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When 24-year-old Tora Murphy fell ill in Colombia during her dream round-the-world trip, she thought she might have food poisoning or a parasitic infection.
Cancer never crossed her mind.
But today she is halfway through treatment for stage 3 ovarian cancer at Mater Hospital Brisbane after flying back to Australia from the UK.
The average age of an ovarian cancer patient 64 and Tora is currently one of the youngest patients being treated for the disease at Mater.
“I was seven weeks into a round-the-world trip with my boyfriend when I thought something was wrong,” she said.
“I’d felt bloated for about a month, but I put it down to travelling, drinking and eating new foods.
“I thought I might have some kind of parasite, but I decided to hold off until we reached London to see a doctor.
“As soon as we arrived I went to a hospital. I was expecting to get a pill and be on my way – but they told me they had found a mass and it was cancer.
“When the doctor dropped the C-bomb I thought ‘Excuse me! Is that right?’
“I was in shock for a long time and sometimes it still doesn’t feel real. It feels like it’s happening to someone else – not to me.”
Doctors considered all options for preserving Tora’s fertility before she underwent surgery for a rare mucinous ovarian cancer, but ultimately decided that a full hysterectomy and removal of both her ovaries was unavoidable.
None of Tora’s eggs could be extracted or frozen because of the advanced stage of the disease.
Tora is sharing her story for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month (February) – a time to focus attention on a disease that claims the lives of around 1000 Australian women each year.
Tora, of Albion, Brisbane, has responded well to treatment is now halfway through a course of chemotherapy.
“Losing my fertility is obviously a big loss, but my life is more important than having my own babies,” she said.
“It’s been an intense time but my treatment looks like it is on track. My cancer is curable but the chance of a recurrence will be high.
“I just hope this is the only time I have to deal with ovarian cancer – I want to get back on my travels as soon as I can.”
Mater is one of only three hospital centres for the treatment of gynaecological cancers in Queensland and treats around 130 ovarian cancer patients a year – just under half of the state’s total new annual cases.
Dr Catherine Shannon, Senior Medical Oncologist at the Mater Cancer Care Centre, said Tora’s cancer was unusual.
“Ovarian cancer is largely a disease of older women, but Tora has a mucinous subtype that we sometimes see in young women, although it is extremely uncommon,” Dr Shannon said.
“Tora’s surgery has been successful and she’s tolerating chemotherapy well.
“Her case illustrates how vague the symptoms of ovarian cancer be.
“It’s important for all women, of any age, to know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer – including bloating, pelvic pain and abdominal distention.
“If they experience these symptoms persistently it is important to see a doctor and have them investigated.”
It’s a message that Tora backs and shares with her friends.
“Ovarian cancer is hard to detect because the symptoms are so vague,” she said.
“The symptoms don’t make you think ‘Oh my God! I have cancer’.
“But if they are on-going you need to advocate yourself. If something’s wrong, get a check-up.”
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