'My mum was 29 when she died of ovarian cancer. This is what I need you to know.'

My beautiful mother died of ovarian cancer when she was just 29 years old. I had just turned three and my brother was only six months old.

Given my age, I unfortunately don't have any distinct memories of my mum, although my Nonna told me that when mum died, and they said, "Go and say goodbye to your mother," I asked if she was going to get my Humphrey (I had just lost my beloved Humphrey B. Bear). I vaguely remember giving her a cuddle goodbye.

When Mum died, we lived with my grandparents for a bit — my Nonna and Nonno on both sides were beyond instrumental in our upbringing — but Mum's death was never discussed. I think everyone was too traumatised. Apart from knowing my mum died young, we just kind of got on with things. 

Antoinetta Damiano with her husband, Angelo, and their daughter, Sabrina. Image: Instagram/@sabspace


We are incredibly lucky to come from such a big, loving, supportive Italian family but growing up without my mum was a little hard. It's harder on milestone days, Mother's Day in particular, to know I never got to make her a card, a pasta necklace or give her matching PJs, or do a cheesy post or photoshoot. That breaks my heart. 

I didn't know my mum had died from ovarian cancer until I was a teenager. Everything I knew about the disease I googled and became terrified that I would die at 29 like her. I've had the BRCA1/BRCA2 test (made famous by Angelia Jolie) and, fortunately, it came back negative. My family doesn't have a history of cancer, either, Mum was just really unlucky. 

My mum was the nicest person. I know everyone says that about dead people, but she truly was. She was bubbly, outgoing, hardworking, friendly, generous, kind and loved by everyone. Dad says she had the best sense of humour and was incredibly caring and empathetic — she was the heart and soul of the family and left the biggest hole. 

One of the hardest parts of not knowing my mum is that I never got to experience that. But I remind myself she was the one that suffered the most, not us — I can't even fathom being 29 years old with two young kids and being told you have six months left. She is the one missing out, not us, which is why my brother and I continue to advocate for awareness and funding. 

Sabrina and Ben Damiano. Image: Instagram/@sabspace


My mum's experience is unique in that she was heavily pregnant with my brother at the time. She was increasingly tired, had bad backaches and generally felt unwell (all vague pregnancy-related symptoms).

The doctors put it down to pregnancy and looking after a toddler — no one ever considered something was seriously wrong. My brother was born in May and Mum stayed in the hospital for an additional week as she still felt unwell, but no meaningful tests were conducted and her bloods came back clear. 

After coming home and sweating the bed every night, my dad finally convinced her to go back to the doctor. That's when she was told, in June, she had six months to live. While pregnant, the cancer had spread rapidly, and given this was over 30 years ago, nothing could be done. 


Dad said he did everything to save her — every treatment, every prayer, everything — but it was too late. By the time she died, her body was riddled with the disease. She literally had six months. 

Ovarian cancer is the deadliest form of female cancer — it's known as the silent killer, because just like in the case of my mum, once you have the symptoms it's almost always too late. Each day in Australia, five women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and three of them will die. Of the over 1,800 women who are diagnosed each year, 1,000 of those won't make it. The odds aren't great.

70 per cent are often diagnosed in the later stage and 70 per cent will also experience a recurrence of the disease within five years. 

Unlike breast cancer, there is NO early detection test. You can't feel or see a lump, you can't see a rash, there is no blood test — the barriers are there from the beginning. Even some of my friends thought it could be picked up in a pap smear (it can't). The only way to diagnose ovarian cancer is an invasive and expensive ultrasound. 

My biggest advice for other women is to be vigilant and proactive. No matter how vague your symptoms are, please educate yourself on this insidious disease.

I miss and think about my mum every day.

My dad has always told us to turn our pain into purpose and I like to think her short life was incredibly impactful and that her legacy lives on with us. 

February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. For more on the disease and how you can make a difference, head to Ovarian Cancer Australia's website.

Feature image: Instagram/@sabspace