Meet Elena, diagnosed with Ovarian Germ Cell Cancer, aged 17

Meet Elena, diagnosed with Ovarian Germ Cell Cancer, aged 17

I would describe myself as a determined, caring, and creative person. I grew up by the sea, I love any outdoor adventure, and I’ve danced my whole life so performing on stage has always brought me a lot of joy.

Early on in school, I knew I wanted to study medicine. When I was 17, I took a strong interest in epigenetics and their role in cancer while I was writing my EPQ during my A-Levels. Shortly after submitting it, I got diagnosed with an ovarian germ cell cancer. I remember thinking how ironic it was that I was faced with this illness after spending so long researching it; almost as if I had brought it upon myself. You never think you’ll hear those words yourself. It's crazy how one word can turn your own life and that of your loved one’s upside down. 

I had an operation to remove the cyst and then another to remove my right ovary, whilst studying for two separate exams to get into medical school. All I felt was immense gratitude that I didn’t need chemotherapy and that I had worked hard enough, despite the circumstances, to get into medicine! 

I was ready to start a new chapter in my life and turn my experience into a positive impact through my career. However, four weeks into medical school, I thought I was suffering with long covid symptoms, as I was breathless, had a terrible cough and extreme fatigue. A chest X-ray showed that my cancer had returned as a metastatic tumour. My mum flew out to see me the night before I was admitted to ICU. 

I was administered emergency chemotherapy and was told I had to drop out of medical school for treatment. Immediately, I felt angry that my world had flipped upside down just as I was starting to settle into university. At the start, losing my hair was traumatic, as I had clung onto it out of fear of losing it a year prior, and it was such a big part of my identity. Instead, I resorted to my love for fashion, and I used any excuse when I was well enough to allow a great outfit to make me feel good about myself.

During chemotherapy, the things that were the hardest for me was seeing my family suffer (which ultimately led to my boyfriend of 3 years ending the relationship), the nausea, the anxiety, and losing practically all my physical abilities. I found it hard to surrender to the symptoms and accept that all I was able to do was spend months in bed feeling unwell.

I finished chemo at the end of February 2022 and now I have immunotherapy every three weeks. Regardless of having an incredible summer travelling and spending valuable time with friends and family, I’ve since felt held back mentally. What place does cancer have in my life now? How do I not let it define me? How do I move forward with the fear that I could relapse yet again?

I’m so happy to say that I’m starting my 1st year of medical school again and I feel stronger than ever. The challenges I have faced at university are typical of anyone, but with added trauma and insecurities I’ve recognised that I need to be more patient and kinder to myself. 

Teens Unite has always been a point-of-call for support whenever I’ve needed it. I’ve attended talks about moving forward after cancer, and they hold a range of online and in person activities too. The fact that they’re so active on social media is not only informative but reassuring too. We’re all able share similar experiences and a unique, ‘young cancer patient’ perspective that you can feel so detached from in day-to-day life. There’s nothing more comforting than the community of young people they bring together. 

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