Losing My Little Sister To Ovarian Cancer

In Blog, News, Our Stories by hollyops

At age 21, my little sister was diagnosed with low-grade serous ovarian cancer, after 6 years of continuous treatment she passed away at age 27. As the dust settles, and we are now three years since her passing, it becomes even more clear how much we have all lost by not having her in our lives. I always pictured growing old with Kristen. Our lives were meant to run alongside each other in unison. As time passes, it hurts to think of the precious memories and adventures she continues to miss out on. Her memory and love is very much alive within myself and her loved-ones, however I ache to laugh at her witty jokes again or just sit together watching the sun set. Within our family and our friendships, these past years have borne witness to birthdays, weddings, births, and travel and at each and every one of these I think to myself how I wish Kristen was here. Kristen left behind her beloved dogs, Henry and Harriet, who continue to miss their mum so much.

Kristen and I were always the very best of friends, we would finish each other’s sentences, we did everything together, including moving to London. Kristen was always spirited and loved living a full life. She lived by the quote “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough”. Kristen was my everything, and I would do anything to protect her.

Through Kristen’s treatment, I watched in awe how she managed to turn the darkest of times into something positive and to help others. I have witnessed people respond to terminal illness in different ways. Some people become angry. Some people become scared. Some people become quiet. Some people lose something of themselves.

But Kristen sought hope, she became the voice for survivors and found something incredible within herself to make a difference.

Kristen did all of this knowing that she could not expect to recover and get on with her life. Instead of letting her diagnosis defeat her, Kristen used her experiences as motivation to inspire change. I couldn’t believe her selflessness, strength, resilience and her determination. It was really incredible to stand by her side throughout the past 6 years and watch as her advocacy efforts flourished.

Kristen’s diagnosis came as a complete shock to us. We, like most people, knew very little about Ovarian Cancer and assumed that the Cervical Screening Test (Pap Smear) would cover us for the early detection of all gynaecological cancers. Surely it could detect if something else was wrong there- like Ovarian Cancer? No it can’t.

Kristen’s symptoms were fatigue, occasional belly aches, feeling bloated and feeling full after she ate. Kristen said “I never assumed that such subtle symptoms could be associated with such a serious diagnosis”. These symptoms led to Kristen being told that she had Stage 3 Low-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer that had spread well past her womb, and up throughout her large bowl, to her diaphragm and alongside her liver.

Kristen survived 6 years with this disease, enduring multiple surgeries and continuous treatment regimes including chemotherapy and clinical trials for targeted therapies. It was so incredibly unfair. Kristen did all the “right” things any 21 year old should be doing. She ate healthy (mostly vegetarian), she exercised most days, didn’t smoke, had a regular family GP and did all the usual recommended check-ups. We didn’t even have any family history of cancer, nor any identifiable genetic mutations. It made me realise we don’t have complete control of what happens inside of our bodies, despite our best efforts and that cancer really can happen to anyone.

But why did it have to happen to Kristen?

To her final day, I never ever saw her complain, or ask “why me”. She didn’t indulge in mourning the things that she would miss out on or things that cancer robbed her of. She focused on what experiences she could have and made it happen. Kristen said “life is not guaranteed for any of us, so live fearlessly”. I followed Kristen’s lead, she knew time was short, so she was determined to make her time here on earth count and mean something.

She truly believed in the beauty in life. She said “the pain, the fear, the sickness will be overwhelming at times, but never stop holding onto hope. Hold on tight, because life is worth it”.

As Kristen’s caregiver, it meant I got to spend every day with my best friend. Kristen’s cancer diagnosis really taught me about what is important in life, and how time really is precious and to really be purposeful with it. I feel so lucky to have been there for Kristen and that we got to do everything together.

Through Kristen sharing her story publicly through the media and public speaking, the impact she has had is immeasurable. Kristen said “It is really good to be able to give back and hope that my story can help others, because no one should suffer the way that I have”.

By Elsa Larsen