When friends and doctors suspected Abi Cresswell was pregnant, she was certain she wasn’t.
But what she didn’t know was her bloated stomach was carrying a 2.2kg ‘beach ball shaped’ tumour.
The 21-year-old had gone through six months of extreme and unpredictable pain, sometimes unable to get out of bed, unable to sleep at night and having to miss some of her university dance classes.
Abi said medics initially couldn’t get to the bottom of what was wrong with her – repeatedly sending her for pregnancy tests because her stomach was ‘huge’.
But after the pain worsened to the point she could barely walk, Abi was rushed to A&E and doctors were able to see a mass inside her through scans.
Abi, from Norwich, was given the shock diagnosis of germ cell ovarian cancer , a rare type of the disease.
She had to have her tumour surgically removed, which had grown to 2.2kg.
“My stomach probably did look like I was pregnant, it looked like a ball shape,” Abi said, speaking to Mirror.co.uk.
“Even my friends thought I was pregnant at one point.”
She said she went through about six months of pain before her diagnosis, recalling: “All those months GPs would say ‘try this, try that,’ or they didn’t think it was anything, or they would give me pregnancy tests, or ibuprofen for pain relief.
“You know your own body and I knew it wasn’t a normal stomach pain, I knew there was something else there.
“The pregnancy tests were because my stomach was so big.
“They were seeing my stomach and thinking I was pregnant – at least two doctors thought that.
“I knew I wasn’t pregnant.
“I would say (to doctors) I’m pretty confident I’m not (pregnant).”
Abi said she’d ask ‘is there anything else it could be?’
But she claims medics would reply ‘let’s see how the pregnancy tests go’.
The discomfort began in mid December 2017 when Abi was 19, and initially she described feeling ‘regular stomach pains’.
At the time she was at university in Bedfordshire studying dance, but because the stomach pain became so bad she had to miss some classes.
“Sometimes the pain was so bad I couldn’t do anything,” she said.
“At times it was a sharp sudden pain in my stomach, and it was really hard to predict.
“Sometimes it would go for a few days, but then it would flare up again.”
Abi says she went to the doctors who referred her to hospital where she had an ultrasound in February 2018.
She claims she received a letter following the scan which told her she had a benign cyst at the bottom right of her abdomen area which would be surgically removed, and was booked in for assessment in May.
“I’d never had an operation before so I didn’t know how it was going to go but at that point I was happy it was benign,” Abi said.
“The pain was so bad I just wanted it to be over, I wanted to not feel any more pain.”
Speaking of her agony before the operation, Abi said: “Between December to July – most days I was in pain. It would be hard to sleep, I’d be waking up most of the night.
“It was affecting my day to day life.
“The pressure was building on my bladder and I was going to the toilet all the time.
“When I went out I would have to know where the nearest toilet was.
“My partner David (Johnson) could see I was in constant pain and he hated seeing it.
“I was frustrated and just wanted the operation because I just wanted it all to be over.”
Abi says that before she had the operation, she found herself in so much pain one day that she could hardly walk so her mum Sarah took her to A&E.
At A&E she was given morphine, recalling “they saw my stomach was quite big”.
“They looked at test results from a (previous) scan and could see a mass which was making it (her stomach) large,” she said.
Abi says she was told she would need to be operated on as soon as possible.
The following day she saw a consultant and her operation was booked in for five days later.
Abi said: “The consultant said they didn’t know exactly what they were dealing with until they looked into my stomach.
“We were on edge because we didn’t know how it would turn out.
“But I’m a positive thinker and was just hoping it wouldn’t be anything bad.”
She continued: “After the operation a surgeon said they had removed a 2.2kg mass from my stomach.
“I remember seeing a picture and it was like a beach ball.
“I was glad it was out and hoped I would not be in as much pain.”
Abi said samples from her tumour had to be sent away for testing.
A week later, that July, the hospital phoned her mum to tell say her daughter had germ cell ovarian cancer.
“Mum was crying straight away,” Abi said.
She said her first thought was to call her partner David, knowing he would be worried sick.
Symptoms of germ cell ovarian cancer
According to the Macmillan cancer charity, the symptoms include:
- pain or a feeling of pressure in the pelvis or tummy
- a feeling of fullness or gradual swelling of the tummy
- irregular periods or signs of pregnancy
- high temperatures (fevers), chills, feeling or being sick and pain in the abdomen.
Abi admitted the thought had been in the back of her mind that it could have been cancer but said she always tries to be a positive person.
“It was shocking, you don’t know how it affects you until it’s you,” she said.
“But doctors told me I would be OK.
“They had told my mum it was 90 percent curable.
“It could have been a worse scenario.”
Within a week, Abi said she was seeing a consultant about starting treatment.
And in August last year, she began chemotherapy.
She would go on to have four cycles each lasting five days, with two weeks separating the cycles.
During treatment she says she was sometimes nauseous, suffered fatigue, and was in bed most of the time.
She lost her appetite, became underweight and suffered hair loss.
“It would come out in clumps and in the end I got someone to shave it off,” she told.
“When I was told I’d lose my hair, that’s the thing I cried about.
“I didn’t cry when they told me I had cancer, but I cried when I lost my hair.
“I was scared beforehand but when it happened it was OK.”
While having treatment, Abi’s mum would stay with her in hospital and then help her at home afterwards.
“She would help me get in the shower because I was weak and she’d help me get dressed,” Abi said.
“She was doing most things for me.”
Sarah left her job from August until November as a home carer to look after her own daughter. They had to use food banks but Abi said it helped them.
Abi’s last chemotherapy session was on October 15 and by the end of that month on October 22, following scans, she got the ‘all clear’.
“I was happy, but more relieved,” she said.
“My message to others is don’t doubt yourself or your body.
“Go with your gut even if doctors tell you one thing.”
For more information about CLIC Sargent’s work, and to sign up to be a campaigner to help more families like Abi’s, click here .