When 16 year old Chloe began feeling unwell during her GCSEs, she assumed that it was the usual exam stress. A few weeks later she was diagnosed with stage 1 ovarian cancer. Chloe talks about her experiences and explains what it’s like to be a younger woman with ovarian cancer.
I stared at the consultant.
Ovarian cancer? I can’t have ovarian cancer – I’m 16 years old!
Although I’d been bloated for a while my doctor had always told me that it was nothing to worry about – probably just my bowels. It never even occurred to me that something more serious might be going on. Ovarian cancer wasn’t something I was aware of at all. Like most people I just thought it was something that happened to women in their 60s; it certainly wasn’t something I thought I needed to be worried about!
I first realised that something might be wrong when I began feeling unwell during a drama rehearsal at school. I assumed I’d had a panic attack. I was in the middle of GCSEs at the time so I put the whole thing down to the usual exam stress. It was only when I began throwing up and passing out that my mum insisted we go along to the walk-in medical clinic. I ended up having a few scans - one of which showed that I had a cyst on my left ovary.
Because the cyst was so large the doctors told me that I’d have to have my ovary and fallopian tube removed, but my surgeon assured me that it wouldn’t be anything to do with cancer because I was so young. So when I got my results back and they told me it was cancerous it was difficult to get my head around it and accept that this was actually happening to me. I remember just staring at the consultant and thinking what am I going to do? I didn’t break down or cry or anything. I think that moment made me take a step towards maturity. It made me grow up.
Road to recovery
The cancer was stage 1 so I ended up having six doses of Carboplatin chemotherapy over about 18 weeks. The treatment side of it wasn’t too bad – it wasn’t great or anything but I was determined not to feel sorry for myself. I think the worst part was actually dealing with it emotionally. Mostly it just felt like it was somebody else’s life. I don’t think my mum really knew how to react to it all – she just kind of went into crazy mode. My dad’s not really an emotional person, but I definitely think he became more affectionate.
I think my friends really struggled with it. I wasn’t always able to do stuff like go to the beach because of the risk of infection, and I don’t think they really understood the seriousness of it all. I can just remember feeling really isolated.
People either treat you like you’re really fragile or they don’t really know what to say. My boyfriend was really good about the whole thing. Part of me didn’t really expect him to stay with me but he was really, really supportive. When you’ve been for treatment everyone starts acting as if you’re on your death bed but he made me act normal. It just helped me remember that, actually, I was normal!
I definitely think it helps to stay positive. I’ll always try to tell myself ‘oh, you’ll be okay’ but sometimes it is hard not to think ‘but what if…’ Thinking that it might come back; that’s probably the most frightening thing.
It’s also hard because I didn’t get the opportunity to freeze my eggs before treatment. I’ve now got to wait until September to see whether I can freeze eggs or whether my eggs are no good. The whole fertility thing is something that I usually try to bat away. It’s only when the opportunity is risked that you realise just how much you want children.
But I usually try not to think about it too much. I want to stay as positive as I can about things.
Having to deal with something that life-changing and dramatic has just made me value things a little bit more. I really try not take so much stuff for granted.
It was my mum who encouraged me to contact Target Ovarian Cancer and get involved. I always wanted to share my story and help raise awareness but I never really knew how. Recently I’ve been looking at maybe doing a skydive to try and help raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust or The Christie hospital. Obviously I’d also love to do some fundraising specifically for ovarian cancer - anything to try and get the message out there. There just seems to be tons of campaigns and awareness about breast cancer and raising awareness, but raising awareness for ovarian cancer is just as important.
I think a lot of younger women dismiss ovarian cancer because they think it’ll never ever happen to anyone below 60. The thing is, more and more young women seem to be affected by it. I know it’s still quite rare to get it at my age but it’s not unheard of. I don’t think enough people realise that.
As for me, I’d love to go to university one day and maybe work for a charity like Target Ovarian Cancer, or become a social worker for people with cancer. I really just want to help other people like me and make sure the symptoms are out there so that more women can go ahead and get checked.
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