In Australia, five women are impacted daily by a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. At the age of 21, Destinee was one of them.
A very active young adult who loved her life – one filled with CrossFit, socialising with friends, and working full-time as a support worker – everything changed when she received her diagnosis. But it would take months for Destinee to receive the help she needed.
She knew something was very wrong with her body, but she didn’t know what it was. And neither did the medical professionals she reached out to.
“It was the classic story of the GP didn’t listen to me,” says the now 23-year-old.
“About 12 months before my actual diagnosis, I felt a lump in my stomach and at the time I brushed it off…I just assumed it was my bladder because I was having urinary problems which I now know is a symptom [of ovarian cancer].”
“I forgot about it completely and then about six months later is started to experience more symptoms.”
Living in a remote area of Central Queensland at the time, it was a six-week wait for a GP appointment. When she finally saw the doctor, she says that they never considered ovarian cancer as a diagnosis, instead discussing pregnancy, endometriosis, constipation, and even disordered eating as possible causes.
Enduring months of bloating, vomiting, bleeding, and reflux – as well as a lot of confusion, and frustration – Destinee continued to live her active lifestyle, assuming (and hoping) that it would sort itself out.
“It was just after New Year’s, and I went to a CrossFit session – at this point, I looked about nine months pregnant. I ended up presenting to the emergency room after and that’s when they told me that they thought I had a benign tumour. Surgery was booked for six weeks,” she says.
“Two days later, I presented back. My tumour had ruptured which caused my lungs to collapse, amongst a lot of other things. They ended up flying me to Brisbane for emergency surgery.”
Then, her entire world was turned upside down during a single phone call three weeks later when the biopsy results came back – the 32 cm by 15 cm tumour was cancerous.
“I was diagnosed [with ovarian cancer] over a five-minute phone call. And in that same phone call, I was told that I had to do chemo and that it was really recommended that I freeze my eggs,” says Destinee.
“I didn’t cry – I teared up, but I didn’t cry…it was a very surreal moment.”
“Everyone knows someone who’s had cancer but you never going to think it’s going to be you. And it’s not until you do have it that you look at the statistics and you realise it’s not surprising that it did happen…but it’s still something I struggle coming to terms with.”
Ovarian cancer is Australia’s deadliest female cancer with a five-year survival rate of 49 percent. Destinee is now in remission, but she says she ‘felt completely numb and detached’ during her diagnosis, the six rounds of chemotherapy, and the process of having her eggs frozen.
Going through the motions – incredibly frustrated with her sudden lack of independence – she spent her 22nd birthday in hospital receiving chemo. Now, after finishing her treatment in 2022, she’s living her life the way she wants to, right here in Canberra.
“I get very frustrated. It feels like every single time someone finds out I had cancer and that I’ve gone through this, they don’t believe me because of how young I am,” says Destinee.
“The reason I want to do this is to show people that I exist and to try and help other young women diagnosed with ovarian cancer that they’re not the only ones going through something like that. When I was going through treatment, I had severe depression and I genuinely felt like no one in the world understood.”
Now an ambassador for Ovarian Cancer Australia, she’s determined to address the lack of representation for young people with ovarian cancer. Grateful for the support they gave her (including a personalised plan for her rehabilitation), she’s now participating in the Workout 4 Women campaign – moving four km daily in November – and she’s sharing her story to raise awareness.
“People get very uncomfortable when they find out that you’ve had cancer… the only thing I want is for them to understand that it also makes us uncomfortable to talk about,” Destinee explains.
“[To support people during their cancer experience] you need to be willing to have those conversations and be uncomfortable. You don’t know who’s been diagnosed with cancer; a lot of people don’t tell anyone. You need to be willing to have an uncomfortable conversation with an open mind.”
And to other young people diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she has a simple but powerful message: no matter how they feel, they’re not alone.
“There’s more of us out there than you think. It takes one person to reach out and one person to make a connection. People do understand how they feel, they just need to look in a different place and that place is Ovarian Cancer Australia.”
To find out more about the Workout 4 Women and to ensure that people like Destinee don’t walk alone, visit workout.ovariancancer.net.au.