We first met Alisi when she was 24 and diagnosed with an aggressive stage-three ovarian cancer, following treatment at Mater Alisi has been encouraging other women to recognise the signs for ovarian cancer and seek treatment.
For Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month we caught up with Alisi to see how she is doing and share her important story once again. Now in her second year of remission from ovarian cancer Alisi doing really well.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel, it has been a difficult time to get here but I have pulled through thanks to the support of my friends, family and community,” she said.
“I am studying a Diploma of Business at TAFE which will lead into a business degree plus keeping on top of my health and working out at the gym regularly which has also been great for my mental health.
“I am still getting hot flashes from the full hysterectomy but I am hoping this will pass soon but life is much better now and I have a more positive outlook on life.”
Alisi was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October 2017 after having a check-up with her GP.
“I wanted to become a flight attendant for Emirates and in order to qualify, you need to do a full medical check. So in preparation, before I applied, I booked in with a local GP to do the standard medical checks and thought that would be it,” she said.
“I had been bleeding on and off for about a month but thought it was just normal. I mentioned this to the GP and she decided to do an examination.
“It didn’t take very long for her to say ‘You need to book an ultrasound—as soon as you can’. I wasn’t too concerned so I booked in for a week later.”
The ultrasound showed two very large cysts on both Alisi’s left and right ovaries and she was immediately referred to Dr Lew Perrin at Mater Hospital.
“I saw Dr Perrin in November and my sister came along to the appointment with me. I asked him what he thought of my ultrasounds and he said he needed to consult with a colleague. That was the moment I looked to my sister and said ‘Ok something’s going on’,” she said.
“When Dr Perrin finally came back into the room he said ‘I’m a little concerned so I’m going to book you in for a biopsy’. That’s when I knew something wasn’t quite right.”
On 5 December 2017, Alisi was booked in for her biopsy and what she heard when she woke up, changed her life.
“When I came to, I remember the nurse saying to me ‘I’ve just called your mother, the surgeon wants to discuss your results and she wants your mum to be here’. I just thought oh no, this is it,” she said.
After an agonising wait Alisi was told she had stage three ovarian cancer. There were two tumours, one on each ovary—the size of grapefruits.
“Honestly, it was all just a blur. It made sense why my abdomen had always been hard when I’d felt it and why I always felt so tired but I always assumed nothing was wrong because I was young,” she said.
“The diagnosis really hit my family a lot harder than it hit me. We had lost our grandmother to bowel cancer earlier that year and we were all still mourning and recovering from that. Plus five years prior my mum was also going through a cancer diagnosis herself—she had breast cancer.
“I had to move back home straight away because I was booked in to have surgery on the 19th of December to remove the cancer. It was a very stressful time.”
Two weeks after her initial diagnosis Alisi had a full hysterectomy. Unfortunately the cancer has also spread to some of her other organs including her diaphragm and large bowel. What was meant to be a four hour surgery, turned in to eight.
“They didn’t know it was going to be that complicated when they went in—what was meant to be a three week recovery turned into seven weeks. It was like starting over again because I had to learn how to walk and breathe again on my own. It was very full on,” she said.
“During that time my family were just incredible, especially my dad. I think for him watching mum go through cancer and now me has really opened his eyes. He just sits by my side while I’m in hospital—he just wants to be there for me. In fact, mum and dad were beside me every day from sunrise to sunset while I was in hospital. I often told them to stay at home as they had a life too but they never listened,
“After my surgery I had an Ileostomy bag to help drain waste from my small intestine but there were complications and I was losing a lot of fluid. I lost 20 kilos in less than a month so they had to remove the bag so I could gain weight again and start going through chemotherapy.
“Chemotherapy: I wish it was the one thing you didn’t have to do because you just feel awful—it affects your body on so many different levels.
“I remember my third round of chemo being the hardest. It was where I thought ‘I can’t do this anymore’ I told my family this and they told me that I had to keep going and I remember saying ‘I don’t want to, I don’t want to’! But I thought if others can do it, like my mum, so can I.
“The one thing that cancer has taught me is to appreciate the small things—especially the people around you. Five years ago I shaved my head for mum while she was going through breast cancer and five years later she shaved her head for me, as well as my dad, my aunty, my sisters and brother and my best friend … it is truly incredible how people will support you.”
Alisi is now making it her mission to educate people on ovarian cancer and support others out there who are going through something similar.
“Going through this journey has taught me so much. There’s a lot going on mentally and emotionally but then you meet such beautiful people along the way who become lifelong friends. Having cancer has given me a purpose in life to help people—to use what I’m going through to reach out to others and that means so much to me,” she said.
“The symptoms of ovarian cancer are very vague but honestly if you feel like something isn’t right, just go to the doctor. It doesn’t matter what it may or may not be, just go!”
To find out more about cancer care services offered at Mater please visit http://www.mater.org.au/health/services/cancer-services
Finally recognising the symptoms of the disease can be live saving, the Ovarian Cancer Network has the following advice,
Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
- Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
- Abdominal or pelvic (lower tummy) pain
- Feeling full after eating a small amount
- Needing to urinate often or urgently
- Changes in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Excessive fatigue
- Lower back pain
- Indigestion or nausea
- Bleeding after menopause or in-between periods
- Pain during sex or bleeding after
It is important to remember all the symptoms mentioned can be caused by other, less serious medical conditions. However, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, which are persistent and troublesome, you should see your doctor. They will be able to examine you and if necessary, do further tests to find the cause of your problems. To find out more click here.