For months, 15-year-old Peyton Linafelter was in limbo, unsure of why her body was filled with ovarian cysts. And then, on her 16th birthday, the teen learned that she had stage 4 ovarian cancer, a disease that typically affects women in their 60s.
“I was just in pure shock,” Linafelter, now 17, tells PEOPLE of learning her diagnosis. “I was just stunned. I was thinking that it wasn’t right.”
Now in remission, the high school student from Denver, Colorado is one of the youngest ever to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her case is so unlikely that it took multiple trips to the doctor to determine her illness.
“There was definitely confusion because I don’t fit the typical profile of an ovarian cancer patient,” Linafelter says. “And that’s why the doctors didn’t really think it was cancer.”
Along with her shock, says Linafelter, she felt a sense of relief when the doctors gave her a diagnosis, since she finally had an explanation for her pain.
“In the months leading up to my diagnosis, I looked like I was four months pregnant, because of all the bloating from my tumors,” she says. “I didn’t really go to school very much because I was sleeping until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. And when I did wake up early enough to go to school, I was just in too much pain.”
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Two days after her diagnosis, Linafelter started on heavy-duty chemotherapy drugs. But then one of her lungs collapsed after the tumors caused it to fill with liquid. After six weeks in the hospital, on July 5, Linafelter underwent surgery to clear the tumors from her body.
“From there I was doing a lot of physical therapy to regain my body mass, because I was 84 lbs.” she says. “So I was trying to get back into movement — and back into a real life.”
In December, Linafelter was declared cancer-free.
“It’s a huge relief,” she says. “It was probably one of the most amazing things I was told.”
Linafelter’s doctor calls her an inspiration. “Peyton has fought her cancer with a courage of someone literally four times her age,” says Saketh Guntupalli, the gynecologic oncologist at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. “She shows a strength and willpower that is rare in someone so young.”
Linafelter still takes chemo drugs — but a lighter dose — and has frequent checkups, since ovarian cancer is one of the most likely cancers to return within five years. But she’s been able to go back to school, and she’s modeling, which she started doing before her diagnosis. Linafelter even got to fly to the set of the upcoming movie Life in a Year, thanks to Cara Delevingne.
“In doing her research about what the story is about, Cara stumbled across me,” Linafelter explains. “I got to see Jaden Smith and Cara on set, and hang out with them between takes.”
Now Linafelter is sharing her story to help others. She was even the focus of a commercial for the hospital’s health care system, UCHealth, that aired during the Academy Awards.
“I was misdiagnosed a couple times, and if another person was to get misdiagnosed they might never go into the hospital, just because they would think it would go away.”