“The doctors were saying nothing's wrong with her, she's fine. I just started to feel like I was crazy,” Jessica Sanders, 21, told PEOPLE.
At the age of 15, Jessica Sanders started experiencing sharp abdominal pain. This pain made it uncomfortable to even exercise or use the bathroom. She often had to sit out at her soccer practice or go home early from school, reported PEOPLE. At the time, Sanders, who is from San Carlos, California, was already "intimidated and scared" of going to the OB-GYN as a teenager but she mustered the courage to make an appointment.
What followed was years of dismissal of her pain by the doctors. Now, she is 21 and studying at San Diego State University, she spoke to PEOPLE about being diagnosed with ovarian cancer after years of doctors telling her she is "fine." She also shared the importance of women advocating for themselves and their health.
Sanders discussed her experience with PEOPLE, "At first, they would tell me it's just period cramps, it's hormones, you're pregnant. Another time it's a UTI, it's a bladder infection. A doctor also said that my pants are too tight and not to wear thongs because they were causing irritation and pain. One of the doctors really rubbed me the wrong way when he said I probably wasn't wiping myself the right way. So that was really frustrating and that was kind of all the care that I got until I was 20."
She added, "My parents have always been super supportive but they didn't know what was wrong with me either. The doctors were saying nothing was wrong with her, and she was fine, so I stopped complaining about my pain because I was dismissed. I just started to feel like I was crazy."
But during Thanksgiving 2021, Sanders could not bear the pain further as she even struggled to eat breakfast with her family. Assuming similar responses from the hospital, she went to the emergency room. This time, an ultrasound revealed that she had a 17-centimeter cyst on her right ovary and would need surgery to remove it. While she was under surgery, doctors found out that Sanders had a liter of blood in her body.
They also discovered a tumor wrapped around her right ovary, which ultimately had to be removed. Finally, Sanders was sent home to recover and rest. She finally felt relieved. However, on December 8, 2021, she was asked to revisit the doctor's office and was informed that she had small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type, a very rare, aggressive form of cancer, reported PEOPLE.
"I just thought, 'This would happen to me after all this time. I'm gonna die.' I just broke down," she said of the shocking diagnosis. "Even with my family's support, I felt so lonely because I now have this disease in me and I can't control it. It was really frustrating and shocking, especially being a super healthy person," Sanders said as she started with treatment immediately.
She ultimately went through six rounds of chemotherapy, three full-day sessions per week, every three weeks, before she was declared cancer-free in April 2022. After this, she had a stem cell transplant, which she called a "terrible time" in her long treatment journey.
The frustration behind her delayed diagnosis made her share her story on social media. "People need to really speak up for themselves and not be afraid to tell doctors when they're wrong and tell them to keep pushing for answers. This isn't just happening to me, it's happening to women all over the world," she said.
Now, this is her life's current motto, "If I can help one person, I'll post every day."
Cover Image Source: Fight for Female Health