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Woman, 23, diagnosed with cancer after thinking she was bloated with irritable bowel syndrome

Woman, 23, diagnosed with cancer after thinking she was bloated with irritable bowel syndrome

A woman was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 23 after wrongly putting down her bloating and other symptoms to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or food allergies.

Emma Colledge, from Durham, was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in September 2022 after scans showed she had a 30-centimetre cyst.

Emma Colledge was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 23 after she put down her bloating and other symptoms to IBS or food allergies (Supplied)
Emma Colledge was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 23 after she put down her bloating and other symptoms to IBS or food allergies (Supplied)

The prison worker now wants to raise awareness for lesser-known cancer symptoms in younger people after attributing her symptoms down to digestive issues.

Her symptoms began in March 2022 when she began a new job in a prison. While she was carrying out restraint training, she felt a ball in her stomach while lying on the floor which felt like “lying on a watermelon”.

Emma Colledge, from Durham, was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in September 2022 after scans showed she had a 30-centimeter cyst (Supplied)
Emma Colledge, from Durham, was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in September 2022 after scans showed she had a 30-centimeter cyst (Supplied)

“I then started going to the toilet more. I was thinking that maybe it’s not IBS but something else, like eating lots of salty food,” the now 24-year-old said.

After scouring the internet for answers, Ms Colledge still didn’t consider the possibility of ovarian cancer after she saw it was mainly found in people over the age of 50.

As well as IBS, Ms Colledge took several pregnancy tests due to how bloated she became - which is another symptom of ovarian cancer.

She said: “I went to the doctors in the May and they told me I was pregnant. I knew I wasn’t and the test confirmed that.

“It got to the point where I’d eat two mouthfuls of food and I was full, nearly being sick.”

As well as IBS, Ms Colledge believed she could have been pregnant due to how bloated she became (Supplied)
As well as IBS, Ms Colledge believed she could have been pregnant due to how bloated she became (Supplied)

She eventually had a doctor’s appointment in September and was referred to hospital due to the severity of her pain.

The cyst was found during an ultrasound.

“At first, they thought it was just a cyst but then the doctors asked my mam to come in because there had been some complications on the scan,” she said. “When the doctors did the CT scan, they saw all of the cancer.

“It had spread to my stomach and the stomach lining. The cyst was so big that they couldn’t see anything else because it had started crushing my kidneys.”

“I thought I was too young to get ovarian cancer. It’s not common. But it was.

“The doctors sat me in a room, and my first question was: ‘Am I going to die?’ and they told me I wasn’t.”

Two months after her operation, Emma had six rounds of chemotherapy at the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at the Freeman Hospital (Supplied)
Two months after her operation, Emma had six rounds of chemotherapy at the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at the Freeman Hospital (Supplied)

She added: “When I was first diagnosed, I was questioning whether I’d make it to my 24th birthday, or if I’d die tomorrow because at that time, I didn’t know what stage my cancer was at.

Ms Colledge went on to have a five-and-a-half-hour operation to remove the cyst and the attached ovary.

She then had a second nine-and-a-half-hour operation in which she had a full hysterectomy, her appendix and spleen removed, some of her bowel removed and laser treatment.

She has also had a temporary stoma.

Emma had a temporary stoma while undergoing treatment (Supplied)
Emma had a temporary stoma while undergoing treatment (Supplied)

Two months after her operation, Emma had six rounds of chemotherapy at the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

“Having the support from Teenage Cancer Trust has made a huge difference and they are amazing. When I was told I was having chemo, I just imagined it being like you see on the TV - all the old people sat there in peace and quiet,” she said.

“I’m quite a loud person so when I went to the Teenage Cancer Trust unit, I met loads of friends who are my age, who I still speak to now.”

Emma had her last chemotherapy treatment in April 2023 and scans showed that there was no evidence of cancer.