Kayla Newland was just 23 when she visited a doctor last November for pain around her vulva.
It was months before doctors realized her pain was a symptom of the cancer, which affects only 420 Australian women each year.
“I was just going about my life and everything turned upside down for us,” she told NCA NewsWire.
This week in particular has been tumultuous.
Now the 24-year-old is set to walk down the aisle on Saturday in a small ceremony in her grandfather’s backyard.
It will be just family and bridal party in an intimate celebration as she marries her partner of five years, Nick Barville.
“We thought it would be nice to get married before I lost my hair and all that fun stuff,” she said.
It’s certainly not how they envisioned their big day, but Ms Newland said a big wedding was no longer a priority after her diagnosis.
Nausea from her latest chemotherapy treatment, which she started this week, has plagued her for days.
Her cancer is now stage 3 and is considered incurable, meaning it is not behaving the way normal vulvar cancer should behave. It started to spread to her lungs and thighs.
Doctors at King Edward Memorial Hospital are using a treatment program that is most commonly used to treat cervical cancer. Because vulvar cancer is so rare and understudied, they can only guess how Ms. Newland will react.
The rarity of her cancer is also why it took so long for doctors to diagnose her.
“They pretty much ruled out everything else before we got to cancer as an option because they thought all those things made more sense than it being cancer,” Ms Newland said.
The therapist prescribed her a steroid cream, then the gynecologist prescribed antibiotics.
What started as a dull ache in November has steadily progressed to a more stabbing constant pain in my vulva.
“I felt something was wrong,” Ms Newland said.
It wasn’t until January, when the pain became unbearable and her family took her to the emergency room, that a biopsy revealed life-changing news.
Vulvar cancer is not common – only around 420 women are diagnosed with vulvar cancer each year in Australia, according to the Cancer Council.
It most commonly affects postmenopausal women, but the incidence of vulvar cancer in women under the age of 60 has increased in recent years.
In February, Ms. Newland underwent major surgery to remove the cancer.
Doctors discovered that the cancer had spread through her lymph nodes, so the decision was made to have pelvic radiation.
“My ovaries were in the line of fire,” Ms Newland said.
She and Mr Barville then had to make a decision that most people their age don’t usually think about – whether they want children.
“It was very confronting because at that age it’s not a conversation you can have in depth,” Ms Newland said.
“Then suddenly you have to make decisions about how many eggs is an acceptable number for us? Do we want to freeze eggs? Do we want to freeze embryos?’
Fortunately, egg retrieval that is considered medically necessary is covered by Medicare.
On the other hand, the cost of chemotherapy and immunotherapy is not yet covered by Medicare due to the rare nature of vulvar cancer.
A friend of the Newland family has set up a GoFundMe to raise money to help cover the cost of Ms Newland’s medical bills. More than 57 thousand dollars have already been collected.
The words of support shared on the fundraising page show how much she is truly loved.
“You don’t come across many 24-year-olds as kind, caring, considerate and loyal as Kayla,” Jackie Norman wrote on Facebook.
“Kyla has always helped raise funds for charity as long as we’ve known her, such a beautiful caring soul,” said Billie Gladow.
“She is one of the most loving, caring, kind people I know, who would do anything to help others,” Sophie Binning said.
At 24, Ms. Newland appears unwaveringly calm and optimistic about the uphill battle ahead.
September is Gynecological Awareness Month, and she hopes her story can encourage young women to seek help when they’re in pain.
“I would say you know your body better than anyone, so don’t take no for an answer,” she said.
“Go check it out, because even if it’s nothing, at least you’ll have the peace of mind that you checked.
“Even if you’re young, you’re unfortunately not bulletproof.”