Ovarian Cancer Student- Kristen
Name: Kristen Larsen
Age at Enrollment: 21
Major: Stage 3c Ovarian Cancer (Low-Grade Serous)
What were the primary symptoms you experienced prior to diagnosis?
Bloating and mild abdominal pain.
What symptom(s) lead you to go to the doctor?
I woke up one morning vomiting with abdominal pain, so I called up my local GP and went in that day. She originally thought I was pregnant, she then sent me to the hospital with suspected Appendicitis. I was operated on that evening, however when they opened me up, my entire abdomen was riddled with tumors.
7 surgeries (including a hysterectomy and ileostomy), 3 courses of chemotherapy, 2 courses of radiation, 3 courses of hormone therapy and 2 clinical trials.
What has been your biggest struggle since your diagnosis?
Knowing that my disease is incurable and that I don’t have a choice in the matter, I either fight it or I die. Most other situations in life have choices, e.g. bad jobs, relationships etc. An incurable disease is not something you can leave behind.
What was your hardest moment (or moments) and how did you you get through it/them?
The hardest moment for me was when my cancer came back and thus became a chronic condition. When I was first diagnosed with Stage 3c Ovarian Cancer, I had an incredibly tough time throughout treatment, however I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I ended up becoming NED (No Evidence of Disease), even though there was a high chance of recurrence, I could rationalize that maybe, just maybe, I’d had bad luck in getting this disease, but it was just a one off and I’d miraculously “beat it”. However once it recurred, it became clear that it would just keep coming back. I had to adjust my mindset to cope with the fact that I would always be living WITH cancer.
What has been your biggest accomplishment since your diagnosis?
I have been quite active with volunteering and advocating for Ovarian Cancer Awareness. My most meaningful achievements would be:
-Being the face & story of numerous campaigns and fundraisers, which have collectively raised over $1million for cancer charities.
-Winning a national competition “Podquest” to produce and launch my own podcast series “Ovarshare” (Coming soon!)
-Being sponsored to attend numerous Cancer conferences in Australia and the United States
What advice would you give to someone who is newly diagnosed? What advice would you tell them to ignore?
I would advise a newly diagnosed “Ovarian Cancer Student” to first of all find out what subtype of Ovarian Cancer they have. There are so many and some of them behave like opposite diseases! This will make finding out relevant information, treatment options and statistics much easier.
I would also suggest they connect with local organizations for support and information.
I would ignore any advice that mentions the word “cure”. There is no proven cure for Ovarian Cancer, any legitimate medical treatment will NOT promise a cure. Whereas diet/treatment/herbal/religious scams will promise you the world, if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
How did your family and friends respond?
Shock and sadness.
Since your diagnosis, what does it look like to you to “get back up”?
I seem to have the same post-operative/chemo/radiation routine. Once I’m back home, and starting to feel well again, my first outings are trips to the cinema. It’s the perfect place to go! I don’t have to get dressed up, I sit in a comfy recliner chair, get distracted and immersed in a story for a few hours and it doesn’t matter if I fall asleep!
When you feel overwhelmed or anxious, what do you do?
My psychologist taught me how to use mindfulness. I used to get physically sick from pre-treatment anxiety. The fear was crippling. I can now ground myself and take my mind somewhere else.
What did you know about the type of cancer that you were diagnosed with prior to your diagnosis?
I knew the words ‘Ovaries’, and the word ‘Cancer’, but I’d never heard them used together. I just assumed all Gynaecological cancers were screened for in the Pap Smear test, but boy was I wrong!
What do you now want people to be aware?
There is no screening test for Ovarian Cancer. All you can do is be aware of your body and any changes that occur, such as persistent bloating, abdominal pain or changes in urinary or bowel habits. If you feel these symptoms, see a Doctor and don’t let them dismiss you until you are confident with the diagnosis or answers you are given.
Did you learn anything about yourself or your life? If so, what was it?
The main thing I’ve learned is that life is precious, moments are temporary and everything can change in an instant. I used to focus on making long term plans and mapping out what I thought my life would be. Now I don’t plan more than a few months in advance! It’s taken a lot of adjusting and accepting that life is a rollercoaster. It’s about learning to enjoy the ride, the climbs and the falls.
If you could write anything you wanted on a billboard in NYC’s Times Square that would reach millions of people, what would it read?
I would donate the space to either the “Save the Box” campaign (by ANZGOG, Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group) or the “Ladyballs” campaign (by Ovarian Cancer Canada). I love how attention grabbing and bold they both are in an effort to raise awareness and funds for Gynaecological cancer.