'My 15-year-old daughter's 'baby bump' killed her'

"A netball coach asked if my little girl was pregnant. The truth was so much worse."

Dear Giovanna,

My sweet, bubbly girl.

A typical teen, your hair had to be perfect, or there’d be hell to pay!

But even at 14 you were so generous, Giovanna.

Your dad, Fred, and I had always taught you and your little brother, Nando, then 12, to be kind and that there was no greater gift than to give.

That Christmas, you loved picking the perfect pressie for your loved ones.

"You’re right, Mum – it is better to give than receive," you told me.

She was kind from the very beginning. Image: Supplied

She was kind from the very beginning. Image: Supplied

Then the following May, I was waiting for you to finish netball training when your coach came over.

"Is Giovanna pregnant?" she asked, awkwardly.

What the hell? She’s only a kid! I fumed inwardly.

Watching you on the court though, your belly did jut out noticeably under your top.

You’d always had a little pot belly...

But you’d been so tired recently too. I’d put it down to you being busy at school.

Your typical fun-loving teenage girl. Image: Supplied

Your typical fun-loving teenage girl. Image: Supplied

Remember that discipline is not punishment. Enforcing limits is really about teaching kids how to behave in the world and helping them to become competent, caring, and in control.

You were my world, Giovanna. How could I not have noticed?

"Darling, can Mummy feel your belly?"

I asked gently that night.

Putting my hands on your stomach, it felt like a five-month baby bump and hard as a rock.

Could you really be pregnant? I fretted, imagining the worst. What if you’d been molested?

You were getting upset and I didn’t want to overwhelm you.

"We’ll go to the doctor tomorrow," I soothed.

Could she be pregnant? Image: Supplied

Giovanna's 'baby bump'. Image: Supplied

The next day, I quietly asked the GP to do a pregnancy test, then we were sent straight for an ultrasound.

As the wand slid over your belly, the sonographer looked worried.

"I need you to go to hospital now – there’s a growth on her ovary the size of a football," he said.

"Everything will be fine," I told you, playing it down.

A specialist said it looked like a cyst. Still, they ran tests to be sure.

When I was cooking dinner a few nights later, a doctor rang.

‘We need you back here at 9am," he said.

'Then we heard the worst news.' Image: Supplied

'Then we heard the worst news.' Image: Supplied

My heart sank

At hospital, you were rushed into theatre where a 10-kilo tumour and one of your ovaries was removed.

Pick your battles. Kids can't absorb too many rules without turning off completely. Forget arguing about little stuff like fashion choices and occasional potty language. Focus on the things that really matter - that means no hitting, rude talk, or lying.

Afterwards, it was like you’d delivered a baby. An angry scar like a C-section ran along your pubic bone and your stomach was flat.

You were rapt with your trim tum, Giovanna!

We were just as happy when we were allowed to take you home a week later.

It was short-lived though.

Two days later, you were diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

She was finally diagnosed. Image: Supplied

She was finally diagnosed. Image: Supplied

"Six rounds of chemo and you’ll be back playing netball," your oncologist said.

You turned 15 a few weeks later, my precious girl.

That same day, you had your first round of chemo.

A fortnight after that, we threw you a birthday party with all your friends. You were so weak, but pushed through, and in your little black dress, you looked gorgeous.

"That was the best night of my life!" you exclaimed.

Two bright happy faces. Image: Supplied

Two bright happy faces. Image: Supplied

Your face shone with happiness, darling.

How I wished I could freeze that moment.

Two weeks later, you were rushed back to hospital in agony. Terrifyingly, your belly started growing again too.

You had another round of chemo, but your ‘bump’ continued to swell until it looked like you were nine months pregnant.

"You see much more of your children once they leave home." -Lucille Ball

I even had to buy you a pair of size-20 pyjama pants.

Despite it all, you were still thinking of others.

Image: Supplied

"Mum, we need to raise money for Ronald McDonald House to help other families like us," you insisted.

"We will darling, but you need to get better first," I said.

After two horrifying weeks and another round of chemo, docs sat your dad and I down.

"Giovanna’s organs are shutting down," we were told.

There was nothing they could do to save you, darling.

And we didn’t have weeks or months left with you.

Just days.

'We were crushed.' Image: Supplied

'We were crushed.' Image: Supplied

Dad and I were crushed, but we put on a brave face for you. The word ‘dying’ was banned – we didn’t want you to be scared.

The next day, you were sedated to ease your pain.

Getting into bed with you, I wrapped my arms around you and fell asleep.

In the morning, Dad took my place, then your little brother snuggled up with you.

"Go darling, fly with the angels," I sobbed as you took your last breath just after midday. It was so peaceful, Giovanna. But losing you, my baby, shattered my heart. It was less than three months since you’d been diagnosed.

Repeat: I am not a short-order cook. "It's a child's job to learn to eat what the parents eat," says Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and the author of Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. Instead of the all-or-nothing scenario, offer a variety of foods at mealtime: the main course, plus rice or pasta, a fruit or vegetable, and milk. This way, your child can eat just the pasta and the peas and get protein from the milk. "What a child eats over the course of a day or a week is more important than a balanced meal at one sitting," says Stephen Daniels, the chairman of the department of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in Aurora.

It was you who inspired me to carry on though.

Giovanna's family. Image: Supplied

Giovanna's family. Image: Supplied

With your voice guiding me, just months after you passed, I started a charity called Giovanna’s Gift .

Six years on, we’ve raised more than $50,000 for ovarian cancer research and Ronald McDonald House, just like you’d wanted.

There’s even a room named in your honour.

You were taken from me too early, beautiful girl.

But I know you’d want me to share your story to spare other families our pain.

Ovarian cancer is known as the silent killer. If we’d known the signs and detected it earlier, we might have been able to save you.

You will always be my greatest gift, Giovanna.

With all my love, Mum

She will never, ever be forgotten. Image: Supplied

She will never, ever be forgotten. Image: Supplied

Ovarian cancer: the facts

  • Ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rate of any women’s cancer.
  • With no early detection test, it’s important to know the symptoms which most commonly include: swollen belly or persistent bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain, the need to urinate often or urgently, feeling full after eating a small amount, or excessive fatigue.
  • February is ovarian cancer awareness month.
  • For more information, visit ovariancancer.net.au

This story originally appeared on That's Life, and is republished here with permission.

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Be the role model your children deserve. Kids learn by watching their parents. Modeling appropriate, respectful, good behavior works much better than telling them what to do.