A sharp abdominal pain hit Jessie Sanders’ body. For nearly two weeks in November 2021, she couldn’t eat, train or move. All she did was lie in her bed.
Then, the day after Thanksgiving 2021, Sanders, 21, finally checked herself into the emergency room. She was fed up with the pain. His weight had dropped a lot. What frustrated her the most was that she couldn’t eat her Thanksgiving dinner.
She made the difficult decision to go to hospital – she had been fired multiple times for her pain – and underwent emergency surgery for an ovarian cyst. A week later, she received a call from the surgeon. She learned that she had hypercalcemic small cell carcinoma of the ovary, a very rare and aggressive form of cancer.
“I thought I was crazy having these pains (because) the doctors always (dismissed) my pain,” Sanders told TODAY.com. “I had very severe abdominal pain for two weeks and couldn’t eat. I couldn’t go and do things because it was so bad.
Years of abdominal pain, thrown away
Sanders started experiencing chronic abdominal pain five or six years ago. When she was 15, she went to an OB-GYN for the first time for her symptoms and was told to try birth control. She remembers them telling her not to worry because it was just her body changing.
Her pain varied from week to week, but she never went more than a few days without having it. In high school, it was sometimes so bad that she couldn’t go to class. Her mom or dad would pick her up and drive her to the doctor, but it was still considered menstrual cramps.
When she got to college, Sanders sometimes had to take time off from practices or football games.
“I was always so frustrated because the thing that…doctors always assume is you’re pregnant or it’s just hormones or it’s your menstrual cycle,” Sanders says. “And I’m just like, ‘No, it’s not. I know there’s something else wrong with my body.
On Thanksgiving, during her freshman year at San Diego State University, her pain got so bad that she overcame her fear of the doctors sending her away yet again and went to the hospital. .
When Sanders arrived at Kaiser Zion Medical Center in San Diego, doctors discovered a 17-centimeter cyst on her right ovary. They rushed her into emergency surgery and removed the cyst, along with her right ovary, which the cyst had rolled up and killed.
Afterwards, Sanders recovered at home. The pain from the surgery itself was the only discomfort she felt, and it only lasted a few days. She returned to playing Division 1 football and earning a degree in psychology.
When the surgeon called a week later, he was told to come into the office and bring his family. His mother, Lisa, sister, and father all came from his hometown of San Carlos, California.
“It was so amazing that my incredibly healthy daughter could have cancer,” Lisa Sanders told TODAY.com. “It just didn’t calculate well.”
Find the right treatment
Jesse Sanders’ type of ovarian cancer is particularly unusual because it affects women much younger than the most common types of ovarian cancer, Dr. Kathleen Schmeler, executive director of the global health at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. By the time most patients, usually between the ages of 15 and 39, are diagnosed, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. (Fortunately, Jessie Sanders’ cancer hadn’t been.)
“A lot of the time people don’t think it’s necessarily cancer because women are so young,” Schmeler says. “Nobody does a lot of testing because they’re so young and they’re so unlikely to have ovarian cancer.”
After Jessie Sanders was diagnosed, she met with a doctor in San Diego to create a treatment plan. Sander’s mother says she asked the doctor if they were open to hearing about any further research or information.
“She pretty much said, ‘No, that’s our protocol. That’s what we do,” Lisa Sanders recalled, telling the doctor. “It was really hard to close the first meeting. …I didn’t do a WebMD search. … I had legit resources from good sources, and I was so shut down.”
That same afternoon, a friend put Lisa Sanders in touch with Dr. Joseph Pressey, co-director of the young adult oncology program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Pressey has helped treat approximately 70 cases of hypercalcemic-type small cell carcinoma of the ovary. Pressey estimates that only a few hundred patients with this type of cancer have been documented in medical journals.
“Obviously extremely rare ovarian cancer is not the focus of people’s minds when they see someone starting to have symptoms,” Pressey told TODAY.com. “I think the question becomes, if anyone has persistent symptoms.”
Pressey confirmed that Jessie Sanders’ first treatment plan was inadequate. Instead, he recommended that his treatment be approached in the same way as childhood cancer, with high doses of chemotherapy, and often surgery and bone marrow transplantation.
“It’s so hard to realize how much you have to defend yourself, what if I had never met Dr. Pressey?” remembers Lisa Sanders. “How would I know we were on the wrong treatment? It’s scary.”
In December, while home for winter vacation, Jessie Sanders began chemotherapy at Redwood City Kaiser Oncology. For eight hours a day, three days a week, for three weeks, she sat in a chair next to other cancer patients. Often she was the youngest person in the room. She lost her hair, developed neuropathy, lost feeling in her feet and hands, and was nauseous for six months.
“It was just really hard because I’m 20, and I’m on social media, trying to pass the time, and I saw my friends traveling, or they were training and doing normal things that I should be doing. “says Jessie Sanders.
After completing six cycles of chemo, she moved to Stanford Hospital for a three-week long bone marrow transplant.
The treatment was hard on his body; some days she could barely move or get out of bed. Her mother says the nurses told her it was the highest dose of chemotherapy they had ever given to anyone.
“There were some really tough times where she was having a reaction to certain medications, and her heart was racing, and she started having seizures,” says Lisa Sanders. “I was just thinking, ‘This is the moment I lose my daughter. “”
Remission and sensitization
While undergoing treatment, Jessie Sanders posted a video of herself shaving her head on TikTok. Although it scared her, her phone was soon flooded with comments.
People made suggestions about cold styling (a treatment to prevent hair loss from chemo) and what kind of caps to wear. British broadcaster Will Buxton sent him a video wishing him luck with his treatment. But what struck Jessie Sanders the most was that people were curious about her story.
Inspired, she filmed another video where she discussed her symptoms and diagnosis. After posting it, she said young women were commenting left and right that they, too, had been fired for their abdominal pain.
“I’m so frustrated for myself and for other women,” says Jessie Sanders. “I don’t want them to have their health care dismissed. I just need to spread the word. I want other people to be inspired to stand up for themselves.
So Sanders started Fight for Female Health, an organization that sells t-shirts and sweatshirts to raise money for the Small Cell Ovarian Cancer Foundation. She also uses it to raise awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms and encourage early detection and ultrasounds at OB-GYN. Sanders hopes that by sharing her story, she will teach people that ovarian cancer can occur at any age and is not detected by pap smears.
Jessie Sanders is now in full remission. She has been out of the hospital for about five months. In July, she returned to San Diego State University for her senior year of football, although her body and her life weren’t the same. Instead of worrying about normal college things like parties, she’s now worried about her fertility – and all the other young women being pushed around with cancer symptoms.
“It’s really important for all women to know their bodies and when something’s wrong, and if it’s wrong, then to see a health care provider and…if they feel like they’re fired, to change for someone else,” said Jessie Sanders. “Nobody should be turning patients away, not looking for what (me) caused all these symptoms. Obviously something was wrong.”
This article originally appeared on TODAY.com
#21yearolds #pain #dismissed #doctors #years #rare #ovarian #cancer