‘Don't ignore your body': Teacher diagnosed with ovarian cancer at young age shares story

Kerstin Cholewin was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer at age 36

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A middle school teacher from Libertyville is speaking out about her ovarian cancer diagnosis at age 36 to help inform other young women about what symptoms to look out for.

“There are like 32-plus types of ovarian cancer, and the one that I have is one of the more rare types. I had not heard of it at all,” said Kerstin Cholewin, now 38.

That stunning diagnosis, stage 3c low-grade serous ovarian cancer, came after Cholewin experienced symptoms that triggered a check-up.

In addition to intense bloating and an irregular menstrual cycle, Cholewin said she would feel full when she hadn’t even eaten much.

“I knew my body well enough to know that something was wrong,” Cholewin said.

Those symptoms can often be misdiagnosed, especially in younger women, according to Dr. Alok Pant, a gynecological oncologist at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital.

“Bloating, changes in appetite, changes in bowel function are pretty vague, pretty nonspecific symptoms that everybody has from time to time,” Pant said. “It's usually persistent symptoms that go on for a while that ultimately result in some kind of imaging study where we usually discover findings that are concerning for a cancer.”

Unlike a mammogram for breast cancer, there is no early screening test for ovarian cancer.

“As of right now, unfortunately, there is no good screening test. There are protocols being devised where an annual ultrasound along with bloodwork, but the exact specific combination has not been nailed down,” Pant said.

That’s why Cholewin is glad she followed her instinct and got checked.

“Don't ignore your body. It's so important to know how your body works, what it feels like normally, and then don't wait,” Cholewin said.

“From a risk reduction standpoint, knowing your family history is extremely important,” Pant added.

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