PEMBERVILLE — At age 20, Alexandria “Alex” Kuznicki is one of the youngest-known ovarian cancer survivors in the world.
|Ovarian cancer survivor Alexandria Kuznicki, a 20-year-old BGSU student (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
In fact, two years ago, when she first participated in the Ellen Jackson Ovarian Cancer Walk in Toledo, some of the other walkers found it hard to realize that she was one of them.
“Most of the survivors in the walk were in their 60s and at first they didn’t believe I had ovarian cancer,” she recalls.
And no wonder. Kuznicki was just 15, and a sophomore in high school, when her Stage 4 disease was discovered.
“It was February of 2007 and I was at school” when she experienced a sudden onset of abdominal pain. “We thought it was my appendix.”
Now she says that pain probably saved her life, because it led hospital personnel to discover something more ominous. An apparent ovarian cyst was found to be a cancerous tumor “and it ruptured my ovary.”
“They told me after the rupture it likely would spread to other places in my body,” so the cancer was staged at 4, the most life-threatening. “But it turned out it didn’t actually spread.”
Kuznicki had been transferred to St. Vincent Medical Center early on. “I was in the hospital two weeks and wanted to go home. At first they didn’t tell me what was going on.” Kuznicki’s mother, Peggy Jones, didn’t know how her daughter would take a diagnosis of ovarian cancer at her age.
“Many believe that this is a cancer that only affects women 50 and older, but I can tell you from personal experience that this is not the case,” Kuznicki said emphatically. “At a very young age, I became one of the many ‘faces’ of this silent cancer. I am one of the youngest women ever to have been diagnosed with this disease and I am a survivor.”
Kuznicki had “a few radiation treatments and three weeks worth of chemo treatments” as a precautionary measure.
Ovarian cancer is only the most serious of several major health challenges she has faced during high school and college, including a double hip replacement, heart surgery, and just last November, surgery to remove three bone tumors in her leg.
They were determined to be benign, “but I ended up having more radiation just in case, because they grew so fast.”
Kuznicki also has a rare condition called POTS, short for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Sydrome which causes rapid heartbeat, extremely low blood pressure, and even fainting upon a change in position, generally from laying to standing.
“I had emergency heart surgery on my mom’s 40th birthday in 2009, and that made the POTS symptoms worse, and that’s when it was diagnosed.” POTS often manifests itself after some kind of trigger like an illness or surgery.
She graduated from Rossford High School with honors in 2010, despite missing a total of 286 days of school.
Today, she is a junior at Bowling Green State University, about to celebrate her 21st birthday in October. She is double majoring in history and biology (pre-veterinary science), with a 3.85 grade point average and an admitted passion for the study of World War II and Holocaust history.
On top of everything else, Kuznicki has a 35-hour-a-week job at Frobose Meat Market in Pemberville, with her paychecks going to help cover the cost of the drugs she has to take.
“She works hard and is amazing,” noted Jones, her mother, who moved their family from Rossford to Pemberville a year ago.
This weekend marks the Ovarian Cancer Coalition’s third annual Ellen Jackson Ovarian Cancer Walk, and it will be Kuznicki’s third year of participation. The walk begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at the University of Toledo Medical College, with registration starting at 8.
Kuznicki will be leading a team of walkers.
“If people would rather just donate in my team name ‘Alexgators’ to the OCC, that would also be great. There is no set amount, every dollar helps.”
As Kuznicki has discovered, you never know when someone you care about will be diagnosed with the deadly disease.
In 2010 Kuznicki and her eighth grade English teacher from Rossford, Cindy Curtis, were shocked to discover each other at the walk, “not realizing each was dealing with same issue,” said Jones. Curtis has since moved to Bowling Green.
Kuznicki has also been a supporter for other causes. She raised $18,000 for the 2010 Heart Walk, for example.
But ovarian cancer is the cause about which she feels especially passionate.
She says it’s because of “the people, and the determination they have” despite the fact that ovarian cancer research is severely under-funded compared to many other life-threatening illnesses.
“Here on campus, it’s breast cancer that you hear about.
“Even heart disease. Last year, the top Heart Association fundraiser at the walk had like $20,000 in pledges.” The top fundraiser at the Ovarian Cancer Connection Walk, by contrast, “was like $1,200.”
Kuznicki would like to change that.
WTOL-TV will feature Kuznicki on this Saturday’s episode of the “Time Waits for No One” show hosted by Dr. Ameer Kabour. It will air at 7 p.m. after the walk.