Student, 22, reveals the only ‘vague’ symptom she experienced days before tragic cancer diagnosis: ‘I feared for my life’
- Chloe Spitalnic was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in 2020
- The 22-year-old experienced stomach pains for five days
- Read more: I planned my dream wedding from a hospital bed after my ‘swollen’ belly turned out to be cancer
When Chloe Spitalnic started experiencing stomach pain on-and-off for five days she put it down to food intolerances.
But little did she know this ‘vague’ and ‘minor’ symptom was a warning sign of something far more sinister.
At just 22, Chloe, from Melbourne, was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer and had three tumours growing on her ovary.
‘I instantly 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 freaked out.’
Chloe Spitalnic was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer at 22 ‘out of the blue’. She described the ordeal as ‘traumatic’
Before the diagnosis in August 2020, Victoria was in a strict Covid lockdown and Chloe 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 dismissed the stomach pain at first.
‘The pain came and disappeared from time to time. I didn’t think it was anything serious and thought maybe it was just my stomach acting up. I complained to my family about it,’ Chloe recalled.
‘But then it turned into quite a sharp pain and it even hurt to breathe or move around. My mum and sister urged me to see a doctor.’
Due to Covid she had a Telehealth appointment followed by a face-to-face appointment. Unfortunately her regular GP was on maternity leave so she arranged to see another doctor.
At the clinic the physician felt around her stomach and recommended having an ultrasound the next morning, which Chloe did and thought ‘nothing of it’.
That afternoon on 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 anything major,’ Chloe said.
‘I remember lying in bed with my phone on speaker. She told me I have three large cysts on my ovary, which they believed were cancerous.
‘I started sobbing instantly. I went to my dad and handed him the phone to talk to the doctor. She told him and he hung up on her in disbelief. He thought it was nonsense and wanted to get a second opinion.’
Turns out the three cysts turned out to be cancerous tumours and she was diagnosed after surgery.
What is ovarian cancer and what are the symptoms?
Ovarian cancer is a malignant tumour in one or both ovaries.
The ovaries are made up of three main kinds of cells – epithelial cells, stromal cells and germ cells. Each of these cells can develop into a different type of tumour.
The average age of women when they are diagnosed with ovarian cancer is age 64. It is mainly diagnosed in women over the age of 50; however, there are cases diagnosed in younger women.
There are often no obvious signs of ovarian cancer, but symptoms can include:
- abdominal bloating
- difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- frequent or urgent urination
- back, abdominal or pelvic pain
- constipation or diarrhoea
- menstrual irregularities
- pain during intercourse
- unexplained weight loss or weight gain
Pap smears do not detect ovarian cancer and there is no routine test
Rather than waiting to secure a gynaecologist appointment – which could take weeks – the doctor urged Chloe to go to the emergency immediately room for further testing.
Chloe then spent a gruelling 15 hours from 10am Thursday until 1am Friday in the ER by herself getting checked by doctors.
During that time she had further blood tests, an ultrasound and saw a gynaecologist.
‘It was a whirlwind. I just wanted to crumble up and hide away. The doctors were moving so quickly and didn’t tell me everything that was happening. I gave all my trust to the healthcare system.
‘No one gave me any clarity on what was happening, I was just sitting there crying and my mum had to drop off a backpack filled with stuff. I was fasting, my phone was dying, it was an awful time.’
Chloe described staying at emergency for a prolong period of time as ‘traumatic’ and she ‘begged’ them to allow her to leave.
The following Monday with a backpack in hand and waving goodbye to her loved ones, she entered the same hospital she was born in to have ‘invasive’ surgery.
‘They couldn’t determine what I had until after the surgery, which is crazy,’ she said. The surgery itself was ‘invasive’ as an incision from her belly button down to her bikini line was required (pictured during chemotherapy treatment)
As a whole ovarian cancer is significantly underfunded and to confirm the diagnosis, tissue from the tumour needs to be checked under a microscope.
This is exactly what happened to Chloe who didn’t receive an official diagnosis until after surgery.
‘They couldn’t determine what I had until after the surgery, which is crazy,’ she said.
The surgery itself was ‘invasive’ as an incision from her belly button down to her bikini line was required.
With no family or friends by her side Chloe found out she had stage three ovarian cancer after waking up in hospital.
‘My surgeon came to my hospital room, standing 1.5m away from me wearing a mask, with my family on loudspeaker, to deliver the result. It’s still so traumatic,’ she said.
‘In that moment I started worrying about my hair. I have long hair, I love my hair and you hear nothing but negative experiences about chemotherapy – it’s all scary and bleak,’ she said.
One thing that gave her hope about saving her hair is cold capping – a device worn that reduce the hair loss caused by some types of chemotherapy.
She was terrified about losing her hair but one thing that gave her hope about saving her hair is cold capping – a device worn that reduce the hair loss caused by some types of chemotherapy
It took ten weeks to recover from surgery and she lad to learn how to walk again with help of a physiotherapist. Following this she started treatment which continued for ten weeks
It took ten weeks to recover from surgery and she had to learn how to walk again with help of a physiotherapist.
Following this she started treatment which continued for ten weeks.
‘It was exhausting and I was still studying one subject at the time,’ she said.
‘I started cold capping from the first session and I didn’t mind it. It worked pretty well but my hair did thin a little bit.’
As for side effects, she was thrown into medically-induced menopause to preserve her fertility, didn’t feel too nauseous but admitted she has since ‘blocked out’ the trauma of treatment from her mind.
On New Years Eve in 2020 she had one final minor keyhole surgery to check the chemotherapy had worked to kill the cancerous cells.
On New Years Eve in 2020 she had one final minor keyhole surgery to check the chemotherapy had worked to kill the cancerous cells. Today Chloe takes a daily tablet to help prevent the cancer from reoccurring
Now Chloe takes a daily tablet to help prevent the cancer from reoccurring and had check-ups every three months.
However, she still lives in fear that the cancer will come back.
‘It’s very stressful and disheartening when I am told I have a high likelihood of my cancer coming back,’ she said.
‘I do fear that it’ll return without my knowledge since there’s no symptoms of ovarian cancer. But I don’t want to let this one moment in my life be what define me. It’s part of my journey, not who I am.’
Now Chloe is on a mission to share her story far and wide to educate others about the seriousness of ovarian cancer and how more research should be conducted.
‘Doctors don’t seem to be concerned about the cause, they just look to the future and how to get rid of it,’ she claims.
‘When instead more should be done for women’s health and it should be spoken about 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 female has a 1 in 84 (or 1.2 per cent) risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
While ovarian cancer can occur at any age in adults, it’s most prominent among women aged 85 and over.
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