Every morning, Nickita was on the treadmill trying to reverse her unexplained weight gain, but a scan uncovered something shocking.
Think back to when you were 17. You likely had a terrible fringe or other haircut, more moods than varieties of peanut butter, and dreamed of being supermodel slim.
At 17, Nickita Pillay was doing everything she could to beat her swollen belly.
“I remember telling my sister I was getting fat. I’d always been relatively skinny, so would get onto the treadmill at 5am every morning to try and lose my belly,” Pillay tells myBody+Soul.
“I had this really bloated tummy, then two weeks later I got terrible back pains and diarrhoea that left zero time to get to the bathroom.”
It was only because she had a school exam, and needed a medical certificate, that Pillay went to the doctors. They asked if she could be pregnant, which wasn’t possible for Pillay, so doctors performed an MRI scan. What they discovered was shocking.
“They found a tumour 10cm on the top, and going backwards 32cm. It was the size of a football. It was resting on my back and pushing on my bowels.”
At age 17, Pillay was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“I couldn’t believe it. The pain was excruciating,” she says, five years on.
Ten days later she went in for surgery. What followed was six months of “brutal” chemotherapy, and losing her hair within two days, then the unthinkable.
“Because my immune system was so low, in April this year they found cervical cancer cells during a routine check-up. It wasn’t anything abnormal for me,” she says.
The cells were removed, and thankfully Pillay is in remission now, but her diagnosis at such a young age has meant she’s missed out on her late teens, having to defer from uni, and cease working, to fit in the hospital visits. Today, Pillay is aged 22, and she’s giving cancer the finger, studying medical engineering, working as a hair and makeup artist, and competing in fitness comps.
Pillay’s message to young women is clear – listen to your body – if you think something isn’t normal, chances are it’s not.
“We’re from an Indian background, so it’s not normal to tell your dad about girly things – and mum was overseas at the time I was experiencing the symptoms.
“Now, though, I’m not afraid to tell my story. I have to always inspect my own body. No one, not even doctors, know it as well as I do,” she says.
Pillay will have to keep a check on her tumour markers for the rest of her life. She’s using the new world-first app from Australia’s Cherish Women’s Cancer Foundation to manage that process.
“It’s an inconvenience to be diagnosed with cancer, but it’s everything else that makes it worse. The CA125 app makes things a lot more convenient. The doctor can logon to the app – and you don’t need to wait for a doctor’s consultation to find out.
“That wait, it feels like you’ve been caught doing something wrong and you’re waiting for the verdict. It’s incredibly stressful and nothing you have control over. The app means you can know the verdict before you go into the hospital, which gives you time to come up with right kind of questions, instead of leaving thinking ‘I should have asked that’.”
What you need to know about the CA125 app
Cherish Women’s Cancer Foundation successfully gained a grant to develop the smartphone application to assist ovarian and endometrial (uterine) cancer patients feel more in control of their experience post-diagnosis. The app allows patients to input details given to them by their gynaecological oncologist so they can see quickly and easily progress with the tumour markers in their blood.
Proceeds from the sale of the app ($9.99) go to Cherish to continue its work in the ovarian cancer and endometrial (uterine) cancer space. For more information about Cherish, please visit www.cherish.org.au.
Dr. Oz explains the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer. Courtesy: Dr. Oz