When Alisi Jack Kaufusi was told she would lose her desperate fight against ovarian cancer, she was determined to keep living her dreams.
The Queensland woman was only 24 and working as a flight attendant when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and has spent the last five years bravely fighting the disease.
Despite her courage, her illness is now incurable and Alisi is focusing on completing her personal ‘bucket list’ of experiences, including flying in a fighter jet, a hot air balloon ride and volunteering at an animal shelter.
Recently, she ticked off horse riding along a beach, thanks to the Hendra Pony Club.
Alisi, who is treated at Mater Hospital Brisbane, said the support of her family and the community have helped keep her spirits high as she continues to battle the disease.
Shining the spotlight on Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, the now 30-year-old is encouraging women to know their bodies, and not dismiss any abnormal signs or symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is Australia’s deadliest female cancer, with a five-year survival rate of just 49 per cent.
Diagnosed in 2017, Alisi, who has six siblings, has undergone more than 20 rounds of chemotherapy and undergone major surgery to remove the cancer.
“Since my diagnosis, my life has changed dramatically,” Alisi, of Alexandra Hills, said.
She admitted to ignoring symptoms of fatigue, and pelvic pain and bloating, until a month of irregular vaginal bleeding prompted her to see a doctor.
“I ignored what were clearly signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. I was focussed on my dream career. I dismissed abnormal bleeding, bloating, pain during intercourse, and I gained weight but just put it down to my lifestyle,” Alisi said.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow. I have been at this for years now and I am scared. After all the treatments I have had, the cancer keeps coming back.”
Adopted out by her biological parents to her aunty and uncle who struggled to have children, Alisi said the cancer was in both her ovaries, peritoneum, outside the walls of her bowel, and had spread to her spleen over time.
“It has spread to areas around my kidney, pelvic area and now it’s in lymph nodes and neck area, and my bowel,” she said.
“Being diagnosed during the prime of my life has taken a toll on me physically and mentally but I will not give up. I want to live, and I am willing to try anything and everything to have more time on this earth.”
Describing herself as a “social butterfly” before her cancer diagnosis, Alisi said she was happy and loved living life.
Mater Hospital Brisbane gynaecological oncologist Dr Naven Chetty has performed multiple major surgeries on Alisi, including a bowel resection, hysterectomy and removal of her spleen and lymph glands.
“I had to remove any cancer I could see and feel to try and get the best outcome for Alisi,” Dr Chetty said.
Dr Chetty said following Alisi’s first surgery she endured chemotherapy, but not long after the cancer returned.
“Alisi has tackled the disease with lots of courage, which is a big deal for someone in their early twenties. She has had great support from her family, and she has tolerated lots of treatment with a positive attitude.”
He said Alisi was given a five-year survival rate of 50-60 per cent following her diagnosis.
“When women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, by the time they find out, 70 per cent have cancer that has spread outside their ovaries,” Dr Chetty said.
“The type of cancer Alisi had is uncommon for someone in their 20s, you tend to see this more in women who are in their 50s and 60s.”
Dr Chetty said no early detection tests for ovarian cancer were available and urged women not to delay seeing a GP if they noticed any changes to their body.
“Things to look out for included changes to bowel habits, bloating, feeling full after small meals, and abdominal distention,” Dr Chetty said.
“Women need to be aware that pap smears don’t diagnose ovarian cancer, that is for cervical cancer.”
Mater Hospital Brisbane Clinical Nurse Consultant Bronwyn Jennings said a cancer diagnosis was a challenge for any person, but especially so for young women.
“Not only is there the diagnosis itself, but the impacts to image, social identity, intimacy and fertility,” Ms Jennings said.
“Devastatingly when Alisi was diagnosed with her cancer, she was also told that she could never have children herself.
“This is why multidisciplinary care is incredibly important for people diagnosed with cancer. At Mater we have allied health specialists, such as psychology, who are able to work with patients at the time of diagnosis, through treatment and beyond.”
Ms Jennings said Alisi had recommenced chemotherapy, with the hope that the treatment will slow or halt the progression of her disease.