Kendra Iller, diagnosed at 21

During March of my senior year in college at UMass-Amherst, I started having a ton of abdominal pain, and had to urinate frequently, like every hour. I was almost in tears every morning with the pain. I would get up four or five times a night to pee, and I had some pain in my back in my kidney area. I was convinced I either had a urinary tract infection or that I was pregnant. I had gone to Florida for spring break and I wasn’t sure if just being a college student full-time, working full-time, being busy, and trying to fit in a social life, if all of that had just worn me down. When I went away for spring break, I thought, if it’s not better when I get home, I will go to see a doctor.

My fiancé, who is a nurse, told me that it wasn’t normal, and I had to go see a doctor. There are always ways to convince yourself that nothing big could be wrong, but my fiancé kept saying “we aren’t going to fool around. Let’s get this checked out.” I went to health services at my school, and they gave me a few tests to try and rule some things out. They gave me a pregnancy test, a STD test, and tested for a kidney infection. Everything came back negative. The physician said she thought maybe my bowels were backed up, so she put me on laxatives, but after a week, I was still in pain, still crying every morning. My body was just not normal.

I went back to health services and they sent me for an ultrasound of my abdomen and pelvis. At that point they found a tumor, which didn’t tell the whole story, but the tumor was large. The doctor said the chances of it being cancer were minimal, and while some people don’t think that cancer can happen to them at 21, I knew better. My cousin, Kerri, had cancer at 25, (read Kerri Paquette’s story) so I knew it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.

I have learned the importance of being persistent and trusting the signs that my body gives me. I ask questions, have health care providers slow down and explain things thoroughly so I understand all that they are saying.

Classes were coming to an end and graduation was fast approaching. I really wanted to focus on that, but I followed up with a gynecologic surgeon at the local hospital. They thought it was either a fibroid or a dermoid, and that my chance of having cancer was 2%. They scheduled surgery for April 2019. The tumor was in my ovary, and rather than risk rupturing it to do the biopsy, they ended up taking out the ovary and the fallopian tube. The biopsy of the tumor revealed Signet Ring Cell Carcinoma, a metastatic cancer, and I began treatment.

In February 2020, I began to notice inflammation in my groin. It hurt to walk, run and was particularly aggravated when I skiied. My primary care physician did an ultrasound, but when the results were sent to my oncologist, he was not concerned. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, my regular colonoscopy in April was canceled, but my symptoms persisted. I was finally able to get a colonoscopy in the summer, and the results were fine. It wasn’t until later in the summer when I went to have my port removed that my oncologist saw the inflammation for the first time and finally was concerned. A biopsy revealed more cancer, and I had surgery in September to remove 13 new cancerous nodes.

I have learned the importance of being persistent and trusting the signs that my body gives me. I ask questions, have health care providers slow down and explain things thoroughly so I understand all that they are saying. I have learned that asking for a second opinion is ok, and that I am my own best advocate.

Symptoms

  • abdominal pain
  • frequent urination
  • lower-back pain