By Alyce Collins
A SHOCKING cancer diagnosis at just TWENTY-THREE stopped this budding graduate’s life in its tracks and forced her to have a HYSTERECTOMY and go through the menopause at just twenty-four, shattering her hopes of ever having her own family.
Delivery consultant Shaylee Bedward (25) from Indiana, USA, had just moved in with her boyfriend, Evan (25), as they tried to find their way in their blossoming new careers.
By autumn 2017, Shaylee hadn’t experienced a period for five months and at first she was told it could simply be due to her contraceptive pill, but as the months progressed she experienced abdominal pain and decided to have a pelvic examination.
During the pelvic examination, doctors located a mass on Shaylee’s ovaries and sent her for a subsequent ultrasound and blood test followed by an exploratory laparotomy. In October 2017 Shaylee was diagnosed with stage three serous ovarian cancer.
Once she healed from surgery, Shaylee began weekly chemo infusions but these weren’t working for her, so she had to undergo a radical hysterectomy in the hopes to rid her body of its cancer.
Chemotherapy was a difficult process for Shaylee and the side effects took their toll on her physically. But to later find out she required a hysterectomy at just 24 was another devastating setback and there wasn’t time for Shaylee to preserve her eggs before. After having the life-changing operation, Shaylee’s body then went through the menopause, making matters much worse.
Shaylee is currently taking part in a clinical trial to replace her white blood cells with healthier versions which can hopefully destroy all remaining traces of cancer. Shaylee shares her journey on Instagram to show others that despite the pain and heartache her cancer journey has caused, it is still possible to be positive and to thrive.
“My boyfriend and I had just finished our senior year and moved half way across the country together,” said Shaylee.
“We loved being able to explore a new city together and we were just figuring out how to be adults in the real world when I got diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer.
“Cancer was honestly the furthest thing from my mind. I hadn’t even heard of ovarian cancer at this point. I received the HPV vaccine when I was 13 and honestly thought that meant I was immune to any type of gynaecological cancer.
“My doctor told me it was normal for women to lose their period on some oral contraceptives, but after the fifth month without it I just didn’t feel right.
“I experienced bloating and abdominal discomfort for weeks at a time and that wasn’t normal for me. So, I listened to my gut. I had my doctor do a pelvic exam and that’s when she found the mass.
“I then had an ultrasound and CA-125 blood test. But ultimately, surgery was necessary to diagnose and stage my disease. I had an exploratory laparotomy where they cut my stomach open and removed all traces of cancer.
“I’ll never be able to explain that feeling. I knew in my gut that something was wrong, but I never once expected it to be cancer. My entire world stopped. I had no idea what was in store.
“I don’t even like taking Ibuprofen, so when I found out I’d be undergoing intense chemotherapy my heart sank. I hated what I was about to put my body through.
“Usually, the day of chemo wasn’t too bad because of all the pre-chemo medicines and steroids they put me on. But, because of the steroids, I couldn’t sleep and by the next day I’d be exhausted.
“It’s hard to describe the level of fatigue chemo patients face. It’s on a completely different level. Also, depending on which chemo regimen I was on, I experienced nausea and flu-like symptoms.
“You ache constantly and feel flu-like for weeks at a time, you can hardly eat, you constantly worry about every twitch and immediately think of the worst-case scenarios. You become isolated and you know that this is going to be your new normal.
“My boyfriend and two of my childhood best friends shaved my hair a week after my first chemo infusion. I was so scared. My hair was my security blanket.
“Losing my eyelashes and eyebrows was even harder. I could rock the head scarves and turbans, but it’s impossible to feel sexy or feminine without a single eyelash.”
In February 2018 Shaylee had a hysterectomy when doctors saw it as her best option for destroying the cancer. Unfortunately, the medicine which many older women are offered to regulate their hormones during menopause could work against her treatment, so they weren’t an option.
Shaylee is positive for her clinical trial but her journey to this point has taught her to smile seek happiness in any possible situation as she still manages to thrive.
“After realizing chemo wasn’t working, I had a radical hysterectomy and unfortunately, we weren’t able to preserve any of my eggs beforehand. It was heart-breaking and devastating and every other awful word you can use to describe an experience,” said Shaylee.
“Hearing the news that I can’t have children of my own is still the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. Evan and I had our ‘Happily Ever After’ all planned out. We wanted a big, loving family full of babies running around.
“But now our lives have been thrown so far off track that we’re not even thinking about the future any more. Right now, it’s all about my survival. I’m fighting every single day of my life.
“My hysterectomy induced the menopause, and lots of women can take medicine to regulate their hormones during menopause, but since ovarian cancer is often oestrogen-receptive, I had to take pills that even further blocked any hormones from being produced.
“It affected more parts of my life than I ever could have imagined. I’m only 25 years old, but my body feels like it’s at least 60.
“Cancer is really hard, and it strips you of everything you know and forces you into a brand-new life that you never asked for. My life now consists of back to back hospital visits, being poked and prodded, and constantly being strapped into machines where I have to hold my breath until I feel like I’m going to pass out.
“I know that not every day is positive, but there is always at least one thing to smile about. I choose to find happiness in every day because that’s what brings me peace.
“I share my story to bring awareness to this silent but deadly disease so that other women can take control of their own health before it’s too late. I choose to show the world that you can survive and thrive with ovarian cancer.
“Cancer makes you look at small moments in life and really see them as if for the first time, or maybe you’re just seeing these moments through different eyes. Cancer changes the way you see the entire world.
“From the day I heard those four little words that changed my life forever – ‘I’m sorry, it’s cancer’ – my actions have had more purpose and my life has so much more meaning. Cancer has taught me to live freely and love deeply.
“Being stripped of what makes you physically you leaves you with the purest, rawest version of yourself. You’re forced to dig deep and truly discover what makes you who you are.”
To see more, visit https://www.instagram.com/beingshayleebedward/