When 14-year-old Kelliyah started experiencing severe abdominal pain, she initially blamed it on one too many fizzy drinks and a lack of exercise.
She lived with the persistent symptoms for weeks before going to hospital.
But once she did, doctors found a tumour the size of a pumpkin and, within 24 hours, Kelliyah was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Doctors found a tumour weighing more than 5kg.
What is ovarian cancer?
- One of the most common types of cancer in women, about 7,500 new cases are diagnosed every year in the UK – that’s 20 every day
- 80% of cases affect women over the age of 50
- Survival rates are better for younger women, but they depend on how advanced the cancer is when it is diagnosed
- In England and Wales, nearly half of women will survive for five years or more after diagnosis
- There is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer, compared with cervical, bowel and breast cancers, because symptoms can be difficult to interpret
“My belly got really big but I thought I was putting on weight,” says Kelliyah, of London.
“I started doing exercises, running up hills, doing push-ups, but nothing was working.
“Then I went vegan but my belly was getting bigger and bigger.
“My mum said, ‘Let me touch your belly,’ and it wasn’t jiggling, it was like I was pregnant.
“After that, I started feeling lots of pain, it was like something was poking me inside, and I couldn’t eat at all.”
‘I wanted to relate to someone’
University College London Hospital consultant gynaecological oncologist Adeola Olaitan says: “A woman’s lifetime chance of getting ovarian cancer is about one in 50.
“It’s more usual for women who’ve not had children, women who’ve had infertility treatment, those who’ve not been on the combined… contraceptive pill, which protects, and women who’ve not breastfed.”
Kelliyah struggled to find information online about her diagnosis and how it affects younger women and girls.
“I started to see lots of women – 40, 38 – I was like, ‘I’m not old, why are there no teenagers?’ – I wanted to relate to someone,” she says.
“Some young people are ashamed of saying they had cancer and talking about it. It’s a really sensitive topic.”
Kelliyah is now in remission but must have check-ups every three months for the next five years.
She can still have children but faces the possibility of a premature menopause.
“It has made me realise that anything can happen and you should enjoy every little thing in life,” she says.
“I want to do everything now, now, now – time doesn’t wait for anyone.”
Kelliyah’s mother, Ashley Avorgah, is also concerned about health stigmas in some black communities.
“They see it as an embarrassment and they don’t really want to be looked down upon,” she says.
“There is a lack of communication within my community when it comes to sickness. They don’t want anyone judging them.”
The rate of ovarian cancer diagnosis in women under the age of 25 in the UK increased by 85% between 1993-95 and 2014-16 but total numbers are still low – there are about 140 cases a year.
Ben Sundell, from the Teenage Cancer Trust, says: “In ovarian cancer, low suspicion can be compounded by the fact that is a particularly rare cancer amongst this age group and can be hard to detect because the symptoms are often similar to those associated with a period.”
A drug for advanced ovarian cancer was approved for use in newly diagnosed patients in England in July 2019. A trial for olaparib showed it could delay progression of the disease for three years.