A social worker who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 27 after doctors found a tumour the ‘size of a rugby ball’ growing in her abdomen has revealed the symptoms every woman should know.
Monika Tasic had always lived an active, outdoor lifestyle, hiking with her boyfriend Tim and playing soccer with her local team in Western Sydney four times a week.
The super-fit care worker – who also performed with a dance troupe and ate well ‘most of the time’ – was ‘shocked’ when a patient asked if she was pregnant, having noticed her stomach steadily swelling in the months leading up to September 2017.
Troubled by the observation, Ms Tasic saw a GP who expressed immediate concern about the bloating and referred her for an internal ultrasound.
Four weeks later, doctors discovered an ‘angry looking’ 27cm tumour – longer than a 600ml soft drink bottle – growing from one of her ovaries and she was diagnosed with stage 2B ovarian cancer.
Ms Tasic, now 30 and newly engaged to her partner of nine years, told Daily Mail Australia that cancer has taught her to ‘stop and smell the roses, even when they’re a bit wilted’.
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Australian social worker Monika Tasic (pictured) had always lived an active, outdoor lifestyle, hiking with fiancé Tim and playing soccer four times a week with a team in Western Sydney
Ms Tasic was diagnosed with stage 2B ovarian cancer aged 27 after scans detected a 27cm tumour growing from one of her ovaries into her fallopian tubes and the lining of her uterus
In hindsight, Ms Tasic said she recalls feeling bloated and lethargic for months before her diagnosis, waking in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and becoming full after eating tiny amounts of food – all small but telltale signs of ovarian cancer.
‘If I ate an apple for lunch, I wouldn’t need to eat dinner,’ she said.
Being diagnosed with cancer in her twenties was an experience Ms Tasic describes as ‘earth-shaking’.
‘As soon as the word left the doctors mouth, I could feel it ricochet around the room, through my head, through my heart and eventually it landed in my gut,’ she said.
‘Cancer doesn’t really have a face until it’s your own, or someone that you know and love.’
By stage 2B, ovarian cancer is growing in one or both ovaries and has spread elsewhere within the pelvis.
In Ms Tasic’s case, it had crept into her fallopian tubes and the lining of her uterus.
Ms Tasic (pictured with fiancé Tim in July 2020) says cancer has taught her to ‘stop and smell the roses, even when they’re a bit wilted’
Doctors prescribed a course of BEP, a gruelling form of chemotherapy which sees patients receive 38 infusions in the space of nine weeks.
Ms Tasic describes the treatment as ‘short, effective and disgusting’.
She suffered from debilitating nausea and anxiety while struggling with a constant metallic taste in her mouth – one of the most common side effects of chemo.
‘It really was something I had to take day by day. I learnt a lot of patience in that time,’ Ms Tasic said.
Treatment proved successful, eliminating all traces of the insidious disease.
Now cancer-free, Ms Tasic prefers to live in the present to avoid worrying about the chances of her illness recurring.
‘It would be a disservice to the people that got me here to dwell on what could happen tomorrow when I’ve been gifted today,’ she said.
Brave Ms Tasic (pictured during treatment) suffered from debilitating nausea and anxiety while struggling with a constant metallic taste in her mouth throughout chemotherapy
Ms Tasic’s brush with ovarian cancer has inspired her to advocate for further research into the disease which has claimed the lives of an estimated 1,068 Australian women in 2020, figures from the government health department show.
It is the sixth most common cause of death from cancer among Australian women, behind lung, bowel, stomach, liver and breast.
Ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to detect because early stage symptoms are vague and easily confused with those of less sinister illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
But menstruation, endometriosis and ovarian cysts also trigger the production of this protein, meaning the test alone cannot be used to investigate or confirm symptoms.
Ms Tasic (pictured with fiancé Tim) said she prefers to live in the present to avoid dwelling on the chance of her illness recurring
Common warning signs of ovarian cancer include abdominal bloating, feeling full after small amounts of food, an urgent need to urinate and constipation, as well as indigestion, fatigue and pain during sex.
Sufferers may also experience pain in the lower back, stomach or pelvis and sudden, unexplained weight loss.
Unlike cervical, breast and colon cancer, there are no screening programmes for ovarian cancer.
A specialist blood test that detects the CA125 protein – which is produced by ovarian cancer cells – can be used to diagnose the disease.
However a slew of conditions including menstruation, endometriosis and benign ovarian cysts also cause this protein to develop, meaning the test alone cannot be used to confirm the presence or absence of cancer.
In addition more than 50 percent of women with early stage ovarian cancer do not show elevated CA125 levels, which means internal ultrasounds must be performed in conjunction with the blood test for a conclusive diagnosis.
Causes of ovarian cancer
– Ageing (risk increases for women over 50)
– Family history of ovarian, breast or bowel cancer
– Early onset of periods (before 12 years) and late menopause
– Women who had their first child after the age of 35
– Never taking oral contraceptives
– Using oestrogen only hormone replacement therapy
Source: Cancer Council Australia
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
– Abdominal bloating
– Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
– Frequent or urgent urination
– Back, abdominal or pelvic pain
– Constipation or diarrhoea
– Menstrual irregularities
– Pain during sex
– Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
Source: Cancer Council Australia
All types of ovarian cancer are highly treatable if the patient receives care in the initial stages, but mortality rates remain high due to the lack of effective measures for early detection.
Eager to help others avoid the ordeal she endured, Ms Tasic urges women to take ownership of their bodies and seek a second opinion if they feel dissatisfied with a diagnosis.
‘At the end of the day all our bodies are different, and what was a symptom for me may not be for someone else,’ she said.
‘No sign is too small, it’s just so much better to be safe than sorry. Advocate for the healthcare you deserve.’
For more information on ovarian cancer, please visit the Australian Cancer Council website.