At an age when most high school students are going off to college or worrying about what they are going to wear to prom, Caitlin Nespoli was faced with a cancer diagnosis.
“I was terrified when I was diagnosed,” said Nespoli. “I was mad. I was too young to have cancer. I had so much more I wanted to do and I was scared I would never be able to fight ovarian cancer.”
A few months before her high school graduation, the 17-year-old Massapequa resident began having severe bloating and pain during her periods which the doctors wrote off as dysmenorrhea, the medical term for painful menstruation, and prescribed her painkillers. Her mother had to push for the doctor to write a script for an ultrasound. A dermoid cyst was found and then removed in April of 2008. After a biopsy was done, the usually benign cyst turned out to be stage 3C dysgerminoma ovarian cancer on her right ovary.
After speaking with many oncologists who wanted to perform a full hysterectomy, Nespoli finally found a doctor who understood her rare type of cancer and would only remove her right ovary. Once her ovary was removed, she had to go through four rounds of chemotherapy from July to November of 2008.
While going through chemotherapy, Nespoli began her college career at Suffolk Community College as a full-time student. Some days she would be so tired from chemotherapy that her mother would have to drive her to school while other days she wasn’t even able to make it to class because of the fatigue. But she kept going. She felt that being able to go to class and get out of the house was what kept her going. Her professors were understanding and her friends and family were supportive.
“My doctor knew I was going to make it through treatments because I always came in with a smile,” said Nespoli. “Even when things got tough I always had a smile on my face. To anyone battling cancer now, keep smiling and you’ll make it through.”
Now in remission for eight years, Nespoli is a licensed acupuncturist, attending the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in New York City to earn her doctorate degree in acupuncture and is starting her own business. She had used acupuncture to get through chemotherapy and wants to help other women do the same. She is now part of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) and Women to Women, an organization that gives women going through cancer a support system.
In 2013, Nespoli was part of a panel of survivors and gave a speech at New York University for Women to Women in hopes of educating others about her experience with ovarian cancer. On Sept. 7, she was asked to light the Nassau County Teal Dome in honor of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Being a part of the NOCC and Women to Women has allowed Nespoli to educate women about ovarian cancer and give others going through cancer a support system. She hopes to spread awareness for ovarian cancer in young women and make them understand that even at the age of 17, a young girl can be diagnosed.
“My hope in sharing my story is to get young women to listen to their bodies and trust their intuition,” said Nespoli. “When you feel like something is wrong, be persistent. You know your body better than anyone else.”
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and the NOCC will be holding a Walk/Run to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer on Sept. 24 at Belmont Lake State Park in West Babylon from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Register and donate at runwalk.ovarian.org/longisland or contact 972-432-6737 for more information.