Health is a big part of my life. I eat really well and I am fit. I’m a pescatarian (eats fish but not other meats) and am in tune with my body. I’ve had no health issues before, no broken bones or hospital visits in my life, and have not required any medications, just the odd Panadol.
I didn’t want to get the vaccine, but while I was offshore on a project in WA, the government there changed the rules and mandated the vaccine for FIFO workers and essential port workers – I fall into both categories.
I had my first Pfizer on the 8th of October 2021. I had no other side effects other than a sore arm. I had my second Pfizer on the 3rd of November, with no notable side effects at the time.
In mid November, I had an incident where I felt lightheaded and almost fainted. As I’d never experienced that before, I felt concerned so I went to the doctor. I had blood
tests which showed I had low iron and low haemoglobin. Soon after this, I started experiencing cramping and bloating symptoms. I understood these were a side effect of the iron tablets I had started taking so I didn’t do anything about it. By January 2022, my symptoms were not improving so I stopped taking the tablets and got an iron infusion on 5th of January, but the bloating and cramps became more severe and the pain was constant.
Cramping and bloating are common symptoms for women, so I put off going to the doctor for another few weeks hoping it would subside. The pain became so intense; I thought It might be my appendix. I went back to the doctor on the 24th of January, and they ordered a CT scan and I had it that same week. That’s when they found the tumour.
I had the surgery (it was like a c-section with 6 week recovery time) on the 7th of February. The tumour was contained within my right ovary, measuring 13cm x 9cm x 7cm and weighed 500 grams. They didn’t know it was cancerous until after the biopsy and I was advised it was a rare form of cancer, an Immature Teratoma. There are 2 types of Teratoma – a ‘Mature’ one is non-cancerous, and an ‘Immature’ is cancerous and can spread to other organs. The pathology report stipulated it was a ‘grade 2 high-grade tumour’.
Ovarian cancer is hard to detect. I’m lucky my symptoms weren’t dismissed and I was sent for further investigation (CT scan) enabling it to be caught at stage 1, where it’s completely confined with no more traces throughout. Additionally, I’ve had check-ups and pap smear tests when they are due (the last one was 2-3 years ago). I believe cancers are often not picked up in a pap smear anyway.
It was a very emotional time finding out I had a tumour. They also removed my ovary in surgery, and was a shock knowing a piece of me had been taken away.
I started chemo on 7th of March, a month after the surgery. I was asked before chemo if I had plans to have children as the chemo could affect that, therefore if I wanted to freeze my eggs, now was the time. Otherwise, I might need to look at other options in future. I didn’t have current plans to have children, but I felt pushed to make a quick decision. It was a lot to process in such a short space of time.
As well as potential fertility issues, they explained other long-term side effects such as possible nerve damage and other things that I could have for life. This made me fearful of what could happen.
It was only because the doctors said the tumour was several weeks to a few months old, and they couldn’t identify a cause, that I tracked back to having the 2nd Pfizer about 12 weeks before my diagnosis. This was the only change I’d had in recent times.
It came out of nowhere and I’d had no lifestyle changes. It could be random and not connected at all. I may never know for sure, but due to the timing, the fact I don’t fit the typical picture of a cancer patient, no direct family history of it (around 150 members), and only one aunty who had cervical cancer, I asked the doctors if there was any chance this could have been caused by the vaccine. They said no. I cannot fault the doctors and specialists because they have been really supportive and listened.
My chemo is three rounds of three weeks per round. I’ve finished round one and will start round two next week. Days one to five, I’m in there with the IV drip from 9am to 4pm, pills on days six and seven, and days seven and 15 I’m in there again on the IV drip. I have anti-nausea tablets to take during chemo, but they cause reflux and constipation, so I also have medications to address each of those symptoms. Once per cycle, I need a vaccine, which is used to reduce the chance of infection in relation to blood cells and bone marrow.
I have a PICC line inserted in my arm during the whole nine weeks of chemo which I can’t take out and which is annoying. The effects of the chemo so far have been nausea, chills, headache, body ache, my taste has changed, appetite changed, mouth ulcers. I noticed today when brushing my hair, it’s starting to fall out.
The great thing that’s come out of this for me is that it’s put things into perspective. I’ve had an amazing support network with my sister coming from Sydney to be with me for the surgery, and my partner being there for me – taking me to appointments and doing things I can’t do around the house. My workplace has been great and I work from home when I can. I’m currently isolating due to my compromised immune system and as of next Monday, I have six weeks of chemo to go.
I’m sharing my story to see if there is anyone in a similar position to me with the timing of an aggressive cancer diagnosis in relation to the vaccine. I hope to also bring awareness to people to not discount any symptoms and to push for further testing if things don’t feel right.
As ovarian cancer is hard to detect, symptoms can be dismissed as something else. Early detection has made my story largely positive.