What it’s like to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 25



Two years ago, Alexandra Harbin’s life changed forever.

At the age of 25, she had a promising job as a web developer, and had just moved into an apartment with her boyfriend.

“I was finding time for the gym, I had a lot of hobbies, and life was going pretty good for me,” she tells Popsugar Australia. “Then I started to get a pain in my hip.”

After weeks of no solution – doctors and chiropractors couldn’t figure out what the problem was – Harbin’s stomach bloated and became “rock hard.”

“I knew it wasn’t normal. I went to my GP first, and from there I was sent for tests at an imaging centre. They took me to a back room and told me I had to go to hospital immediately. Once there, they did more scans and then told me they found something on my ovaries,” she says. “I stayed overnight and after more tests they told me it was ovarian cancer.”

ALSO SEE: The subtle signs of ovarian cancer every woman should know — explained by survivors

“After the news, they sent me home for the weekend, as the specialists weren’t in until Monday. I think I just sat for those couple of days and tried to process what was happening.”



She explains how the next week, doctors told her about the chemotherapy she would be soon undergoing. She recalls, right before visiting the doctor, finding out that her salon was having a special price on a cut and colour, and deciding to book an appointment since she was in the process of going blonde.

“As the doctor started explaining the chemo process, I suddenly realized what I had just done. I had to call up the salon and cancel what I had just bought — I hadn’t even thought about the fact that I was going to lose my hair.”

She started chemo, noticing how her body changed as she went through the process – her hair fell out, she lost weight, her skin began to change. And then, she got an infection and anemia from the chemo – so doctors ended her treatment and decided to instead operate.

ALSO SEE: Sisters diagnosed weeks apart fight breast cancer together

“I was told they would remove all of the cancer, after that I would undergo a little more chemo, then basically the whole thing would be over. But when I came out of the surgery, it became clear it hadn’t gone to plan,” she says. “They were unable to remove all the tumour and I’d have to live with what cancer was left in me.”



“In hospital I was hooked up to lots of tubes, and when I looked in the mirror I didn’t even see myself any more. In the ICU, I was next to women who had just given birth, they were happy and excited to have had a baby,” she continues. “I felt like a ghoul in the dark room next door. I had just had my fertility taken away from me, and next door there were celebrations of life, of womanhood.”

She went home, and laid in bed for days.

“I have these full-length mirrors, and I would stare at this creature and think, ‘What even are you anymore?’,” she says.

“One day, I got sick of feeling sorry for myself, I got out all my makeup from the workshop and started putting it all on — full YouTube makeup tutorial style! I used all the things I had learnt, as though I was going to go out, and I looked really good — I looked like myself again.”

She then explains how makeup and personal upkeep has had a positive impact on her life post-surgery.



“I’m currently on a clinical trial for a cancer drug. I take a tablet every day and it suppresses all the hormones in my body — as they found my tumour is hormone receptive. The only problem with that is I don’t get anything to balance them out. Normally people get hormone replacement therapy after a hysterectomy, but every hormone in my body is being suppressed. The physical results of that is very dry skin and hot flushes — all things that can be challenging to your femininity,” she says.

ALSO SEE: Cheeky ladyballs campaign gets attention for ovarian cancer

Now 27, she tells Popsugar that going to a Look Good Feel Better workshop really helped change her perspective on living with ovarian cancer, and how she now finds pleasure and beauty in things like taking care of her skin.

And of course, she’s come to see life a lot differently.

“I used to think of life very differently. I had a five-year and 10-year plan, everything was planned! I had all sorts of narratives about how life would go. But now, I live in the now. It sounds cliché, but you have to,” she says.

“I don’t have any guarantees. When I was first diagnosed, I asked, ‘OK, so will these treatments keep my cancer at bay forever?’ and they told me, ‘There is no forever with your cancer.’ Everything is as it is right now, and that’s been a completely new way to live,” she continues. “You jump at more opportunities as they come up, and you don’t get as fixated on what’s coming up next, you live more in the moment that you’re in.”

What do you think about Harbin’s story? Let us know by tweeting @YahooStyleCA.