It’s easy to dismiss ovarian and other female-specific cancers as something to worry about when we’re older. But there’s been a sharp increase in the incidence of ovarian cancer in women in their early 30s, and over half of the 7,000 UK cases diagnosed a year occur in women under 65.
And that’s why 16-year-old Peyton Linafelter is sharing her story with the world.
The model was just 15 when she began experiencing a series of unusual symptoms, just days after being scouted by Kate Upton’s agency.
“I couldn’t keep anything down,” she told Fox News. “My stomach was a little expanded and I just thought I was eating a lot of carbs. But, each week, my stomach got bigger and bigger.
“By the time it was April, I looked like I was five months pregnant. My lower back hurt a lot and my abdomen was in pain.”
Linafelter visited her doctors and told them about her symptoms, and they began running a series of tests. On her 16th birthday, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer.
“I was in disbelief,” she said. “I thought they were in the wrong room or it was a mistake.
“My mum seemed to know something was wrong, like a bigger scale than just ovarian cysts. I guess, deep down, I did too – but I wasn’t thinking cancer.”
Days later, Linafelter began chemotherapy treatment. She was given a 17% chance of survival, and yet, by December 2016, the cancer had cleared up completely.
However the aspiring young model was, of course, worried at the physical effects that come hand-in-hand with chemo – particularly losing her hair.
“Another thing that went through my mind was that ‘I’m not going to be able to model. I’m going to have a big scar. I’m not going to have much hair’,” she said. “But everything has worked out fine. (My agent) contacted my mother in June/July after chemo treatments.”
The teenager has been documenting her experiences on Instagram alongside a series of body positive quotes (“Love your melon, love your body, love your life”), inspiring women everywhere to share their own stories.
And now Linafelter has now teamed up with University of Colorado Hospital’s UCHealth to promote even more awareness and conversation around the topic of ovarian cancer.
Via a series of televised appearances, the teen has been urging women all over the world to be in tune with their bodies and go to their doctors if they experience any unusual symptoms.
“Even if you think it’s something very simple, there could be long term effects,” said Linafelter. “Look after your health and don’t just push it aside.”
She adds: “I definitely have a new normal now. It's definitely the normal I'm going to be seeing more often. But I'm hanging out with friends, I'm out and doing this."
20 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every day in the UK, of which 60% are diagnosed late.
Feeling bloated most days for three weeks or more can be a symptom, explains the NHS, which is why it’s so important to see your doctor straight away. Early detection makes it far easier to treat.
Other symptoms include:
- Feeling full quickly or loss of appetite
- Pelvic or stomach pain
- Needing to pee urgently or more frequently than normal
- Changes in bowel habits
- Extreme fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Swotting up on the signs is paramount for women, not least because it’s currently Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The majority of stage one cases can be successfully treated.
The NHS adds: “If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP as soon as possible. If you know anyone who has any of these symptoms, insist they see their doctor.”
Here’s some further advice on when to seek help from your GP if you experience the symptoms mentioned above.