When Chloé Spitalnic started experiencing intermittent stomach pain for five days, she attributed it to food intolerances.
But little did she know that this “vague” and “minor” symptom was a harbinger of something much more sinister.
At just 22 years old, Chloe, from Melbourne, was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer and had three tumors growing on her ovary.
“I immediately feared for my life,” Chloe, now 25, told FEMAIL.
“I was at home lying on my bed when the doctor called me and told me the news. I couldn’t stop crying and panicked.
Chloe Spitalnic was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer at age 22 “out of the blue”. She described the ordeal as “traumatic.”
Before the diagnosis in August 2020, Victoria was in strict confinement due to Covid and Chloé has just started a master’s degree.
At the time, she was “fit and healthy” and enjoyed going out with friends. She also has lactose and fructose intolerance, which is why she initially dismissed stomach pain.
“The pain came and went from time to time. I didn’t think it was anything serious and thought maybe it was just my stomach hurting. I complained about it to my family,” remembers Chloé.
“But then it turned into quite severe pain and it even hurt to breathe or move. My mother and sister pushed me to see a doctor.
Due to Covid, she had a telehealth appointment followed by a face-to-face appointment. Unfortunately, her GP was on maternity leave so she made an appointment with another doctor.
At the clinic, the doctor felt her stomach and recommended she have an ultrasound the next morning, which Chloe did and “thought nothing of it.”
On the afternoon of August 12, she received a call from the doctor to discuss her ultrasound results.
“When she called, she asked if anyone was with me, and my dad was in the other room, but I still didn’t think it was serious,” Chloe said.
“I remember lying in bed with my phone on speaker. She told me I had three large cysts on my ovary, which they thought were cancerous.
“I started sobbing instantly. I went to my father and handed him the phone to speak to the doctor. She told him and he hung up on her in disbelief. He thought it was absurd and wanted to get a second opinion.
It turns out that all three cysts turned out to be cancerous tumors and she was diagnosed after surgery.
What is ovarian cancer and what are the symptoms?
Ovarian cancer is a malignant tumor of one or both ovaries.
The ovaries are made up of three main types of cells: epithelial cells, stromal cells, and germ cells. Each of these cells can develop into a different type of tumor.
The average age of women when they are diagnosed with ovarian cancer is 64 years old. It is mainly diagnosed in women over 50; however, some cases are diagnosed in younger women.
There are often no obvious signs of ovarian cancer, but symptoms may include:
- abdominal bloating
- difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- frequent or urgent urination
- back, abdominal or pelvic pain
- constipation or diarrhea
- Menstrual irregularities
- pain during sex
- unexplained weight loss or gain
Pap tests do not detect ovarian cancer and there is no routine test
Rather than wait for an appointment with a gynecologist – which could take weeks – the doctor urged Chloe to go to the emergency room immediately for further testing.
Chloe then spent 15 grueling hours, from 10 a.m. Thursday to 1 a.m. Friday, in the emergency room, alone, to be examined by doctors.
During this time, she underwent further blood tests, an ultrasound and consulted a gynecologist.
“It was a whirlwind. I just wanted to collapse and hide. The doctors were moving so quickly and not telling me everything that was happening. I gave all my confidence to the health system.
“No one gave me any details about what was going on, I was just sitting there crying and my mom had to drop off a backpack full of stuff.” I was fasting, my phone was dying, it was a horrible time.
Chloe described her stay in the emergency room for an extended period of time as “traumatic” and she “begged” them to allow her to leave.
The following Monday, with a backpack in hand and greeting her loved ones, she entered the same hospital where she was born to undergo “invasive” surgery.
“They couldn’t figure out what I had until after the surgery, which is crazy,” she said. The operation itself was “invasive” as an incision from the navel to the bikini line was required (pictured during chemotherapy treatment).
Overall, ovarian cancer is significantly underfunded and to confirm the diagnosis, tumor tissue must be examined under a microscope.
This is exactly what happened to Chloe, who only received an official diagnosis after the operation.
“They couldn’t figure out what I had until after the surgery, which is crazy,” she said.
The surgery itself was “invasive” as an incision going from her belly button down to her bikini line was required.
With no family or friends by her side, Chloe discovered she had stage three ovarian cancer after waking up in hospital.
“My surgeon came to my hospital room, standing 1.5m from me, wearing a mask, with my family on loudspeaker, to give the result. It’s still so traumatic,” she said.
“At that point I started to worry about my hair. I have long hair, I love my hair and you only hear negative experiences about chemotherapy – it’s all scary and dark,” she said.
One thing that has given her hope of saving her hair is cold styling – a device used to reduce hair loss caused by certain types of chemotherapy.
She was terrified of losing her hair, but one thing that gave her hope of saving her hair was cold styling – a worn device that reduces hair loss caused by certain types of chemotherapy.
It took ten weeks to recover from the operation and her son learned to walk again with the help of a physiotherapist. Following this, she began treatment which lasted ten weeks.
It took her ten weeks to recover from the operation and she had to learn to walk again with the help of a physiotherapist.
Following this, she began treatment which lasted ten weeks.
“It was exhausting and I was still studying one subject at a time,” she said.
“I started cold capping from the first session and it didn’t bother me. It worked pretty well, but my hair thinned out a bit.
As for side effects, she was put into a medically induced menopause to preserve her fertility, she didn’t feel too nauseous but admitted she had since “blocked” the trauma of the treatment from her mind.
On New Year’s Eve 2020, she underwent a final minor keyhole operation to check that the chemotherapy had successfully killed the cancer cells.
On New Year’s Eve 2020, she underwent a final minor keyhole operation to check that the chemotherapy had successfully killed the cancer cells. Today, Chloé takes one tablet a day to prevent the cancer from recurring.
From now on, Chloé takes a tablet daily to prevent the cancer from recurring and has check-ups every three months.
However, she still lives in fear that the cancer will return.
“It’s very stressful and discouraging when I’m told there’s a good chance my cancer will come back,” she said.
“I’m afraid it’s coming back without my knowledge since there are no symptoms of ovarian cancer.” But I don’t want to let this moment in my life define me. This is part of my journey, not who I am.
Today, Chloe is on a mission to share her story around the world to educate others about the seriousness of ovarian cancer and how more research should be done.
“Doctors don’t seem to care about the cause, they just look to the future and ways to get rid of it,” she says.
“Whereas, on the contrary, we should do more for women’s health and talk about it more often.
“If you think something is wrong or doesn’t feel right, ask your doctor, because you know your body best.”
In 2022, it is estimated that a woman has a one in 84 risk (or 1.2%) of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Although ovarian cancer can occur at any age in adults, it is most common in women aged 85 and older.
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