancer & Wellness Centre, where I have the privilege of supporting others through their cancer journey.
I also stopped living with the assumption that tomorrow is guaranteed, and started doing all those things that I’d said I’d like to do ‘one day’. I’ve travelled interstate and overseas, I’ve learnt to play the harp, I’ve run a half marathon, I’ve fallen in love.
I could never have imagined how drastically my life would change when I turned 21, but change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And when it comes to the fight against ovarian cancer, change is exactly what we need."