When Peyton Linafelter’s stomach began expanding around December 2015, she assumed it was just because she was eating too many carbs. But her stomach kept growing and, soon, Peyton couldn’t keep any food down. A doctor in Barbados, where she and her family were on winter vacation, told her she had ovarian cysts and that she should go back home to Aurora, Colorado.
It wasn’t until three months later – on her 16th birthday in April 2016 – that Peyton was told she had stage IV ovarian cancer. It came just months after she’d been scouted by Kate Upton’s agent. The diagnosis sounded like a death sentence for the blossoming model, who was given a 17 percent chance of surviving five years. But, after several rounds of chemotherapy and surgery, Peyton was declared cancer-free in December.
Now she’s speaking out about the warning signs and urging women of all ages to get themselves checked out. One year ago, Peyton was living every teenage girl’s dream. At a Taylor Swift concert, she had been scouted by an agent and signed on as a model for Next Management (the same company that represents Kate Upton). She was learning how to drive and had booked a vacation with her family in Barbados for winter break. It was while on vacation that her stomach began hurting. ‘I couldn’t keep anything down,’ Peyton told Fox News. ‘My stomach was a little expanded.
But I just thought I was eating a lot of carbs. I didn’t think anything of it…but each week my stomach got bigger and bigger.’ Peyton visited a doctor in Barbados who told her that she had extremely large ovarian cysts and that she should go back home to Colorado. The teenager suffered weeks of weight loss and had little appetite, but her stomach was still swelling. ‘By the time it was April, I looked like I was five months pregnant,’ she said. ‘My lower back hurt a lot and my abdomen was in pain.’
Doctors at the University of Colorado Hospital finally diagnosed Peyton with stage IV ovarian cancer that had spread to her lungs and abdomen. According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women and accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
But most women who are diagnosed are postmenopausal – 50 percent of patients are age 63 or older. Peyton, on the other hand, was just 16. Her doctors say she is one of the youngest to receive this diagnosis. Her chance of survival was just 17 percent. But her first worry was one that many patients face. ‘I think at the time, the most devastating part was that I was going to lose my hair,’ Peyton said. ‘That was probably the most of the shock factor.
I wasn’t really told much other than the basics, like “We’re going to do chemo for a couple of rounds. Then we’re going to do surgery and then chemo afterwards”.’ Her treatment was started right away – she got her diagnosis on a Monday and chemo began on Thursday. ‘I’d say it was about the size of a grape fruit on both ovaries, so about probably the size of my fists was the size of the tumor that just invaded both of the ovaries and the uterus as well,’ Dr Saketh Guntupalli, Gynecologic Oncologist with University of Colorado Hospital, told CBS Denver.
‘She’s been our hero. She’s fought this with the strength that I think is more than most women four times her age and I think that says a lot for why she’s done how she’s done and how she’ll do in the future.’ One of Peyton’s biggest concerns was that she wouldn’t be able to model anymore. However, the agency worked around her medical appointments.
After several months of treatment, Peyton was declared cancer-free on December 22. ‘I definitely have a new normal now,’ she said. ‘It’s definitely the normal I’m going to be seeing more often. But I’m hanging out with friends, I’m out and doing this. I’m working out a lot so I can have a better body than ever before.’ The model even took part in a commercial for UCHealth promoting cancer awareness, which also starred her mother, called This is Normal.
The campaign aims to spread recognition of the disease and how it can occur in ‘normal’ women. It aired locally during the 89th Academy Awards. And she’s vocal in sharing advice with other women, no matter their age. ‘I would say go to your doctor for anything if you think anything is wrong,’ Peyton said. ‘Even if you think it’s something very simple, there could be long term effects. Look after your health and don’t just push it aside.’