‘Doctors thought I was too young to have cancer’
At 22 years old, Maddy Brown should be enjoying being a first homeowner, partying with her friends and beginning her career; instead, she's about to start chemotherapy that will mean never having children.
Late last year, the young Townsville woman visited her GP after experiencing pain "100 times worse than a period cramp" in her pelvis for a couple of months.
Despite visiting two different doctors, Maddy claimed they both weren't concerned about her symptoms, refusing to give her a pap smear because she was "too young".
One doctor sent her to be checked for a sexually transmitted infection.
But Maddy, working as a technical assistant at Queensland X-Ray alongside her registered nurse mum, wouldn't accept the 'brush off' knowing that something wasn't right.
"I was like, nope that's not right, I don't like that because the doctor just whooshed me out of the room too easily," she said.
Thankfully the third doctor she saw took her symptoms seriously and did a pap smear.
Just from "having a look", the doctor thought she had a cervical ectropion, where cells grow on the outside of the cervix, and referred her to a specialist.
Unfortunately, by the time Maddy saw the specialist her blood results came back positive for Adenocarcinoma - a 1 in 1,250,000 form of aggressive ovarian cancer.
Maddy said the diagnosis had turned her world upside down.
"I didn't even have time to think or breathe about it," she said.
"I haven't had any time to process it; it has hit me like a tonne of bricks."
Eight days later Maddy had surgery at the Townsville Mater Hospital and after the surgeon cut her open she realised the extent of the cancer, discovering an 8cm tumour.
The surgeon refused to remove the mass due to its severity and took 2cm from the top and the bottom for tests and referred her to a surgeon in Brisbane.
Maddy said "it was quite terrifying" when she heard the Townsville specialist did not want to remove the tumour.
After travelling to Brisbane, Maddy underwent her second surgery and had the rest of the tumour removed along with a "chunk of her cervix".
Further tests after the surgery revealed the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
Maddy underwent a third surgery at the end of January to remove more of her cervix and 20 lymph nodes from her stomach.
Obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Beata Peter-Przyborowska performed the initial surgery on Maddy and found the 8cm tumour.
"What women need to do if they worry, if they have pain with intercourse or have pain in the pelvis or have abnormal bleeding, they need to go and seek advice," Dr Peter-Przyborowska told the Bulletin.
"The moral to the story is, if one doctor says 'no you will be fine', go to a second one and demand to be examined."
" (Maddy) herself saved her life because she was insisting that something was not right."
The current recommendation for Pap smears are women aged 25 to 75, every five years.
For Maddy, it's now been three weeks since her last surgery and is "slowly recovering".
"It was a pretty major surgery and (the doctor) said he hadn't done it on many people my age," she said.
"They had all been 40-plus and it is very daunting because the ratio was not very high but I said, at this stage, I don't care so just go for it."
Maddy has lost 12kg amid the toll the surgeries have taken on her body, feeling nauseous all the time and not wanting to eat.
A week ago, Maddy was dealt another blow when she was told she had to undergo a round of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and Brachytherapy.
"After being told I thought I had the answers, now I have been told I have to go for treatment and be blasted because it was very, very aggressive cervical cancer," she said.
"Usually you have time if you want to save your eggs so you can do all the hormone injections and freeze them."
But she said that option has now passed, with the next step of her treatment meaning her ovaries will be radiated.
"I have had to grow up 10 years in the space of a couple of months to make the decision about kids," Maddy said.
"It is pretty traumatising and it is hard to put it into words at 22 years of age and I have been told with the treatment I will go into early menopause."
She said she wanted to share her story in the hope other young women will keep an eye out for the signs of cervical cancer.
Maddy said in her case, it "just came from nowhere" with no family history of cervical cancer.
She will start her radiation on Monday of 25 sessions for five weeks at Townsville University Hospital, before five sessions of chemotherapy and three sessions of Brachytherapy (targeted radiation).
Her family have started a GoFundMe to help Maddy with her medical expenses, having to take some months off work as she undergoes treatment.