Wilsonville resident and lifelong Oregonian Jasmin Kim, 26, has managed to come through the forging fires of Millennial adolescence in an enviable fashion. With a degree in economics from Portland State University, Kim works as a public relations professional at a boutique PR firm with an office dog, balancing her work, home life and giving back all while maintaining eyeliner sharp enough to cut. But Kim's trajectory to her current life was almost derailed by a diagnosis.
"I was in school and I was doing all of my classes and I had just had my 24th birthday and I was having some weird abdominal pain, and I thought, 'Oh, it's like gas or constipation or something,' but it just didn't go away," Kim says.
Within a few weeks, Kim says that the pain and increasing bloating made it so that she could no longer ignore the situation.
Checking herself into urgent care, practitioners told Kim that they thought it the pain was stemming from her ovaries. But staff at urgent care were quick to reassure her that it was likely a cyst rather than cancer because of her age.
"They were like, 'It's probably not cancer — since you're so young,'" Kim says.
She underwent surgery to correct the painful mass that had developed and filled with nearly two liters of fluid. Following the surgery, Kim's doctor tested the removed tissue for cancer cells. It was malignant. Kim was diagnosed with germ cell ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer, as the name suggests, occurs when one or more of the three main types of cells that ovaries are made of become cancerous. Each type of cell can develop into a different type of tumor. The most common is epithelial tumors, which start on the outer surface of the ovary; germ cell tumors stem from the cells that produce the eggs (ova); and stromal tumors that start from structural tissue cells that hold the ovary together and produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
In 2017, the American Cancer Association estimates that more than 14,000 women will die from ovarian cancer in the U.S. Even though survival rates are high with early detection, ovarian cancer is the 5th leading cause of cancer-related death in women because 62 percent of women are not diagnosed until after the cancer has metastasized.
"In that moment, you don't even know (what to do) because it's crazy and you're like, 'Oh, am I going to die?' and all these questions that you have never really consider, especially being so young," Kim says. "At the time, the worst thing was thinking, 'I have to drop my classes and I can't work' and just those normal, life things that you can't do. I think that that was the worst initially and then, of course, just getting through it."
After months of treatment, Kim had been in remission since August 2015. But without early detection, Kim acknowledges that her story could have gone differently.
"The symptoms of ovarian cancer are very nebulous and vague and it's very easy to dismiss, like in my case, I wondered if it was constipation," Kim says. "A lot of women get referred to gastrointestinal specialists… since there's no way to screen for it. It's not like a breast exam where you can find a lump."
To help raise awareness, Kim has gotten involved with The Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Oregon and Southwest Washington and its "Trust Your Gut" awareness campaign. The campaign is aimed at familiarizing women with the warning signs of ovarian cancer. Persistent bloating that doesn't fade, feeling unusually full after meals, abdominal or pelvic pain and a strong need to urinate frequently are all signs that something may be wrong.
Although there is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, the American Cancer Association says that knowing the symptoms can save lives.
"Especially for women who are younger, it's usually not on the radar for a lot of doctors because it's pretty rare," Kim says. "(The campaign) isn't to make anyone afraid, but just to make it so that it's on the back of your mind and also for doctors to think of those things… if you have those symptoms."
With World Ovarian Cancer Day coming up May 8, Kim encourages everyone to be mindful of their bodies and to seek out a professional opinion if they're concerned.
"For women who are young or old, don't be afraid to go to the doctor," Kim says. "Even for me, I was like, 'Oh, I'll just dismiss it and wait' and weeks later it finally just got worse. So just be in tune with your body and don't be afraid to go in and see someone and do something about it."