When Shannon Menger, 20, started to experience intense stomach pains, her doctor dismissed her symptoms as being caused by an STI.
Shannon, born in Missouri but living in Auckland, New Zealand, began experiencing extreme stomach pains that left her unable to move back in January 2019.
Along with pain that made her unable to move, Shannon also felt exhausted and had irregular periods.
The personal trainer went to see her doctor five times between January and March and was told the issue was likely due to pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection.
By February, Shannon noticed that her stomach felt hard and had a lump under the skin. Again she was dismissed by her doctor, who sent her home with laxatives to treat what they assumed was constipation.
A week after being prescribed laxatives and seeing no improvement, Shannon finally had an ultrasound, which revealed a large mass on her ovary. Blood tests confirmed that she had a stage 3B immature teratoma on her left ovary, a rare cancer that required her to have surgery within hours.
A week later Shannon had to begin chemotherapy, completing four cycles across 12 weeks.
Shannon said: ‘I felt tired for about a month or two before I was diagnosed but I just assumed it was the 5am starts catching up with me. In March, I noticed my stomach felt hard, like there was a lump in it and it was starting to hurt even when walking or moving.
‘I was trying to bulk and put on muscle mass at the time, so when my stomach was getting bigger, I just assumed it was because I was eating more. I thought the tiredness was from being a personal trainer, waking up early and working late. I thought maybe my stomach pains could be a gut health issue or that my body was reacting to me going vegetarian at the time.
‘I went to the doctors at the end of 2018 as my periods were irregular, but then I went back when I started getting the pains. However, they couldn’t figure out what it was, and I went about five times within two months. They thought it could be pregnancy or an STI, so they tested for both and it was neither, so I was sent home.
‘When I went back after noticing my stomach feeling hard, they gave me Tramadol and laxatives, saying it could be constipation. I returned the following week and was finally sent for an ultrasound which was when they saw the lump on my ovary.
‘Everything happened so fast so I wasn’t really thinking about the surgery, however I knew I would make it through, so I wasn’t too worried. I did have a moment before surgery though where I had a small freak out because I’d hoped they could do keyhole surgery rather than open up my stomach and leave me with a huge scar, but the tumour was so big they had to cut me open.’
Shannon had surgery to remove the tumour on 30 March, followed by eight hours of chemotherapy each day for a week.
The treatment made Shannon feel weak and nauseous, but the fitness fan refused to let that hold her back. Just two weeks after completing chemotherapy she was back in the gym, training three times a week.
‘At first it was frustrating to go from lifting more than my body weight to then barely being able to do body weight exercises, but I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t going to get back to where I was if I didn’t put in the work to get there,’ said Shannon.
‘It was important for my mental health to get back into exercise and it’s definitely helped me get my energy back. I’m now two months post chemo and I’m feeling pretty much back to normal apart from my brain being slightly slow.’
Shannon now shares her fitness journey online to show others the power of physical fitness and the impact it can have on your mental wellbeing.
‘I’m now training three times a week for about an hour each time, focusing on strength training,’ she says. ‘I’m a lot less worried about life’s issues now and feeling more positive.
‘I’m currently cancer-free and have monthly blood tests at the hospital as well as scans twice a month to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. I will have a lot of check-ups for the next five years to make sure it’s under control, but so far so good!
‘It’s important to stay positive, regardless what hand you’re dealt because today’s pain will be tomorrow’s strength. There’s always something to be grateful for and you can always find a way out of whatever struggle you’re in.’
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