When Jessica Sanders was only 15 years old, she began to have persistent, sharp abdominal pain that made it hard to exercise or even go to the bathroom.
Many times, she had to skip soccer practice or even leave school early altogether because of the terrible pain.
Since she was only a teen, Sanders was quite scared and intimidated by the idea of consulting an OB-GYN.
However, she still made an appointment to find out what was causing all that debilitating pain only to be dismissed by doctors and continue to experience the same nightmare for many years to come.
As it turns out, Sanders was finally diagnosed with cancer after years of being told she was “fine” by the medical experts she went to see.
Now, the San Diego State University student is 21 years old and has decided to share her story with PEOPLE in order to bring more awareness to the gender health gap, encouraging women to advocate for themselves more fiercely.
Sanders recalls that “At first, they’d tell me it was just period cramps, it was hormones, you are pregnant. Another time it was a UTI, it was a bladder infection. A doctor also said that my pants were too tight and not to wear thongs because they were causing me irritation and pain. One of the doctors rubbed me the wrong way when he said that I probably was not wiping myself the right way. The doctors were saying nothing’s wrong with me, so I stopped complaining about it because I was dismissed. I began to feel like I was crazy.”
This went on until Thanksgiving of 2021 when Sanders found herself struggling to even eat breakfast with her family because of the sharp pain.
She went to the emergency room, expecting to be ignored once more.
However, this time around, they finally learned that she had a 17 centimeter cyst on her right ovary and surgery would be required to remove it.
The surgeons discovered for the first time during that same surgery, that Sanders had a liter of blood in her body as the cyst had ruptured.
And that’s not even all! A tumor that was wrapped around her right ovary was also found, and it had to be surgically removed, something the young woman says she is yet to fully process.
After being sent home to recover, she was called to the doctor’s office in December of 2021, only to be told that she had a small cell carcinoma on the other ovary, a very rare and aggressive cancer type.
While this type of cancer is really rare, it affects young women more often than other type of ovarian cancer but is still diagnosed late in most cases, lowering the chances of survival of the patient.
After 6 rounds of grueling chemotherapy, she was finally cancer free in April of last year but the disease has taken a huge toll on her body.
“People need to speak up for themselves and not to be afraid to tell doctors when they are wrong and tell them to keep pushing for answers. This is not just happening to me, it is happening to women all over the world.”
Her experience has even inspired Sanders to create Fight for Female Health, which is an organization that sells T-shirts in order to raise money for the Small Cell Ovarian Cancer Foundation and also start a Tik-Tok account where she raises awareness about ovarian cancer and the importance of early detection.