Ovarian cancer is not just an older woman’s disease, as Tasha Armour discovered when her daughter was diagnosed at just 16.
However the Oak Flats mother said a lack of awareness of that – even among the medical profession – meant that Mikayla’s obvious symptoms were not immediately picked up.
Despite suffering from abdominal bloating, frequent urination, fatigue and missed periods, Mikayla’s doctor did not undertake a physical examination nor order imaging or blood tests for some months.
“We first went to the doctors in November 2015 but all along we were told it wasn’t cancer,” Ms Armour said.
“Mikayla was eventually diagnosed in July 2016 after undergoing surgery for a tumour which measured 25cm by 20cm by 5cm.
“I can’t help but feel that if we hadn’t been fobbed off – if the proper examinations and tests had been ordered immediately – then it may have not grown to that extent.”
As it was, the initial surgery in Wollongong did not go so well. The tumour was broken during surgery, and she had substantial blood loss.
“Ten days after surgery we were given the news that it was a rare form of ovarian cancer, called juvenile granulosa cell tumour,” Ms Armour said.
“Mikayla had to then go to a Sydney hospital for further surgery to remove the ovary and fallopian tube.”
The, then, Year 10 student had to undergo fertility treatment to preserve her eggs, prior to three rounds of gruelling chemotherapy.
To be told your child has a rare cancer is devastating – then to be told there’s little research into it is heartbreaking as it means there’s no answers.
Now 18 and about to undertake her HSC, Mikayla has received the welcome news that there’s no evidence of disease.
“However this type of cancer doesn’t go into remission so she will need ongoing monitoring throughout her life,” Ms Armour said.
For this reason, and to help others with a similar diagnosis, Ms Armour is raising funds for research at Melbourne’s Hudson Institute of Medical Research to improve the way the disease can be identified, treated and managed.
She’s set up the Rock for ROC (rare ovarian cancer) group to raise $60,000 for that research. As part of that people are encouraged to paint a rock and make a donation to the ROC Foundation.
People then place these decorated rocks – which feature the words ‘giving hope to those with rare ovarian cancer’ – in public places such as parks for others to find, and then place elsewhere.
The idea’s taken off – on the Rock for ROC Facebook page people have taken photos of the rocks in the Illawarra, throughout Australia and even overseas.
“To be told your child has a rare cancer is devastating – then to be told there’s little research into it is heartbreaking as it means there’s no answers,” Ms Armour said.
“That needs to change; and that’s what drives me.”
There are four main types of ovarian cancer; and unlike other cancers there’s no national screening test.
“The majority of women believe a pap smear picks it up, when it doesn’t,” Ms Armour said.
“The symptoms can be quite subtle, but I’d urge women to insist on a CA125 blood test which checks for a common tumour marker, and for a pelvic ultrasound, if they have any suspicions.
“The survival rate for all types of ovarian cancer is around 42 per cent because it’s often picked up at a late stage. More needs to be done.”
Ms Armour said she had great pride in the way her daughter had handled the diagnosis and treatment at such a young age.
“She’s been amazing – her courage and bravery has been incredible,” she said.
Visit rocinc.org.au for more information.