AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– A 22-year-old woman battling a rare form of stage 3 ovarian cancer wants everyone to know the subtle symptoms of the disease. Emily Pickthall just completed her sixth and final round chemotherapy.
“It’s insane honestly when you get that cancer diagnosis… it’s a whole whirlwind,” said Emily.
Emily had to put everything on hold when tests and subsequent surgery revealed a softball sized growth.
“This tumor that was basically glued to my uterus, my fallopian tubes and my ovaries so they had to patch me all back up and they did the pathology and it came back as ovarian cancer.”
As part of an aggressive treatment, Emily received a full hysterectomy and chemotherapy. On Thursday, she received her sixth and final round of chemotherapy.
“We’ve been very, very aggressive in how we treat it and as a result we’ve substantially increased the survival,” said Dr. Saketh Guntupalli, a gynecologic oncologist for UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.
“We have patients that are living seven, eight, nine,10 years with a chronic disease of ovarian cancer and not the fatal disease of ovarian cancer that it was even a few years ago,” he said.
Although Guntupalli has diagnosed a patient as young at 15 years old with ovarian cancer, he says it’s most common for women in their late 50s and 60s.
“For patients to get it in their 20s or their 30s is exceedingly rare,” he said, adding, “I’d say about only 3% – 4% of all of the women that are going to get ovarian cancer are going to get it at an age of 35 or even 30.”
In order to receive treatment, you first need a diagnosis.
It is called the “whisper disease” because the symptoms like bloating, feeling full after eating, nausea and diarrhea can be subtle and easily misdiagnosed.
“Just because you have those symptoms doesn’t mean that you have ovarian cancer, but in woman who have ovarian cancer those are the most common symptoms.”
He says your genetics can also play a role in your chances of getting the disease.
“If you have a very strong family history of either breast or ovarian cancer it is really important to talk to you doctor about getting tested for the BRCA gene mutation.”
This is the gene mutation that famously led actress Angelina Jolie to take extreme measures to protect herself from getting the cancer.
Emily says her symptoms started several years ago, “I was having very severe back pain for a long time. I really started having symptoms when I was 17.”
She says although the pain would last up to three weeks at a time and was debilitating, her doctors brushed it off, “They always tell you, ‘Oh, this will go away eventually,’ and it never did.”
She persisted and her doctors finally did an ultra sound and MRI which first revealed the source of her pain—the softball-sized growth.
“You should trust your body. Honestly, if you know something is wrong and you are just waiting around, don’t wait around, keep going in, keep going to that doctor and tell them hey this is what’s going on.”
Saturday morning Emily will be participating in the 10th Anniversary of Jodi’s Race for Awareness Benefiting the Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance (COCA) at City Park in Denver.