Hometown: Georgetown, ON
What is your career goal? I hope to be a lawyer one day.
How did you find out you were sick? What events led to the diagnosis?
I had always had trouble (reproductively speaking). I had maybe five periods in my whole life. I always felt like there was something wrong but couldn’t pinpoint why. At the time of the latest diagnosis of ovarian cancer I was extremely fit — training for a triathlon — and one day I started getting a pain on my right side. I wrote it off as being a cramp and moved on but that same pain continued for weeks and gradually got worse. Finally it was becoming a sharp pain so I went to the hospital only to be told it was nothing. A week or so later the pain not only got worse but other parts of my body started to hurt, and I knew something was wrong.
What year was it? What was your age at the time? It was 2005, I was 23.
At what level of education were you at diagnosis? I was completing my B.A. Honours and applying to law school.
What was your diagnosis? Ovarian cancer
How did your family react?
I didn’t tell anyone but my best friend. Once my family found out they were shocked, almost to the point of not believing me. My aunt was receiving treatment for ovarian cancer at the same time and they thought “how could you have the same cancer at your age?”
How did your friends react? Were you treated any different?
I have a really close circle of friends, they were so supportive of everything and wanting to help in any way possible. Acquaintances generally drifted off.
What did your treatment consist of?
I was told a full hysterectomy was needed, but I wanted to preserve as much fertility as possible, and since it had already spread past the ovary, I had a double salpingo-oopherectomy.
I have had over five surgeries, and it seems as though every surgery it gets harder and harder to bounce back. I was very depressed once I was formally diagnosed and things only felt worse since my hormones weren’t balanced. It’s taken me years to feel like I can even talk openly about it. Over time, I have been able to feel more positive, but I still get down sometimes especially over my infertility.
I was supposed to receive chemo after my initial surgery, but I became extremely ill and my blood work indicated that I couldn’t start chemo right away. After what felt like a million tests they found out I was pregnant—3 months along. They couldn’t tell if the baby was affected by the surgery, and I was left in a situation that needed an immediate decision. I decided to keep the baby regardless, and I didn’t have chemo as a result. I did start on a hormone therapy and after having my daughter, and I have had over five surgeries and been on an intense hormone therapy. Even though I didn’t think I was in a place in my life to have children I knew it might be the only chance I had, and I’m glad I took it.
In which hospitals were you treated?
Toronto General/Princess Margaret/St. Michaels/Humber River. That’s right—I’ve been through quite a few.
What is your current medical status? Cancer free.
How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
Physically I am doing well but every time I start getting pains I feel a slight rush of panic. Emotionally I am feeling almost as good as I did before I started getting sick. Socially I am stagnating; I developed a small social phobia since having cancer. I have been trying to involve myself more now and am starting to bounce back.
What was the toughest part of your challenge?
Trying to make peace with infertility. Although I thought it was hard then, it is even harder now. I come from a big family and I always imagined having a big family.
What was the best part about your challenge?
It gave me perspective on things; knowing that it was a challenge that I overcame.
What lessons or messages have you taken away from your experience?
I know this will sound hokey, but years after being so mad with my diagnosis, I have finally started to make peace with it. I have been looking down different spiritual avenues and although I haven’t found the religion for me yet, I know that God has a plan and for some reason having cancer was part of it.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?
While I had cancer, I didn’t want to tell anyone. I internalized it until I had to tell someone. Even when I told some people I still wanted to keep it private. Now that some time has passed, I feel more comfortable talking about it now and now more than ever I feel the need to speak to people who have gone through the same thing as me.
What are some preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?
I’m not sure that there is anything besides trusting your instincts. Even as I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I still had to be pushy in getting the diagnosis and pursuing treatment. If you know that something is not right then you need to follow every avenue to get an answer even if you have to climb some obstacles.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge? I tried to.
If so, what was it like?
It was all women who would have been in menopause anyways. I was 25 years younger than the youngest person in the group.
Did you find it helped? No, if anything I felt worse and more isolated.
Would you if one had been available? For younger people, yes.
What are your thoughts/feelings on Young Adult Cancer Canada?
I am finally relieved knowing that there are others out there who have had a somewhat similar experience to mine. I have had such a hard time relating to 60-year-old women who have survived ovarian cancer. I am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to find others who have found their treatments and diagnosis troubling in a system developed for older people and not the younger generations.
Want to read more from Amy? Check out her YACC blog posts!