A teenager who undertook intense dieting and exercise after gaining two stone in seven months was later diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Charlie McGregor, from St.Albans, was a slim 9st 7lbs up until her 17th birthday in May 2016, when her weight suddenly shot-up to more than 11st – taking her from a size 8 to a size 12.
The hairdresser was told by her GP to get fitter – but, when she started to suffer crippling stomach pains in February 2017, she was rushed to hospital.
Six hours later, surgeons had removed her left ovary along with a 11 x 24 inch ruptured tumour, which nearly killed her.
‘I was completely numb. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t laugh, I didn’t know what to do. I just kept thinking “I’m too young to have cancer”, she said.
Seven rounds of gruelling chemotherapy followed – causing her to lose all her hair – but, despite this, she still developed a second tumour on her right ovary.
Fortunately, that was removed and her remaining ovary was left in tact.
Now cancer-free, she’s fighting fit and warning others to be aware of the disease’s symptoms.
Victim: Charlie McGregor, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, had no idea she’d developed cancer
Life-saving: The teenager pictured having chemotherapy after the emergency surgery
‘As soon as I turned 17 I started getting bigger. I just thought I was putting on a lot of weight,’ she said.
‘I started dieting and going to the gym. I tried everything to get it off but I just kept getting bigger. It wasn’t just my stomach that was swollen. My arms and legs were getting bigger too. I felt really self-conscious about it.
‘All my friends were going out and looked great but I couldn’t because none of my clothes fit anymore. I felt awful.
‘One night I was lying in bed and was in so much pain I couldn’t move. I knew something wasn’t right.
‘We went to the hospital and they did blood tests. They told me they were certain it was appendicitis.
‘I went to sleep expecting to lose my appendix and I woke up six hours later to be told I’d lost my ovary and a germ-cell tumour. They told me it was the size of a rugby ball.’
Before and after: Charlie pictured with the protruding mass (L) and after its removal (R)
Loss: The hairdresser endured seven rounds of treatment, which caused her hair to fall out
Fighting the battle: The teenager was stunned to be struck by the disease at such a young age
Ms McGregor’s bloating was caused due to fluid filling her abdomen and limbs as her immune system attempted to fight the tumour.
The heartbroken teen was quickly taken for intensive emergency chemotherapy, with her enduring six more rounds of the treatment over the next seven months.
Before her diagnosis, Ms McGregor prided herself on her hip-length dark hair and felt certain she was going to die when it all fell out.
She said: ‘I think I was in denial until I started going through chemo and all my hair fell out. My hair had been such a comfort blanket for me. I was so proud of it so losing it was awful.
‘The chemo made me really sick. I could barely eat and anything I did managed would just come back up again. I went down to about 7 stone.
‘I remember one day I just looked in the mirror and thought “who is that?”. There was just this skinny, bald, weak girl staring back at me.’
Saddened: Before her diagnosis, Ms McGregor prided herself on her hip-length dark hair
Growing back: Eventually, after the final chemotherapy treatment, Charlie’s hair grew back
Family ties: Mum Sue McGregor, 46, ran the race for life with her brave daughter, Charlie (R)
She added: ‘You don’t feel ill until you look ill. Seeing myself like that without any of my hair, it finally hit me that I had cancer and I was convinced I was going to die.
‘If I wanted to go out I had to be in a wheelchair because I was too weak to walk around.
‘I had been doing my hairdressing apprenticeship when I got my diagnosis. I was really getting into it and I was loving it but my mum had to call them and tell them I couldn’t come in anymore.
CAN OVARIAN CANCER AFFECT BABIES AND YOUNG GIRLS?
Ovarian cancer can affect babies, young girls and teenagers in one or both of their ovaries.
These account for one percent of all tumours in girls between birth and 17 years old.
In girls under eight, four in five ovarian tumours are non-cancerous.
In children, ovarian tumours have a much higher cure rate than adult forms of the disease.
Symptoms may include:
- Pressure, pain or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen
- Frequent urination or being unable to do so
- Nausea and vomiting
Ovarian tumours in girls under eight may cause them to release oestrogen, leading to breast growth, pubic hair and vaginal discharge or bleeding.
In many cases the cause of the tumour is unclear but may be related to genetic mutations or a family history of the disease.
Treatment depends on the tumour’s size and whether it affects the ovaries’ surface, or cells that produce eggs or hormones.
Surgery is usually required to remove the tumour. Chemo and radiotherapy may also be necessary.
Patients may also have to have their ovaries removed.
Source: Dana-Farber Boston Children’s
‘At first I would spend every day practising on my doll’s head ready for when I would go back. But after my hair fell out I just stopped because I was so sure I wasn’t going to make it.’
Ms McGregor, who lives at home with her mother, father Gary McGregor, 47, and brother Sam McGregor, 20, said one of the hardest parts of her cancer battle was watching it’s impact on her family.
She said: ‘Getting a cancer diagnosis it devastating. It’s not something you ever expect to go through, especially not at 17. I always thought cancer was something that happened to old people.
‘But the hardest part of it all was seeing how much it upset my family and watching them try to be strong for me.
‘I would hear them go into the bathroom and cry and then they would come out and pretend to be completely fine. It was awful.’
After the tumour spread to her right ovary, Ms McGregor underwent a second surgery in July 2017, which removed all the remaining cancerous cells.
Now cancer free, she is speaking out to raise awareness of the disease’s symptoms.
‘All I wanted while I was going through all the chemo and surgeries was to be normal.
‘I was watching all my friends turning 18 and going out for drinks for the first time, going on holiday together for the first time and I couldn’t do any of that.
‘My 18th birthday was in the May and I had been so looking forward to it but instead I was in hospital having chemo.
‘Going in for my second surgery was so scary. They warned me that they might have to take my right ovary too.
‘Because the chemo had killed all my eggs, I couldn’t even have any frozen so suddenly at 17 I was faced with the terrifying prospect of never being able to have children. It was awful.
‘But the surgery went really well, they said it was a complete success and I was able to keep my ovary.
‘When they told me there was no evidence of any more cancer, I can’t even describe how amazing it was. It was like I got my life back.
‘I was going to get my hair back and look normal and be able to do all the normal things that someone my age should be doing.
‘When they told me there was no evidence of any more cancer, I can’t even describe how amazing it was. It was like I got my life back,’ she said
Near miss: Charlie has urged other young women to demand tests which could save them
‘I want to use my time to raise awareness for other people too. I want people to know that if they think something is wrong then they should go to the doctor and push and push until they do tests.
‘And if your doctor won’t do the tests then go to the hospital and push them. If I hadn’t gone to the hospital when I did then I would have died.
‘I never thought I would get cancer but it can happen to teenagers, new-born babies, anybody. It happens in so many different families that everyone has been touched by it in some way.
‘So if you feel like something’s wrong, go and get it checked. You can never be too safe.’