The Craziest Journey of My Life: Ovarian Cancer at 16
I’m Rachel and I’ve been diagnosed with ovarian mucinous cancer at 16 years old.
This year has been the craziest journey of my life and I've learned so much.
Earlier this year, I was really sick and we couldn’t figure out why. It was months of terrible symptoms and pain. The most frustrating part was not knowing what it was, and after countless doctor's appointments, getting told it’s just a virus.
I had been vomiting daily. When I threw up at school, I was sent home to get a Covid test. At urgent care, I complained about how bad my abdominal pain had become. The doctor felt my abdomen and said something was there, and to go get it checked in a couple of weeks.
Well, that night, I was vomiting so much that my esophagus was bleeding. Off we went to the hospital. They examined me, felt my stomach, and proposed that I go in for a CT scan at that moment, immediately. The results showed that there was definitely a mass, but that I needed to get transported to another hospital for better scans. After being in the ER all night, I finally got transferred. An ultrasound found a 16.4 cm mass in my abdomen. The protocol is to take masses out when they are 5 cm, so the conclusion was that this mass had probably existed inside me for a long time. Which explains all the symptoms. I was discharged, slept for 8 hours, and then woke up in miserable pain and couldn’t stop throwing up. My dad drove me to the ER again, and this time I was transferred to a different hospital the same night.
A 2-hour ambulance ride transported me to this new hospital by 3 AM. The whole time I was in the hospital I didn’t even know I was in the oncology unit. A day or two later, I underwent surgery and the doctors said “We really do not think that this mass is cancerous.” I wasn’t really worried, I was in so much pain and just needed this thing out. During surgery, they took out my right ovary, right fallopian tube, and appendix. Although the surgery went perfectly, I returned home very sore and relied on my parents to help me do everything. Even getting off the toilet. Every day I was getting and feeling better, being so pain-free felt like a whole new world to me.
Two weeks later, my mom got a call. “Your mass is cancerous, but we caught it early enough so you shouldn’t need treatment.” Two weeks after that, “You need chemo, and you’ll also need to freeze your eggs.” The mass had very aggressive cells that needed treatment right away. This was a lot to take in. I wasn’t even able to fully consider how my life was about to change completely.
All I could think and cry about was losing my hair.
Going through it all, I was just kind of lost. I kept saying “Why me?” I couldn’t put much thought into my actions. I met with my fertility doctor to have a consultation about freezing my eggs. This experience felt very isolating as I was the only 16-year-old in the fertility clinic. I had to complete a lengthy hormone treatment to freeze my eggs, which was very difficult for an already hormonal teenager going through puberty. After all this, I just tried to enjoy the rest of my summer and not think about the upcoming chemo. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t do much with my friends, and I couldn’t work out which was one of my favorite activities. I really missed feeling strong.
My family decided to explore a second opinion on my diagnosis before I started chemotherapy, so we traveled to New York. If this doctor said I needed chemo, I had to do it. Out of 60 oncologists, every single one said that I needed to undergo chemotherapy. I was so scared, I felt like everything in my body was back to normal after the surgery and now I would have to be in pain again. Before I was fully able to break down, my doctor mentioned a possible backup plan. She explained that I could do a G.I chemo that wouldn’t make me lose my hair. This was music to my ears, all I could hear was that I would get to keep my hair. She explained the other side effects, but I didn’t take them that seriously. I thought I would go for this minor treatment, get sick for a few more days, and then finally be fully back to normal.
That September, I had my first round of chemotherapy treatment. I felt fine, the only side effect I experienced was neuropathy. I went to school the next day as if nothing had happened. Two weeks later, I had my port finally placed. My port worked fine the first few times I used it, but then it started to hurt. My second chemotherapy treatment was the absolute worst. I couldn’t move, I was depressed every day I had treatment. I didn’t think that my life would turn out this way. Even though I had the best support system, I felt completely alone.
Around Thanksgiving, I was experiencing bad back pain. The doctors sent me for another CT scan to make sure another mass wasn’t growing. On Thanksgiving Day, I received the biggest blessing and the best news. There wasn’t an ounce of cancer left in my body. With one more treatment to go, this was one of the most special moments on my cancer journey. My dad and his best friend who had cancer in high school came with me for this last treatment. I would usually fall asleep during chemo, but I was so excited to ring the cancer bell that I stayed up the entire time. I rang the bell, went out into the parking lot, and started sobbing. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t believe this was over.
Those months were the absolute hardest months I have ever had to endure in my life.
The side effects, the depression, the feeling of no end in sight. The only thing I had to rely on was my support system, and I am forever grateful for them. When I arrived home, my dad and stepmom had flowers, candy, and a celebration necklace waiting for me. The next few days were the absolute best and I thought I would finally be able to drop the cancer burden and return to my normal life.
Now, I still struggle with things. The depression that I thought was gone returned. I had never fully let myself cry or break down as I wanted to be strong, but I’ve realized that I was just pretending that the burden didn’t exist. I love playing soccer and have played for years but I can barely play this spring due to still recovering from cancer and chemo. I can’t do as much as I used to, which makes me so frustrated. I thought ringing the bell meant it was over, but it was not. This is my life now. I improve every day, but at a slow and steady pace.
At the start of my diagnosis, I didn’t want to be the sick kid. This obstacle in my life has made me the strongest person ever. Cancer has taught me to live life to the fullest and count all my blessings. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the struggles that built my strength. I would love to thank my family members: dad, mom, stepdad, stepmom, sisters, brothers; extended family, my amazing friends, family friends, my teachers, and my coaches for supporting me through everything. I am so happy to live life and appreciate the opportunity to grow every day.
Photo courtesy of author.