By Alyce Collins
DOCTORS assumed this woman’s stomach pains were CAUSED BY AN STI but later discovered a MASSIVE TUMOUR on her ovary that was so rare she only had a ONE PERCENT chance of developing it.
Personal trainer Shannon Menger (20) who was born in Missouri, USA, but is currently living in Auckland, New Zealand, started to experience stomach pains at the beginning of January 2019 which occurred roughly once a week and left her unable to move.
In the weeks after, Shannon started feeling noticeably tired but assumed it was due to waking up at five am for work. Along with the pains and tiredness, Shannon also had irregular periods, so she saw her doctor but was turned away as they weren’t sure what was wrong.
Shannon went to see her doctor five times between January and March and was told it could be pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection. In February she noticed her stomach had become hard, which Shannon initially thought was because she was bulking, so it could be weight gain. However, it felt unusually firm and there seemed to be a lump under the skin in the pelvic area, but Shannon’s GP sent her home with laxatives believing it was constipation.
A week after being prescribed laxatives and seeing no improvement, Shannon had an ultrasound which revealed a mass on her ovary. Despite the shocking revelation, doctors were hopeful it would only be a cyst but Shannon went to hospital for blood tests and within a few hours she was told she had stage 3B immature teratoma of the left ovary, a rare cancer which required her to have surgery within hours to remove the large tumour.
Shannon then had to start chemotherapy a week later and completed four cycles across 12 weeks. After finishing chemotherapy on June 24, 2019, Shannon was back in the gym on July 8 as she gradually got back into her fitness regime. For Shannon, it was important for her mental and physical health that she wasn’t defeated by cancer or chemotherapy, and she counts herself lucky to be in such a fit and healthy position now.
“I had stomach pains for about three months before my diagnosis, they would come once a week and I wouldn’t be able to move during that time,” said Shannon.
“I felt tired for about a month or two before I was diagnosed but I just assumed it was the five am starts catching up with me. In March, I noticed my stomach felt hard, like there was a lump in it and it was starting to hurt even when walking or moving.
“I was trying to bulk and put on muscle mass at the time, so when my stomach was getting bigger, I just assumed it was because I was eating more. I thought the tiredness was from being a personal trainer, waking up early and working late. I thought maybe my stomach pains could be a gut health issue or that my body was reacting to me going vegetarian at the time.
“I went to the doctors at the end of 2018 as my periods were irregular, but then I went back when I started getting the pains. However, they couldn’t figure out what it was, and I went about five times within two months. They thought it could be pregnancy or an STI, so they tested for both and it was neither, so I was sent home.
“When I went back after noticing my stomach feeling hard, they gave me Tramadol and laxatives, saying it could be constipation. I returned the following week and was finally sent for an ultrasound which was when they saw the lump on my ovary.
“They said I had one large mass and then one smaller one which was thought to just be a cyst on my ovaries, so I wasn’t worried at the time, I was more worried about having to miss work.
“After the ultrasound, the doctors wanted to send me for further testing which would take a few weeks, so my mum took me to the hospital instead. They checked my bloods and looked at the ultrasound and then half an hour later I was taken into one of the rooms to tell me I had cancer and would need surgery that same day.
“Everything happened so fast so I wasn’t really thinking about the surgery, however I knew I would make it through, so I wasn’t too worried. I did have a moment before surgery though where I had a small freak out because I’d hoped they could do keyhole surgery rather than open up my stomach and leave me with a huge scar, but the tumour was so big they had to cut me open.”
Shannon’s surgery was on March 30, 2019 and just eight days later she started BEP chemotherapy as it was a very aggressive cancer. For the first week of treatment, Shannon had eight hours of chemotherapy daily from Monday to Friday, then in the second and third weeks she had chemotherapy one day a week for an hour, and this cycle was repeated three times.
Chemotherapy made Shannon weak and nauseous, but she was determined to return to strength by working out again. Two weeks after completing treatment, Shannon trained in the gym a couple of times a week, and she is now back up to training three times a week and lifting weights.
“Surgeons managed to remove the whole tumour but there were some cancerous cells left so I had to go through four cycles of chemotherapy after,” said Shannon.
“My cancer is immature teratoma ovarian cancer, very rare for someone my age to get. I was told that I had a one per cent chance of getting it. It’s very aggressive but responds well to chemotherapy.
“I was really nauseous during the long weeks of chemotherapy and got sick every time I left the house. I was very run down and had no energy to do anything and I got itchy all the time, which has left me with scars on my skin.
“I was determined to get back into the gym, however in the first week back I got sick from being around so many people and could only work out twice. I did two workouts for the first two weeks, but then I started training consistently again.
“At first it was frustrating to go from lifting more than my body weight to then barely being able to do body weight exercises, but I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t going to get back to where I was if I didn’t put in the work to get there.
“It was important for my mental health to get back into exercise and it’s definitely helped me get my energy back. I’m now two months post chemo and I’m feeling pretty much back to normal apart from my brain being slightly slow.
“I’m now training three times a week for about an hour each time, focusing on strength training. I’m a lot less worried about life’s issues now and feeling more positive.
“I’m currently cancer free and have monthly blood tests at the hospital as well as scans twice a month to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. I will have a lot of check-ups for the next five years to make sure it’s under control, but so far so good!
“It’s important to stay positive, regardless what hand you’re dealt because today’s pain will be tomorrow’s strength. There’s always something to be grateful for and you can always find a way out of whatever struggle you’re in.”
To see more, visit https://www.instagram.com/shannonmenger.pt/