21-Year-Old Woman Diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer After Years of Doctors Dismissing Her Pain

“I know there’s something else wrong with my body,” Jessie Sanders, 21, told doctors after her abdominal pain was continuously dismissed as period cramps

Jessie Sanders was 15 when she first started experiencing sharp abdominal pain, and after six years of being dismissed by doctors, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

The San Diego State University student, now 21, opened up to Today about her years of pain before the diagnosis. When the pain began, Sanders said her OB-GYN told her to try birth control and that her body was simply going through changes.

This started years of doctors visits where her pain was continuously dismissed as period cramps.

"I thought I was crazy having these pains [because] doctors always [dismissed] my pain," she told the outlet.

"I was always so frustrated because the thing that doctors always assume is you're pregnant or it's just hormones or it's your menstrual cycle," Sanders said. "And I'm just like, 'No, it's not. I know there's something else wrong with my body.'"

Jessica Sanders
Jessica Sanders. Courtesy Jessica Sanders

In her junior year of college, Sanders said the pain was so severe that she went to the hospital again, hoping her symptoms wouldn't be dismissed yet again. When she got to Kaiser Zion Medical Center in San Diego shortly after Thanksgiving 2021, she was told that she had a 17-centimeter cyst on her right ovary.

Doctors rushed Sanders into surgery and the cyst and her right ovary were removed. A week later, her surgeon told her that she had small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type — a very rare, aggressive form of cancer.

Dr. Kathleen Schmeler, executive director of global health at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, told Today that Sanders' type of ovarian cancer affects younger women than more common types of ovarian cancer, but most people are diagnosed late.

Jessica Sanders
Courtesy Jessica Sanders

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

"Most of the time, people don't think it's necessarily cancer because the women are so young," Schmeler told the outlet. "No one does a lot of testing because they're so young, and it's so unlikely that they would have ovarian cancer."

Sanders ultimately went through six rounds of chemotherapy and a three-week long bone marrow transplant, which was extremely hard on her body.

"It was just really hard because I'm 20 years old, and I'm on social media, trying to pass the time, and I'd see my friends are traveling, or they're out practicing and doing normal things that I should be doing," she admitted.

Jessica Sanders
Courtesy Jessica Sanders

While going through treatment, Sanders decided to share her story on TikTok and was met with hundreds of comments from women who also had their symptoms dismissed.

"I'm so frustrated for myself and for other women," she told Today. "I don't want them to have their health care dismissed. I just need to get the word out. I want other people to be inspired to just advocate for themselves."

Sanders' experience inspired her to launch Fight for Female Health, an organization that sells T-shirts and sweatshirts to raise money for the Small Cell Ovarian Cancer Foundation. She uses her platform to raise awareness about early detection and the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

"It's really important for all women to know their bodies and when something's not right, and if it's not right, then to see a health care provider and ... if they feel like they're being dismissed, to change to someone else," Sanders said. "Nobody should be dismissing patients, not looking into whatever was causing (me) to have all those symptoms. Clearly something wasn't right."

Related Articles