In this interview, Jovana, a 25-year-old ovarian cancer survivor from Belgrade, shares her story of resilience, community, and the profound life lessons she has learned along the way.

young cancer survivor of ovarian cancer

What is your name? How old are you? Where are you from?

My name is Jovana, I’m 25 years old and I live in Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia.

What’s your diagnosis?

Ovarian cancer of an unknown stage – mixed germ cell tumours, more typical with young men, very rare amongst women.

How and when did you find out about your diagnosis?

A bit less than 3 years ago, my menstrual cycle was late, but based on previous experiences and PCOS diagnosis, it always came with lifestyle change. My (now deceased) mom and grandma saved my life by suggesting to do a pregnancy test, even though I haven’t had a partner for a while and no signs of pregnancy other than being extra cuddly and emotional – it turned out to be positive because of the malignant tumour, but I didn’t know it right from the start.

It took only 10 days since I did the test to receive the results; I was at first rushed to the hospital because the ultrasound specialist suspected I had an ectopic pregnancy, but the surgeon noticed something strange during laparoscopy (minor abdominal surgery) and made sure that my post-surgical analysis were prioritised. His name is Prof. dr. sci. med. Mladenko Vasiljević and I’m forever grateful for him.

Fun fact: As soon as I had a positive pregnancy test, I randomly remembered a Youtube video posted 10 years ago where some Youtuber tried American “dollar store” products. Out of a joke – he bought a pregnancy test, did it and it turned back positive. People in the comments were warning him about it potentially being a sign of prostate cancer; he went for an exam and everything turned out okay. What I’m amazed by is my intuition and the fact that I remembered that piece of information from 10 years ago.

What would you like to accomplish within EU-CAYAS-NET?

Simply: to be a part of the change. Also, to keep on learning, exchanging ideas, to cherish the friendships I’ve made on the path, to gain confidence and strength to speak up about oncology patient’s problems in my home country and to provide verified information I’ve gathered within the project to oncology patients that approach me for support

What has the cancer experience taught you?

I remember lying in bed and just feeling every single emotion behind the word LIFE. It taught me how to be more open when it comes to facing different goals and challenges.

I no longer have a list of pro’s and con’s when I am thinking about doing something new, I just start doing it and instead of overthinking, I’m letting the experience take me further on its own.

It also taught me how humanity is just trapped in this new-age system and brainwashed to the point we have no idea what we’re really capable of, what our bodies can handle and what are the maximums of each individual’s mind potential.

I think the modern era, consumerism and an urge for comfort and convenience has weakened us and made us less resistant to stress.

Young ovarian cancer survivor

What helped you the most during the treatment process?

Meeting my boyfriend Ilija in the hospital was something that I secretly prayed for (because I like to find a poetic meaning in pain to cope with things), but didn’t expect for it to ACTUALLY happen! (Read interview with Jovana and her boyfriend about how love conquers all here).

What also helped a lot is the fact that I was always communicating about my feelings to literally everybody, working out as much as I could and shopping for cute outfits.

If you were to meet yourself the day you heard a diagnosis, what would you say to your younger self?

You learned how to go through the treatment by observing yourself from the perspective of a protective mother that’s teaching her baby to walk. Your hair will grow back, as bright red as you always wanted it to be. You will make the absolute most of the experience and get closer to your family and God. Your self-worth will never change and you will meet people that you can relate to on so many levels. And believe it or not: you stopped attracting negative people somehow and learned to set boundaries.

What is your favourite motto in life?

“La vida es una tómbola.” (Life is a lottery.) When you feel like things are falling apart – let them fall apart completely without regret. It will be very tough to build life from the scratch but now you have the experience and space to make it more beautiful.

What is on your bucket list?

I want to visit every capital city in Europe and as many places that are considered to be sacred in Orthodox Christianity. Renovating my house, getting a driver’s licence, completing my education in the IT field, and organising a fancy backyard barbecue with my friends is something that I wanna do in the near future.

What in your life do you feel most grateful for?

Being physically and mentally able to provide myself food, water and a warm place to sleep and the fact that I was blessed to be raised by an amazing mother and say proper goodbyes to her.

What makes your life feel purposeful?

Meaningful conversations, getting to know myself in different case scenarios, blessing to feel different emotions and cravings to learn and progress every day.

How do you cope when things get hard?

Not the ideal coping mechanism really; I go through the phase I like to call: sleep/eat/cry/isolate. Then, in about a week, I’m ready to openly talk about it, socialise and take action.

young ovarian cancer survivor from Serbia

Which app do you use the most on your phone?

Samsung notes – my notes are messy, yet simple and get the job done, and Instagram because I can’t go a day without texting my boyfriend when we’re apart from each other.

What’s the last thing you watched on TV/internet/Netflix and why did you choose to watch it?

I watched Baby Reindeer, the new Netflix series. The trailer sparked my interest but the plot was not what I expected. 10/10