Ovarian cancer: Emma Fitzgerald shares sudden weight gain led to diagnosis

A young student has issued a warning to women after the sudden weight gain she put down to stress turned out to be a sign of potentially deadly ovarian cancer.

Emma Fitzgerald, from Melbourne, began suffering from a string of typically innocuous symptoms – bloating, fatigue, irregular periods, and nausea – in early 2020.   

Working part-time and studying journalism, the then 26-year-old blamed the common ailments on her busy lifestyle. 

But in July when the persistent symptoms transformed into agonising stomach pain, Ms Fitzgerald decided it was time to go to the doctor. 

Emma Fitzgerald, 28, has issued a warning after seemingly innocuous symptoms turned out to be sinister 

She was referred to specialists who discovered her protruding belly was concealing ‘borderline’ ovarian tumours – halfway between benign and malignant – which could have developed into terminal cancer if she had ignored her symptoms any longer.

‘I was in disbelief. It never even crossed my mind that it was a possibility… I was only 26 years old,’ she told 7News. 

‘When my stomach became incredibly bloated, I just thought I was getting fat. I exercised relentlessly for quite a while and I was so frustrated my stomach was getting larger.’

Ms Fitzgerald said her gynaecological oncologist explained borderline tumours are like having a ‘halfway cancer’.

A 13cm tumour was found on her right ovary, a smaller one on her left, and several other little growths were scattered throughout her abdomen. 

The journalism student noticed her abdomen was protruding but dismissed the condition as stress-related

The journalism student noticed her abdomen was protruding but dismissed the condition as stress-related 

She needs to continually monitor her body as she still has abnormal cysts in her abdomen

She needs to continually monitor her body as she still has abnormal cysts in her abdomen 

In August 2020, she underwent a laparotomy to have the two largest tumours, her left ovary, fallopian tube, omentum, and appendix, removed. 

The major operation left the young woman ‘medically infertile’, diminishing the possibility she may later be able to conceive naturally. 

Despite the surgery, Ms Fitzgerald still needs to regularly monitor her body to ensure the ‘abnormal cysts’ in her pelvis do not turn sinister. 

She also suffers from chronic pain, particularly when she ovulates, and has been left with a large scar running from her belly button to her bikini line. 

While Ms Fitzgerald continues to grapple with her new relationship with her body, she feels extremely lucky she was able to freeze seven eggs from her remaining ovary in April last year for when she is ready to have kids. 

She is urging other women to look out for the ‘subtle and easy-to-overlook’ signs of ovarian cancer, which can include abdominal bloating or pain, loss of appetite, frequent urination, unexplained nausea, excessive fatigue, or irregular periods.

‘Looking back there were a lot of signs I didn’t take seriously that I now know are symptoms,’ she said. 

Emma has joined Ovarian Cancer Australia, Coles and Hanes Australasia (Bonds, Bras and Things, Jockey) to help support their new campaign: ‘Take on Cancer in Your Undies’. 

Ovarian cancer is Australia’s deadliest female cancer, with a five-year survival rate of just 48 per cent. In comparison, the five-year survival rate for women with breast cancer is 92 per cent.

All funds raised from the sale of teal undies will go to Ovarian Cancer Australia , allowing us to continue to advocate for people impacted by ovarian cancer, fight for progress and increased awareness, and deliver practical support and counsel to women living with ovarian cancer.


There are often no obvious signs of ovarian cancer, however you may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • abdominal bloating
  • difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • frequent or urgent urination
  • back, abdominal or pelvic pain
  • constipation or diarrhoea
  • menstrual irregularities
  • tiredness
  • indigestion
  • pain during intercourse
  • unexplained weight loss or weight gain.

These symptoms can be caused by other conditions but if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your local doctor.

Source: Cancer Council  

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