Life always seems a little brighter when you meet a woman like Tash in this world. Her strength, poise, and undying dedication to help others has never been overshadowed, even in the face of a disease as deadly as ovarian cancer.
But Tash is more than a diagnosis; she is a survivor, an advocate, and a teacher to children with Autism during the day. And, despite living across the world in New Zealand, I am so thankful to also call her a role model and a friend.
Read her incredible story from diagnosis to recovery below, and share her journey with other women who might be in need. Together, we can all make an impact. Just like Tash.
I got the call on the 10th of October, the day after my birthday
I’ve lived with endometriosis for a while and I had an operation about four years ago to remove it. But then I started noticing my pain coming back, so I assumed that I needed to get the endometriosis removed again.
I kept going to the hospital telling them how much pain I was in, but they insisted that it was my endometriosis flaring up. I was sent away three times until I went back for a fourth.
I decided to put the water works on and get dramatic with it so they finally would listen to me about the tremendous pain I was feeling. And I am so lucky that I did. That was the only time they agreed to investigate further.
That’s when they did an ultrasound and found the cyst.
After some tests, I received a call from the doctor’s office while I was teaching. They insisted that I come in immediately.
As soon as they called, I blatantly asked them, “I’ve got cancer don’t I?”
And that’s when they said, “we think you might have cancer, yes.”
my instincts saved my life
The only thing that felt different was my persistent need to go to the bathroom. I was drinking a ton of water at the time, so I assumed that the two coincided. But now I see that this was definitely a symptom.
Only during one menstrual cycle did I notice a different kind of pain, but even that was about a year before my diagnosis. That year between the pain and the diagnosis is when I was getting brushed off by the hospital doctors, but I knew that something was off.
I instinctually knew something was wrong.
When they found the cyst in the ultrasound, they only wanted to monitor it to see how it would grow. But I refused to wait. I insisted they take it out.
I fought to remove it because I wanted to have a family one day. I didn’t want my fallopian tubes to be overrun with endometriosis, which would prevent that from happening. That’s why I forged through with it.
“Once it was confirmed, I went straight into fighting mode” When I first heard the diagnosis, I was petrified.
The hospital put me in a massive room with a bed and a tv, like I was in the room that you go in to die! I couldn’t sit down, I could only pace the floor as they made us wait for 40 minutes.
When the doctor came, she was nervous as well. She sat on the floor, then the bed, and then on her knees in front of me. She told me that they thought I had ovarian cancer, but that we still needed the surgery to confirm.
So that’s what we did.
And after the first surgery, the surgeon told me that it was only an endometrial cyst. But I knew otherwise. He was wrong, and I still roll my eyes at that. Why give someone that hope?
We had to wait another two weeks to test the cyst for cancer, and that’s when it was officially confirmed.
I think that, because I had already been through so much shock and done my research, I went straight into fighting mode. There had already been so many tears, I had already been on a wild emotional roller coaster, so it wasn’t as shocking as the first day when I was in that massive room.
And by then it’s almost always too late
I got diagnosed with ovarian cancer really, really early. And only 15% of women in the world catch it at stage one like I did.
Eight-five percent of women get caught in the later stages, and once you’re there, the cancer is very difficult to treat. It’s the most dangerous form of gynecological cancer for women. The survival rates are minimal. You rarely feel any symptoms until the cancer has significantly progressed, and by then it’s almost always too late.
In fact, with ovarian cancer the pain is so subtle that it’s hard to even notice it at all. But because I had endometriosis I was already aware of the pain and subtle signs that come with it.
It’s also important to know if anyone in your family has had ovarian cancer before. If there’s breast cancer or ovarian cancer in your family, you need to find a gynecologist that can perpetually track you and your symptoms. I kept getting pushed aside by my doctors because I wasn’t aware if anyone in my family has it.
Even though we still don’t know if anyone in my family has ever had it, I’ve applied for genetic testing to be sure. Ovarian cancer usually comes from a close genetic link, like from your mother or sister, so I pushed for it. This way, if we can get answers, we can protect the rest of my family.
Doctors have only recently linked endometriosis to ovarian cancer, and sometimes it gets confused with bowel cancer. It’s so easy to miss it because of that, and that’s the scariest part. Push to get what you want. Get ultrasounds. Keep an eye on any of your cysts.
Usually ovarian cancer happens to older women who are post-menopausal or of an older age. But on Instagram I’m able to connect to so many other younger girls who have it. I receive emails every day from younger girls seeking comfort or more information from me.
And the majority of those girls have suffered from endometriosis.
well shit! let’s just knock this out
During my first laparoscopic surgery in November of last year they removed the tumor, my fallopian tubes, and the cancerous ovary.
Then six weeks later, in January, they performed a full hysterectomy.
Not long after the second surgery my chemotherapy started and I had it roughly every three weeks.
Treatment options depend on what country you’re in, but my doctors recommended Carbaplatin and Paclitaxel. Research shows that combining these two is most effective in curing the cancer, but it’s also the most aggressive form of treatment.
Paclitaxel is the drug that makes you lose your hair. So I decided, “well shit!” let’s just knock this out and take both. It’s a personal choice, but I didn’t want to regret not trying to kill it all from the beginning.
Screw the hair, it’s going to grow back! Why risk it?
The first time I had chemo, it actually went okay. In fact, it went swimmingly! I was in a room with others who were undergoing the same and it was relaxing and calm, believe it or not.
But the second chemo was an absolute nightmare. I was told that the second time is usually the worst, and they were right. It was horrendous.
For six days I felt extremely nauseous; I couldn’t even watch TV and I felt like I was on the verge of vomiting without actually being able to. Once I finally got my anti-nausea medicine, I was much better.
