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Over the summer, plus-size model Elly Mayday experienced stomach upset and thought she was having gall bladder problems. In June, Mayday, born Ashley Luther, returned home to Canada for a doctor’s appointment and learned disappointing news: Her ovarian cancer had returned.
While the 30-year-old had been treated for ovarian cancer twice before, this time the outcome was tragic. She died on March 1 and her friends hope that she is remembered for her outspokenness about the disease.
“She seemed almost invincible,” Melissa Masi, a plus-size model and close friend of Mayday’s, told TODAY. “There was never a moment, until the very end, where I had ever heard her even refer to not making it. She just always had an amazing disposition.”
Masi and Mayday became friends about three years ago when the two lived in Jersey City, New Jersey, and worked as models. They bonded over being from small towns — Mayday from Saskatchewan, Canada and Masi from a town of 1,200 in the Ozarks. They both loved Dolly Parton and volunteered at Goats of Anarchy, a sanctuary for special needs goats.
“We had a lot that we could relate to," Masi said.
Mayday was first diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer when she was just 25. For months, she had been telling her doctor about stomach problems.
“She went undiagnosed for two years because she was so young,” Julian Greene, who worked with Mayday with social media, including #onehellovawoman to raise ovarian cancer awareness, told TODAY. “Many doctors blamed her weight for health issues.”
It’s not surprising it took so long. Doctors frequently struggle to diagnose ovarian cancer, also known as the “silent killer,” because its symptoms seem innocuous and common. According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) symptoms include:
- Pelvic pain
- Feeling full quickly or having issues eating
- Needing to urinate urgently or often
- Heartburn and upset stomach
- Back pain
- Pain during sex
- Changes in menstruation or spotting
NOCC said only 19 percent of cases are detected in the early stages.
But Mayday did not accept assurances that she was fine and kept pushing for the proper diagnosis. After her experience, she wanted to empower other women to do the same.
“She wanted to use that platform for good and be able to have people be more aware of signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and use their own voice,” Masi said.
Mayday candidly shared her experiences on social media and created a space for women with the disease. Even when she was sick, she’d reply to messages or make gift baskets to send to women with ovarian cancer.
“She didn’t let cancer ruin her life and made it into something big and powerful and empowering,” Maxey Greene, a plus-sized model and Mayday’s friend, told TODAY. “She took something so unbelievably awful and made it into one of the most powerful things I have ever seen.”
Mayday continued posting inspiring messages to fans and chatting with friends about their relationship or career problems from her hospital bed. No matter how she felt, she thought about the other women with ovarian cancer.
“She had all these people she had let in and she didn’t want to tell them she was failing,” Maxey Greene said. “She didn’t want let all these people down.”
Her friends believe she’d be happy knowing that her legacy is about ovarian cancer awareness.
“She definitely wanted to be a voice that is heard,” Masi said. “It is a blessing to know someone like Ashley who finds the strength to be positive for other people. She was very strong.”