Queensland woman Alisi Jack Kaufusi was just 24 and working as a flight attendant when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Five years on the 30-year-old – who has now been told her condition is incurable – is shining the spotlight on Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, encouraging women to know their bodies, and not dismiss any abnormal signs or symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is Australia’s deadliest female cancer, with a five-year survival rate of just 49 per cent.
It is estimated that more than 1300 Australians were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2022, at an average age of 66 years old.
Despite her courage, Ms Kaufusi’s illness is now incurable, and she is focusing on completing her personal “bucket list” of experiences, including flying in a fighter jet, a hot-air balloon ride, and volunteering at an animal shelter.
Recently she ticked off horse riding along a beach, thanks to the Hendra Pony Club.
Ms Kaufusi, who is treated at Mater Hospital Brisbane, said the support of her family and the community have helped keep her spirits high as she continues to battle the disease.
Diagnosed in 2017, she has undergone more than 20 rounds of chemotherapy and undergone major surgery to remove the cancer.
Ms Kaufusi said she had ignored symptoms of fatigue, and pelvic pain and bloating, until a month of irregular vaginal bleeding prompted her to see a doctor.
“I ignored what were clearly signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer,” she said. “I was focused on my dream career. I dismissed abnormal bleeding, bloating, pain during intercourse, and I gained weight, but just put it down to my lifestyle.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow. I have been at this for years now and I am scared. After all the treatments I have had, the cancer keeps coming back.”
Mater Hospital Brisbane gynaecological oncologist Dr Naven Chetty has performed multiple major surgeries on Ms Kaufusi.
Dr Chetty said there were no early detection tests for ovarian cancer, and he urged women not to delay seeing a GP if they noticed any changes to their body.
“Things to look out for included changes to bowel habits, bloating, feeling full after small meals, and abdominal distention,” Dr Chetty said.
“Women need to be aware that pap smears don’t diagnose ovarian cancer, that is for cervical cancer.”
Dr Chetty said said Ms Kaufusi was given a five-year survival rate of 50-60 per cent following her diagnosis.
Following her first surgery she endured chemotherapy, but not long after the cancer returned.
“When women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, by the time they find out, 70 per cent have cancer that has spread outside their ovaries,” Dr Chetty said.
“The type of cancer Alisi had is uncommon for someone in their 20s, you tend to see this more in women who are in their 50s and 60s.”
Mater Hospital Brisbane Clinical Nurse Consultant Bronwyn Jennings said a cancer diagnosis was a challenge for any person, but especially so for young women.
“Not only is there the diagnosis itself, but the impacts to image, social identity, intimacy and fertility,” Ms Jennings said.
“This is why multidisciplinary care is incredibly important for people diagnosed with cancer.
“At Mater we have allied health specialists, such as psychology, who are able to work with patients at the time of diagnosis, through treatment and beyond.”