Elly Mayday knew there was something really wrong – she had severe, persistent lower back pain that was powerful enough to send her to the emergency room four times.
But doctors sent the plus-size model away with pain killers and told her there was nothing to worry about.
Doctors also suggested her weight was to blame and told her to exercise more. “The doctor told me to work out my core,” Mayday, 27, tells PEOPLE.
“We’re undermined being younger, being women,” the model says. “I started to realize no one is going to help me unless I help myself.”
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Mayday continued to ask questions and demand better care. Finally, CT scans revealed an ovarian cyst, but doctors were still not alarmed, so she figured everything was okay.
“I didn’t think about it being cancer until about an hour before [the biopsy],” the Canadian says.
The biopsy revealed a rare form of ovarian cancer called low grade serous carcinoma, and Mayday immediately started treatment. She underwent a hysterectomy and three months of chemotherapy, as well as a nine-hour surgery to remove tumors. And she had a procedure just two months ago to remove a small remaining mass.
Mayday feels good now but says she takes it day by day. “I don’t refer to myself as [cancer free],” she says, but “I’m as good as I can be.”
The chemotherapy and stress caused the model to lose weight, and Mayday found herself once again being judged for her size – people on social media body shamed her for being too thin.
“I dropped 60 lbs. in total and got down to 120 lbs.,” she says of her time on chemotherapy. “Those people weren’t really my fans. People are quick to judge or quick to say what’s on the tip of their tongue without thinking about the person behind it. But it really didn’t bother me too much.”
Mayday is tough – she did photoshoots while she was still in treatment and bald from the chemotherapy. She attributes her strength, at least in part, to her family. “I have three brothers, so I really had to stand up for myself,” she says with a laugh.
“I’ve always been the kind of person who does what she wants,” says Mayday. “I wanted to keep pursuing my dream, I didn’t want anything to get in the way, even cancer.”