Confronting ovarian cancer

Alisi Jack-Kaufusi / 12 Oct, 2021

How I’ve kept looking forward after receiving a cancer diagnosis at 24

It was as if the world had been drained of all noise. When I first heard that sentence, “you have cancer”, everything went silent. I barely remember that time, except for the feeling of numbness the words left in their wake.

My mum was in the room with me at the time and I remember looking at her with tears in my eyes. She was beside herself in shock. “They must have the wrong person,” I thought. You never think that cancer could happen to you, especially not at the age of 24. But it can, to anyone at any age. Cancer doesn’t discriminate.

When we got home, I had to tell my dad, siblings and the rest of my family. They didn’t take it well. Cancer doesn’t just affect you, it affects everyone around you as well.

A long journey

People often ask me what the biggest struggle is living with ovarian cancer. For me, it’s been the emotional trauma. I always thought that treatment was straightforward; you go in, finish and that’s the end of it. But it’s only the beginning.

My treatment started on 19 December 2017 when I underwent a nine hour surgery, including a full hysterectomy and the removal of two parts of my large bowel. Then, after recovering from the surgery, I started a six month course of chemotherapy treatment in February of 2018.

Despite being told what chemotherapy was like, I didn’t know what to expect and feared the unknown. I’m now on my third round of chemo in four years and it’s been really tough. Every day can be a struggle, with side effects like nausea, fatigue and chemo brain. Sometimes I need to bargain with myself just to put one foot in front of the other.

It can be such a lonely and isolating journey. You are left with this body that you can’t trust, which doesn’t function like it used to. You can’t help but question after every review and every scan – is the cancer back? My cancer has returned twice. It’s like walking around with a ticking time bomb ready to explode at any moment, but you still have to act normally and live with this every day.

The importance of support

One thing that I have learned is the importance of staying active. I feel at my best when I eat well and exercise, allowing me to gain energy and manage my side effects and mental health.

I am so thankful to have an army of people supporting me, including my family and care team who have always focused on ensuring that I’m okay. Seeing a counsellor has also helped me work through the impact of my diagnosis and treatment on my mental and emotional wellbeing.

Since starting under the care of A/Prof Jim Coward at Icon Cancer Centre South Brisbane, my family and I have been given new hope. I am incredibly grateful that my body has been able to handle the treatment so far.

Looking beyond

Throughout my treatment, most times I’ve been the youngest person in the room. I now want to use my voice to raise awareness and bring light to this insidious disease.

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