A woman in a hospital gown nervously sits on the edge of a bed in a gynecologist office

An Account Of Ovarian Cancer From A Young Survivor

My story begins when I was only 22 in early March 2020 on a Monday. I was walking with friends to the food trucks near my university to grab lunch when I began to feel cramping in my stomach. I thought it was my period coming, but the pain was different. It was a mixture of dull and sharp pain, moving side to side, radiating down into my legs and up into my chest. It felt like my insides were on fire.

After a week of discomfort, I set up an appointment with student health. I went in for a pelvic exam. The APN ordered tests for STDs, put me on an antibiotic for a yeast infection, and sent me on my way. She asked for me to keep her updated on my progress, but I don’t think she expected to hear from me daily over the next 2 months.

More and more appointments

When the pain didn’t go away, I began calling doctors due to COVID-19 restrictions with in-person visits. They went back and forth with antibiotics for yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, but my body couldn’t fight the infections. I was also extremely bloated with a hard stomach and definitely not pregnant. On the rare occasion, I got out of bed, I wasn’t able to stand up straight. I began developing UTIs. I suffered from the intense urge to urinate; it was frequent and painful. My bowel movements started changing. I was gaining weight.

After a month of no relief, they brought back in for a second pelvic exam. They took blood and urine samples to test for kidney failure and sent me on my way once again.

When this continued on for another month with no signs of kidney disease, I met with a gynecologist virtually. They assumed it was a ruptured cyst and the pain would go away within the next week. When it didn’t, I went to the hospital on May 7th, 2020 for an ultrasound. During the appointment, they refused to tell me anything about my condition and assumed ignorance was bliss. They said I would be hearing from my doctor within the next week and I was free to go. However, I refused to have my concerns dismissed yet again.

They finally took me seriously

After much complaining, they allowed me to speak to another doctor who was brave enough to tell me that they had found a 21cm mass spanning my entire pelvis which would require surgery to remove it. She explained that because my case was unique, she would be calling in the top gynecological oncologist to see me. Once my oncologist arrived, things moved quickly. She told me the mass was a tumor filled with fluid, hair, and bone and most likely cancerous. The lab took blood samples and my AFP, CA125, and GI levels were elevated.

The next day, I got a CT scan, more blood tests, and a COVID-19 test. I had the weekend to prepare for my surgery first thing Monday morning. They removed the tumor with no breakage along with my right ovary and fallopian tube, but that left me with an 8-inch scar. My oncologist was able to save the rest of my reproductive organs.

The pelvic washing came back clean with no signs of metastasis. During the surgery, the tests were coming back negative for cancer. I cried tears of joy and began to feel little glimmers of hope as I recovered in the hospital all on my own. But that hope didn’t last long.

I received my diagnosis

The final pathology came back after 10 days. She diagnosed me with a Stage 1A, Grade 3 immature teratoma. No metastasis and caught early but had high complexities in the cells which leads to a higher chance of the cancer returning. But the recent (and limited) research has shown that chemotherapy does not necessarily benefit my situation, being so young with a rare germ cell tumor. My doctor didn’t want to put me through the horrible side effects of chemotherapy.

I thank her for that because over the next 2 months, my CA125 and AFP levels would decline. I was pronounced in remission on July 22nd, 2020, and have been ever since.

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