LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A local mother is on a mission to fund cancer research at UCLA after her 20-year-old daughter lost her battle with the disease.

Paulinda Babbini calls Robin a dream daughter: student body president, cheerleader, homecoming queen at Pacific Hills High School in West Hollywood.

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“Robin was very charismatic. She was friendly. She was warm,” she told KCAL9’s Serene Branson.

But the teenager’s carefree days quickly faded into visits to specialists after a trip to the emergency room revealed she was suffering from ovarian cancer.

“At 16, Robin used to wake up every morning and say to me, ‘Mom, I’m nauseous,'” her mother remembered, then startled that her daughter could suffer from the disease at such a young age.

“We had a book here – a medical book – that talked about different symptoms for different diseases and Robin said to me prior to her diagnosis, ‘Mom, I have ovarian cancer.’ And I said – from my education and what I was aware of – ‘Robin, you’re only 17.’ I never, ever thought a young woman could get the disease.”

Doctors initially didn’t find anything wrong.

Months later, Robin landed in the emergency room, and a scan showed four tumors. She had to go into surgery.

“They cut her open and found her whole reproductive system was filled with cancer. She says, ‘Mom, I have ovarian cancer.’ And we said, ‘Yes.’ And that was the start of a very rough period,” Paulinda said.

Robin completed six rounds of chemotherapy. She spoke at her high school graduation, started her freshman year at UCSB and later joined a sorority.

Six months later, however, the ovarian cancer returned. It had metastasized and, at 20, Robin lost her battle with the disease.

With no cancer in the family, Paulinda has now made ovarian cancer education and fundraising her life’s mission.

“She used to say, ‘Mom there’s a reason why this has happened to me…’ And this is what I’ve made, this is my passion and what I will do the rest of my life,” she said.

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Paulinda started the Ovarian Cancer Circle and has raised more than $120,000 – funneling it to UCLA’s G.O. Discovery Lab,  a research laboratory focused on studying gynecologic oncology led by researcher Sanaz Memarzadeh.

“We don’t really have any good early detection tests,” Dr. Memarzadeh said. “A common scenario I see in my practice is that women come in and at that point they already have disease that has disseminated. The majority of women, 75 percent, are diagnosed with stage three or four tumors.”

Despite precise surgery and chemotherapy, some cells are resistant – so the cancer can return, according to Memarzadeh. Although more people are diagnosed with breast and prostate cancer, ovarian cancer is far more fatal as a result. The disease affects 22,000 woman annually in the U.S., and more than half lose their lives within five years.

While cases like Robin’s are rare, doctors do see young patients, although it typically occurs in postmenopausal women.

Blood tests and the BRCA gene test don’t always show ovarian cancer. They didn’t for Robin.

That’s why the G.O. Lab’s research is focused on an early detection test and treatment.

“We have very good data to demonstrate that we can intervene and have ways of eliminating these cells,” Dr. Memarzadeh said.

Researchers say the money raised so far has already allowed them to collect some promising data. What they’d like now is funding for clinical trials.

Their hope inspires Paulinda to keep fundraising and educating women to learn about the symptoms. She urges women to ask their doctors for an ultrasound at their annual exams. And it’s a road she feels Robin is helping her walk.

“She inspires me, she motivates me. She keeps me young and she keeps me going. So she’s still here. Not physically, but spiritually. She’s with me every single minute of every single day,” she said.

Paulinda holds two fundraisers a year, with the next scheduled for November.

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More information is available on the Ovarian Cancer Circle and G.O. Discovery Lab at UCLA websites.