Sadly, Melissa passed away July 23, 2007. A beautiful tribute was written for her on Facebook; follow the link to read more Melissa.
Age at Diagnosis: 23 (2005)
Hometown: Smithville, ON
How did you find out you were sick? What events led to the diagnosis?
I was pregnant with twin boys, even though we had undergone fertility treatments and tests before getting pregnant nothing was discovered. I started having symptoms: nausea, not being able to hold anything down and fatigue. Those symptoms were easily explained away by being pregnant, with twins no less! My doctor felt a hard bump and I was having pain on my right side but that was explained away as being baby parts.
I was admitted to the hospital for dehydration and early labour. Then, four days later, I gave birth. It was relatively uncomplicated; my blood levels were low so they gave me some donated blood, the epidurals were not working completely so I was given three epidurals.
After the babies were born, the doctor could still feel a lump but it was explained away as being my stretched uterus from just having twins.
Two days later, I was still in a lot of pain. I could not get out of bed, I could not nurse my newborn babies, I could barely breathe through clenched teeth I was in so much pain. That is when I had another ultrasound and CT scan and then emergency surgery to remove a tumor on my ovary which was a foot long. It had blocked my bowels and that is why I couldn’t keep anything down. Also, it was ripping away and that is why my blood levels were so low.
I was in intensive care for three days with my stomach being pumped until my bowels could get back to normal. When I woke up, the doctor said it was a tumor and I thought, Well, it’s not cancerous. Then she said it was cancerous and I thought, Well, they must have gotten it all out of me and I’ll be fine. She said that while they were removing the big tumor they found lumps on my liver, my other ovary, my abdominal lining and my lymph nodes. (a later CT scan also found cancer on my pancreas). They do not know the type of cancer or the primary source.
Do you work? I work in the accounting department of a consulting company and teach piano
What was your diagnosis?
Cancer on both ovaries, liver, lymph nodes, pancreas and abdominal lining.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
It’s not real, they’ve made a mistake.
How did your family react?
My family all came together to support me in any way they could. My mother-in-law cut her hair short and donated it to making wigs for cancer patients at the same time I cut my hair. (I decided to cut it before losing it to have some sort of control over the situation). My mom moved in with us to help look after the babies and me.
How did your friends react?
My friends were shocked and thought I was just hormonal and over-reacting to being a mom. I don’t feel as close to my friends but it’s more because of distance and me not wanting to talk about my problems too much.
What did your treatment consist of?
Medical Side: At first, I had chemo every three weeks. Once the doctors believed that I received the maximum benefit from those particular types of drugs, they switched to another kind and now I’m going every week for chemo. I have had quite a few CT scans to monitor the progress inside.
Non-Medical Side: I think I’ve handled the chemo quite well, at first I was extremely sick for weeks afterwards, and so weak I would collapse. I couldn’t carry my own babies. Now, I am still weaker than normal and that gets frustrating (not being able to open baby food jars) but I am having physiotherapy. I am only drained after chemo for a little while and I feel nauseated but I’m not throwing up anymore. I have a hard time with stairs. Now it’s the emotional side that I’m not handling well at all. I am so emotional that any little thing brings me to tears, I don’t want to leave the house, I feel like people treat me differently because they can see I’m sick.
In which hospital(s) were you treated?
Henderson Hosptial in Hamilton and Greater Niagara General in Niagara Falls.
What is your current medical status?
Still undergoing treatment.
What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?
Not being able to be the Mom I was planning on. I feel like I missed so much of my children’s firsts because I was so sick. Also, losing my hair has been really tough on me, I am so self-conscious.
What is/was the best part of your challenge?
I haven’t had to worry about going back to work so I can spend time at home with my kids. I am thankful that even though I’m having to go through this, I have hope in God and I can see all the ways that I am blessed. I haven’t had to shave my legs in eight months (or wax my bikini line for that matter)!
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
I would try to find something to look forward to every day. Otherwise, it was extremely hard to get out of bed.
What lessons or messages have you taken away from your experience?
There is always someone worse off than you, no matter how bad you’ve got it.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?
I never thought something like this would happen to me. Right now, my feelings are that it is taking way too long to get better and I can’t wait for it to be over. I’ll do almost anything to get better.
If you did not attend a support group, why?
I think attending one may have helped but for the longest time, I couldn’t reach out to even think about what I needed. I am just now ready to talk and ready to listen and ready to think about what is going on. I avoided it for so long because maybe if I didn’t think about it or talk about it, it wasn’t really happening.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?
I just found the website while searching for young adults with cancer. I have enjoyed reading other people’s experiences; a lot of people go through the same thoughts that I go through even though I feel alone sometimes.