Sadly, Gina passed away April 19, 2017. Gina had such a bright smile and beautiful energy. She was a mother, a wife, a daughter and an active member of her community. She will be missed and always remembered.
Name: Gina Prior
City: Clarenville, NL
What was your diagnosis? Small Cell Ovarian Cancer –Stage 3
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
January 2015 at age 30.
What is something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
To land myself a new job as a dietitian just a few months post cancer treatment.
What is a top item on your life to do list?
To be a role model to my daughter. To guide her to be the best person she can be.
What are your hobbies?
I love art and have gotten into spurts of painting and pencil sketching over the years.
Playing with my daughter.
Attending obedience class with our puppy, Carlos.
What was your life like before your diagnosis?
I lived the typical life of a young woman who aspired to be a working mother and wife who was keeping up with the hustle and bustle. I was active and enjoyed every moment with my family and friends.
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
My symptoms and onset of this disease arrived months prior to my diagnosis. Ovarian cancer is known as a silent killer, however, in my experience I suffered symptoms for about 10 months.
Early in 2014 I experienced what I described as “pelvic discomfort” and upper right abdominal pain. At that time I sought medical care and was told it was possibly gallbladder issues. Blood work and ultrasounds had ruled out gallbladder issues but did suggest findings of small cysts on my ovary. The abdominal pain and discomfort continued along with new symptoms of constipation, indigestion, and bloating (text book ovarian cancer symptoms). With these new symptoms, I was given a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. To help manage these symptoms, I was under the care of a new family doctor, was sent for several pregnancy tests (I wish!), referred to have an ultrasound, and was placed on a four-month wait list.
Just a few months later, the symptoms worsened, and I was experiencing increased pelvic discomfort, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal distention. It was with these symptoms I was referred to have a CT Scan. Prior to receiving my appointment date for this scan I found myself at the emergency department where I was referred to have an emergency CT scan the following day. This is when they discovered I had a large mass on my right ovary that required immediate attention.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
“Holy shit.” I worried how this would impact my daughter and husband. When we were told that this was a very rare form of cancer and that there were very few studies carried out to help treat this cancer, I was shattered. I couldn’t help but think, how did I get this? Where did I do wrong in keeping myself healthy?
In which hospitals were you treated?
I’ve been cared for and treated at both the Dr. G.B. Cross Memorial Hospital and the Health Science Centre/Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre.
What did your treatment consist of?
Two days after discovering the mass, I underwent surgery to remove the mass, right ovary, omentum, and appendix. Following my diagnosis, I received six cycles of chemotherapy (cisplatin and etoposide) between February and July as an out-patient here in Clarenville. When my oncologist gave me the treatment plan I remember thinking: “You are now ready for the Hunger Games, may the odds be in your favor.”
A week after my first cycle, I was hospitalized at the Health Science Centre with a slight bowel obstruction. It was during this hospital stay that I also received my port-a-cath and shaved my head. I could no longer stand the discomfort of my hair follicles dying. It wasn’t as bad as I anticipated as it was so relieving to what I felt as it fell out by the handful.
By the second and third cycle, the effects of chemotherapy started to set in. I was feeling fatigued, nauseated, constipated, and suffered anxiety. I also had surgery to have a complete hysterectomy around this time as well.
Following the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds, I suffered severe dehydration and fatigue. I spent most of my days sleeping and wishing my time away to that week when I was no longer toxic and back to feeling better. On October 16, 2015, my 31st birthday, I was told my cancer had returned as shown in a PET Scan. At this time, I was receiving treatment as an out-patient for hypercalcemia brought on by the tumors in my pelvis. I then underwent six weeks of radiation therapy to my entire abdomen, and at that time I suffered nausea once more, diarrhea, and of course anxiety once more.
This treatment ended on December 11, and since then, I have had a clear CT Scan and have been maintaining normal blood calcium levels.
Life after cancer:
How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually)?
I try to live more in the moment.
What is the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult?
As a young mom, I worry for my daughter. I feel like I am unable to make future plans as I am scared my health will let me down. You kind of live like you’re dying, but not in the way Tim McGraw talks about it. You don’t go out and go skydiving or climb the Rockies, but you live like you’re dying in that you don’t know what is going to happen.
Do you feel isolated from your peers since your diagnosis?
I never felt isolated. There were friendships that grew stronger. I also made some new friends that I don’t know what I would have done without.
If you have children, how has your diagnosis affected the way you parent? Do you have any tips for other parents on talking to their children?
My biggest worry was how this would affect my five-year-old daughter. I struggled with how I would explain this to her. However, it turned out that it didn’t need a whole lot of explanation as I thought at her age. She was quite resilient to the changes in her little world and the fact that mommy was super sick, bald, and spent lots of time in bed and at the hospital. I was still her mommy. She now removes the hair from her My Little Pony toys and those are the ponies I get to play with.
How has your cancer experience affected your body image, and your relationship to your body?
Well I never thought about this until now. I tossed my bikinis, so maybe there is an underlying issue with a large abdominal scar. I have a love-hate relationship with my port. I also found myself changing my wardrobe to hide it. As for being bald, that didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. The time it took me to shower and dress was cut in half!
What are some lifestyle changes you’ve made since your diagnosis?
Stopped sweating the small stuff.
Resources and recommendations:
Which books/movies/podcasts/TV shows/etc. would you recommend?
I read: A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Rosie Project
I watched: The Mindy Project. It was way more uplifting than the regular drama series’ I had previously been watching.
What are your favourite blogs and websites for passing the time?
100 Perks of Having Cancer by Florence Strang
Have you participated in any other retreats, conferences, programs, or support groups you’d like your cancer peers to know about?