‘I thought my growing belly was just weight gain. It was far more dangerous than that.’

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It was my last term in high school and exams were creeping up. My mum was on holiday in Fiji for her dad’s birthday and my sister and I were at home with dad. We grew up being afraid to tell our dad girly things so me noticing my tummy had been getting bigger was kept a secret.

I’d wake up at five am every school day and jump on the treadmill thinking I was getting fat. Let’s be real, what 17 year-old would think any differently?

I kept quiet for just over a month after noticing other problems. Lying in bed and looking down at my tummy, it would be on an angle; with the right side elevated and the left side normal. I still didn’t say a word.

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Come the morning of my physics exam, I had the worst diarrhoea (gross, sorry) and I literally couldn’t handle it any longer. I called mum and asked her to leave work and take me to the doctors. Inside I knew I was going to find out something bad but still didn’t say a word to mum.

We got called in to the doctors and I told my GP my symptoms. She suggested I lay on the bed so she could examine my abdomen. Oh my god, this was probably the most hilarious moment of this entire journey. She looks up at me and she’s like “Are you pregnant? You feel around 25-30 weeks pregnant…”

WHAT?! My mum probably would have had a minor heart attack hearing that.

Of course, I denied that assumption but alas, they didn’t quite believe me and sent me for an emergency ultrasound. The ultrasound results came back and it showed a nine centimetre mass growing near my uterus. My parents and I were panicking – we had no idea what this thing was.

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A few days later I was called in for an MRI scan which would allow the doctors to be certain where this mass was growing from. They confirmed the tumour was growing off my right ovary and malignant (cancerous), before getting the exact dimensions.

"The graduation night photo with my mum, at that point she knew I had cancer but I didn't." Image: Supplied.

Nine x 23cm growing backwards… how the hell was this thing fitting inside my body?! It was the size of a football. The tumour started growing rapidly to the point I couldn’t lay down or sleep as it was pushing against my back nerves. Doctors prescribed me Endone but that didn’t kick in one bit.

Not only was the tumour growing quickly, it was very rare for a 17-year-old to have ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is normally found in women over 50 or who have had kids. The day of graduation, the class of 2012 were all ready to party down at the Gold Coast. I stayed for the presentation and made my way straight to hospital for more scans and tests.

Ten days later after the initial ultrasound I had a massive surgery to get it removed. They cut straight down my abdomen; starting just above my belly button. Once the tumour was out, it measured at 10.5 x 32 cm. I was high on happy gas in the recovery ward and was apparently asking everyone if my hair looked okay (typical me).

The surgeon told me that the tumour was taken out as a whole which I was extremely happy about, the cancer was contained in the tumour and the tumour was removed so no chemotherapy! LOL jokes. An oncologist came to visit me in my ward the next day and advised me that my chemotherapy treatment would go for four months.

The first thing I asked was “Will my hair fall out?”, to which the oncologist took one look at it and replied 'probably'. My heart sunk and I told her to get out of the room. (Oops?)

"When I started chemo, she cut her hair before me so I wouldn't feel bad about my hair being short. She kept it short until my hair started growing back." Image: Supplied.

Without waiting for me to recover from the massive surgery, I started chemotherapy five days after being dismissed from hospital. I chopped off my amazing long hair for a stylish Rihanna cut. I’d rather see small strands of hair on the ground instead of long ones.

Hello 14-hour stints in hospital every day of the week and goodbye energy. Chemotherapy was absolute hell. I cannot even explain how it feels. Five days after treatment had commenced, my hair completely fell out. A few weeks later, I experienced a rare reaction from the chemotherapy drug, bleomycin. Dark ‘scratch-like’ marks appeared on my neck, shoulders and arms. They kept getting darker and darker to the point I’d have to wear jumpers to cover my scars out of embarrassment.

I finished my chemotherapy a few months later and started studying Medical Engineering at university the year after that. I still have surgeries here and there due to scares that the cancer is coming back but everything has been clear for a while now.

I still have the scars but thankfully they have faded and I’ve learnt to wear them with pride. My hair never grew back the way it was before chemotherapy. I now have extremely thin and brittle hair but I have learnt that living is more important than the hair on my head.

We still need to raise more awareness for ovarian cancer. Please, listen to your body and make a habit of checking your abdomen for swelling the same time you check your breasts for any lumps.

Nickita supports the Cherish Women's Cancer Foundation. If you'd like to donate, or find out more information, please visit their website. This post originally appeared on Nickita Pillay and was republished here with full permission. You can also read more from Nickita on her blog, Facebook page and Instagram.

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