The pain in Kristen Larsen’s stomach intensified. It was different to the cramps the then-21-year-old been having over the previous few months. It was crippling, so crippling she was throwing up. Once her GP ruled out pregnancy, she was sent to her local hospital in London, where doctors settled on another possibility – appendicitis.
“It wasn’t until they got into the operating theatre, opened me up and saw the tumours all throughout my abdomen they realised [their misdiagnosis],” Kristen told Mamamia. “They couldn’t even see my appendix because it was covered with them.”
Kristen woke, oblivious. There was a keyhole scar on her abdomen, just like the doctors told her there would be. But they later told her they’d found multiple cysts and more investigation was needed.
“They sent me off for an MRI to map everything out, and within a few days I had a phone call and they told me to come in urgently and to bring a loved one with me. So I knew that it was going to be not good news,” Kristen, now 25, said. “But I was thinking maybe I needed some sort of operation, or maybe it’s going to affect my fertility. But then they dropped the C-bomb on me.”
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, it's estimated that 2018 will see 1,613 new cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed around the country, and sadly, more than 1000 deaths.
Currently, the median age at diagnosis is 63 - 42 years older than Kristen was when she received hers.
Almost everything else about her case, though, was typical. She was diagnosed at a late stage, her symptoms were vague and could have been signs of a host of other (non-life-threatening) conditions.
"I was having classic ovarian cancer symptoms without realising it; I didn't know what they were. I was getting a bloated stomach all the time, constant abdominal pain and I was really tired. But all those things, they don't sound serious. I just thought, 'Oh, I've eaten too much or I need to get to bed earlier.'
Kristen was more than 16,000km from home at the time, realising her dream of living overseas - an adventure she'd undertaken with her sister close to a year earlier. She had found her ideal job working in Human Resources for a large insurance company, and was travelling around Europe whenever she got the chance.
In an instant she felt the promise of that life break.
"The odds were against me. It was incredibly scary, because it's an awful disease," she said. "The treatment is really tough and there were no guarantees. My situation was, basically, do nothing and let the disease completely take over, or try the treatment options that exist and hope for the best."