At age 15, Peyton Linafelter was having one of the best years of her life. The Colorado native was just learning to drive and had the chance to see Taylor Swift in concert where she was scouted by an agent to become a model. But just a year later, while on winter break in sunny Barbados, everything changed for the the up-and-coming cover girl.
“I couldn’t keep anything down,” explained the now 16-year-old to 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. By the time it was April, I looked like I was five months pregnant. My lower back hurt a lot and my abdomen was in pain.”
While Linafelter was initially told it was ovarian cysts, she was later taken to the hospital back home after she nearly fainted in the shower. On her 16th birthday she was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. It was in her lungs and throughout her abdomen.
Dr. Saketh Guntupalli, who treated Linafelter at the University of Colorado Hospital, believed she may have been the youngest woman in the United States to develop the most common form of ovarian cancer and had one of the worst cases he’s ever seen. Days later, in May 2016, she began treatment to fight the disease.
“I was in complete shock,” she explained. “I was in disbelief. I had thought they were in the wrong room or it was a mistake. My mom seemed to know something was wrong, like a bigger scale than just ovarian cysts. I guess deep down I did too, but I wasn’t thinking cancer.”
Immediately, Linafelter began to deal with a common worry that many cancer patients face.
“I think at the time, the most devastating part was that I was going to lose my hair,” she 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.’ I was completely fine with that.”
Despite her major health setback, Linafelter’s dream of becoming a model didn’t fade away. In fact her agency, Next Management, which works with Sports Illustrated stars Myla Dalbesio and Kate Upton — were inspired by her resilience and still wanted to work with her.
“It made me feel very happy,” she said. “I loved the fact that I was asked to join them. It was very pleasing to know that because, another thing that went through my mind was that 'I’m not going to be able to model. I’m going to have a big scar. I’m not going to have much hair.' But everything has worked out fine. [The agent] contacted my mother in June/July after chemo treatments.”
By December 22nd, Linafelter was cancer-free.
“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.”
Linafelter even teamed up with UCHealth for a commercial to promote cancer awareness, which also starred her mom. It aired during the 89th Academy Awards. She’s also vocal in sharing advice to other women, no matter their age.
“I would say go to your doctor for anything and if you think anything is wrong,” she added. “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.”