I started craving the most unusual foods at random times throughout the day, too! But the best advice I give is to eat when you’re hungry, no matter the time of day. After a while all I wanted to eat was Thai food, and now my mom is excellent at cooking Thai 😉
You know what, I’m going to talk about my vagina
One of the best things that I’ve noticed lately is that, with all of the #girlpower going around, more women are talking about their vaginas, their hysterectomies, and their experiences with menopause.
And that’s awesome.
Because when I was first diagnosed, I didn’t have anywhere to turn to for answers. The Gynecological Cancer Center in New Zealand had recently closed so I turned to Instagram. That’s where I found the girls that got me through treatment.
I found two girls that are absolutely amazing: Sherry Wang and Faye. We all had chemo on the exact same day: me in New Zealand, Faye in England, and Sherry in America.
Every day after our chemo we would check up on each other and help one another get through the pain!
In Remembrance of Alexandria Kate & Clare
Alexandria Kate (@alexandria_k8) was the very first girl that I found on Instagram when I was diagnosed. She was a gorgeous Australian woman in her 20s who was diagnosed at stage three, which is very late for ovarian cancer.
She passed away about three weeks ago.
Then another friend of ours, Clare Chapman (@clarehoski), a woman in her late 40s, passed away only a few days after her.
Alexandria had endometriosis too, and because of that she was dismissed by her doctors like I was. They told her that she had IBS, irritable bowel syndrome. When she was finally diagnosed, it was too late. She passed away within two years.
That’s one of the hardest parts about having an Instagram community surrounding you. When you have friends that were diagnosed late, you witness them become awfully sick. There’s almost a form of guilt that comes with an early diagnosis. You get survivor’s guilt.
But with those girls our common thread is that it makes us thankful for what we have. We start looking at life in a different way.
Even though there’s a ton of negative things that come with having cancer, there’s also a lot of beautiful things, too. Since it’s so bad the whole time, you have to focus on everything good in your life to just pull you through it.
You end up celebrating the wonderful things, the wonderful people, around you. You start building a new life. Sure, you should’ve done it before, but everything changes with that diagnosis.
I will never thank cancer for anything, but being strong in the face of cancer shows you just how much of a badass you are.
imagine a drinking glass full of straws…
I decided to shave my hair off immediately after the first round of chemo.
I went shopping for wigs prior to my hair falling out just to see what was out there. In the end, I spent $1400 on a wig that I ended up hating! (Now I have about seven wigs that I love so much more.)
It’s so weird the way that it first falls out. I describe the strangeness like this: imagine a drinking glass with a lot of straws inside, and now imagine how easy it is for you to grab a handful out.
You get used to your hair being shaved, by the way! Shaved is fine.
The worst is when it all falls out so you’re bald, and then you lose your eyebrows and eyelashes. I’d rather be bald and keep my eyebrows and eyelashes, but having no facial hair was the hardest time for me. I looked like a potato!
I’m now trying out revitalash and revitabrow to get them back, and it’s working!
When I look back on that decision now, I think that’s just crazy!
I’m super busy now. I’ve gone back to work, and that was a really scary decision for me.
I started my job at a brand new school about three weeks after my last chemo. When I look back on that decision now, I think that’s just crazy! Why did I do that? It was so full-on right away. I was still bald and had no facial hair, but my job has been supportive of me the entire time and I am so thankful for that.
At first I would come home and cry because I was so exhausted. But the other day I realized that I hadn’t cried for about three weeks, and I celebrated! My parents have even noticed a significant change in my liveliness.
the look good, feel better charity
This is an amazing charity started by an ovarian cancer survivor herself. She was actually diagnosed at Stage 3, so she’s a real poster woman for survival.
Now they operate in loads of countries around the world! The New Zealand version makes sure there’s a workshop within a 30-minute drive of any woman wherever she is across the country.
It’s a free half-day session that hosts women battling cancer, no matter the stage, with volunteer makeup artists and products from big brand sponsors like MAC, Chanel, Estee Lauder, Trilogy, Benefit, and Karen Murrell. They even give you a little kit with the makeup that you prefer!
Then they give you a massage, teach you about proper skincare, do your makeup, and make you feel beautiful. It’s a nice holistic day to get privately pampered and give your friends and family a little break from worrying about you.
During my first time, I was wearing a wig that I absolutely hated. I felt so uncomfortable! When I asked my makeup artist if I could take it off, all the other ladies asked the same thing and we took them off together. It was such an empowering moment!
After that, they contacted me to shoot a campaign together. I was on the radio, on TV, and even on billboards on bus stops and in magazines.
Then they flew me to Fiji to give a speech in front of hundreds of people, and now I’m going to be doing the same again in a couple of weeks.
Even through all of the crap there’s been a lot of positive things that come from it. And each time I’m approached by someone I make sure they know that I’ll only do it if I can talk about ovarian cancer.
the most important thing in life is to give back
Always be kind. Always give. Always help people.
You can’t rely on the government or others to do things, to change things for you. We have to be out there ourselves and in the community making the positive change in our lives that we seek.
I have a lot of knowledge about ovarian cancer that would go to waste if I didn’t share it with others. When I was going through it at first, I wanted someone like me to rely on, to help me get through it.
So I want others to know that I’m open to anyone asking me about anything. I don’t want the information that I have to become locked away, I want it to help somebody!
Women tend to shy away from their diagnosis, but once you start losing your hair and your brows, you can’t hide it. So the more people out there sharing their stories, the less it becomes taboo and that’s exactly what we need.
There’s always someone in life behind you asking for help, and there’s always someone in front of you offering to provide that help. Whichever position you’re in, there’s something you can do to help others.
We can all make an impact.
You can follow her story here! 👇
All images are property of Tash.