The silent killer: 15-year-old was battling a 10-kilo tumour

Awareness: Giovanna’s parents Fred and Angela Ienco with brother Nando, 13.Picture: David Sickerdick
Awareness: Giovanna’s parents Fred and Angela Ienco with brother Nando, 13.Picture: David Sickerdick

FRED and Angela Ienco lost their only daughter within three months of her being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Unbeknown to them their 15-year-old Giovanna was battling what they called “the silent killer,” a 10-kilo tumour inside her abdomen.

They don’t know how long it was growing inside her, but they soon found out that no amount of chemotherapy could help her. It actually promoted her tumour’s growth.

By sharing their daughter’s story, Giovanna’s parents and her brother Nando, 13, want to keep their precious girl’s memory alive and raise awareness about ovarian cancer.

Giovanna was also an organ donor.

“That’s what she would have wanted for sure,” Mr Ienco said.

“She was always wanting to help others,” Mrs Ienco said.

Giovanna was no ordinary teenager, they said.

“She was cheeky and bubbly, always listening to music and she loved her family and friends,” Mrs Ienco said.

Outgoing and fun, Giovanna loved taking self portraits on her phone.

Mr Ienco who yesterday said he had felt “empty” inside since his daughter had passed away, said his family had no idea that Giovanna was so ill.

“She had a 10-kilo tumour but she couldn’t feel anything,” he said.

Mrs Ienco said: “She actually said she felt her stomach change about a year ago but being a girl she never thought anything of it, never spoke about it.”

At the start of May Giovanna was told she had a cist on her ovaries. It turned out to be a tumour. She was one month away from celebrating her 15th birthday.

“We flew down to Melbourne and they took it out,” Mrs Ienco said yesterday.

“That was on May 2 and on May 8 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer which is very rare for her age.

“They had no guides, no statistics to compare it with because they said, 14-year-old’s don’t get ovarian cancer.”

Mr Ienco said Giovanna’s tumour was killing her, right in front of their eyes.

“It just consumed her, it ate her in front of us and we didn’t even realise it,” he said.

“The oncologist from the Peter McCallum centre said the youngest she had seen with ovarian cancer was 22, but now it’s 15.

“Ovarian cancer just doesn’t discriminate.”

Doctors sent emails to researchers and specialists around the world to try to aid Giovanna’s recovery, but without success.

“They did their first round of chemo on her on her 15th birthday in the Royal Children’s Hospital on June 2,” Angela said.

The family was then able to come home to Mildura and they thought Giovanna would be able to return to school at Merbein P-10, play netball and live a normal life.

But when she was still suffering from immense pain, she was rushed back to Melbourne and they discovered that another tumour had grown.

“Instead of killing the tumour, that first round of chemo she had made it grow rapidly,” Mrs Ienco said.

“It still doesn’t make any sense to us, even though she had chemo and lost her hair we didn’t realise it was eating her alive.

“No one knew until they came in the Monday before she died and said, ‘there’s nothing we can do for her, just pray that she passes away in her sleep’.

“We just couldn’t believe it.

“We decided not to tell her she was going to pass away, we didn’t want to scare her, because we didn’t know how long it would take.

“I remember being in the Ronald McDonald House and seeing this 18-month old boy, riddled with cancer,” Mrs Ienco said.

“I remember thinking oh his poor parents, he isn’t going to survive, they gave him 18-months, and I felt guilty that my daughter was going to live and survive, not realising then that he was going to outlive my daughter.

“Ovarian cancer is the silent killer,” Mrs Ienco said.

“We want people to know ovarian cancer does exist and that young people can get it.”

The Ienco’s appreciated yesterday’s event at her school and said it’s what their daughter would have wanted.

Just before Giovanna died she even inquired about raising money for Ronald McDonald House so that she could give back to the people who helped her through her illness.

She wanted to sponsor a room, just like the one she and her family stayed in. It costs $8000 for two year’s sponsorship.

And, yesterday Merbein P-10 and the Merbein community reached that goal.

Tissue and fluid from Giovanna’s body was donated to research and she is listed on the ovarian cancer research database.

Her organs will help save the lives of other’s and her family plans to keep her memory alive.

“Well do something to keep her memory alive be it raising awareness or money for charities, Mrs Ienco said.

“Today was beautiful having G day and that is exactly what she would have wanted.”

This article appeared in Saturday's Sunraysia Daily 21/7/2012.