“As the airplane accelerated into the clouds I got one last glimpse of downtown Toronto. With my terrier, Marlo, safely tucked under the seat in front of me, we may have only been a few thousand feet above the ground, but I felt like I was on top of the world.
It had been a few long, tough years but I just finished my doctorate in cancer care at the University of Toronto. When I started my career in cancer care, I completely fell in love with my job. I loved my patients. Naturally, I wanted to help them in the best way I possibly could. With that in mind, I started my doctorate degree.
It was completely grueling. Long hours. Tons of stress. On top of my clinical workload, I was also a Team Canada powerlifting athlete. The long days at the hospital were followed by hours at the gym. Fuel. Sleep. And Repeat.
Ready For Life To ‘Begin’
By the end of the doctorate program, I was ready for a break. Ready to ‘start’ life. My now husband and I were engaged with our wedding planned out for the fall of 2016. We had been living in separate cities while I was based in Toronto and now we were finally purchasing our first home, getting married, and starting a life together.
It was a stunning wedding. Beautiful fall colors. Crisp fall temperatures. I wore a fitted mermaid-style dress and felt like this was truly a new beginning. We had decided to start off married life together with a two-week honeymoon in Italy and Greece.
We did what everyone should do in Italy – ate pizza and drank wine. After two weeks of overindulgence, I had put on a bit of weight. Not surprising. When I got home I was up about 5 lbs. But even weeks later, it didn’t seem to be coming off. As a Team Canada athlete, I knew my body really well. I ate healthily. I exercised for hours multiple times per week. But I didn’t lose any weight… if anything, I continued to gain weight.
Realizing Something Was Wrong
My inner voice was saying something wasn’t right.
During one training session at the gym, I set up to complete a heavy lift and felt a slight pull in my abdomen. Probably something that no one else would notice. But because I had set up for that lift a thousand times, I knew it felt different. This wasn’t right.
What really pushed me to call my doctor was the relentless heartburn. I needed to keep antacids on my desk at the clinic because I could never escape the heartburn. No matter what I ate – heartburn.
My family doctor wasn’t sure what was going on with me but quickly sent me for an ultrasound. She said, ‘All sorts of things can grow on the ovaries – fibroids, cysts.’ We were just going to take a look with an ultrasound to see what was going on.
The Life-Changing Diagnosis
It was 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon when my family doctor’s name showed up on my phone. I stood there frozen at my kitchen counter. When I answered, she somberly said, ‘You have a tumor on your ovary. It measures 21 cm x 10 cm. I’m sorry kiddo. You have cancer.’
I was 30 years old.
I laid down on my bed because it felt like I was falling. I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t screaming. Everything was disappearing around me as I went into a complete free fall. Just 6 weeks ago I had worn that fitted mermaid bridal gown. You would never be able to tell I had a massive tumor growing inside of me.
Ovarian cancer is most commonly diagnosed at stage 3. The first thing everyone wants to know is, ‘What’s my prognosis?’ What’s my chance of surviving this thing? Stage 3 ovarian cancer has approximately a 39% chance of survival to 5 years. A 39% chance of making it to 35 years old. It was so unfair. My life had just begun. I was just getting started.
Because of my clinical work in cancer care, I am no stranger to this type of situation. Over the last several years, I had spent thousands of hours with people in the exact same position. The same position I was in right now.
I always thought I knew exactly what I would do if I was diagnosed. You can’t help but think about the possible scenario when you work in cancer care. But now that I was facing cancer myself, everything felt different. As a cancer survivor, the only person who truly understands you is another cancer survivor. In some strange twist of fate, I had now gone from cancer expert to cancer patient. I had spent years studying and researching to get where I was in my career. But with my own cancer diagnosis, I was about to get the ultimate education in cancer.
Firsthand Cancer Education
The first step was to remove this massive tumor. It was an extensive surgery. Thirty-three staples to put me back together. But as it turned out, this was the easy part. Next was chemotherapy.
The good news – I knew everything there is to know about chemotherapy.
The bad news – I knew everything there is to know about chemotherapy.
The side effects terrified me. I had personally witnessed so many people struggle through nausea, mouth sores, and hair loss. Now it was my turn.
My biggest side effect was exhaustion. As a 30-year-old athlete, I really struggled with exhaustion. I was used to being on the go. I was used to being independent. I now had to rely on my husband to do almost everything for me. My friends were dropping off groceries. It would be a big accomplishment if I could make it from the bed to the couch. Some days I was too exhausted to do even that.
Four intense cycles of chemotherapy later, I was done! At the end of chemo, I wanted to have a huge party. I was SO looking forward to this huge milestone. Finishing chemo! But there was a big problem.
The exhaustion was so intense, there was no way I could throw a party. I could barely crawl out of the cancer clinic. I thought when I reached the chemo finish line, I was going to feel this huge sense of relief. But instead, I felt like a stranger in my own body. At the time, I knew little about the months of cancer recovery ahead of me.
Working At Recovery
During chemo, I gained 20 lbs. When you are under the false impression you will lose weight because of treatment, it’s tough to realize that most women actually gain weight.
I was drenched in hot flashes. It made me so mad to be having hot flashes at 30 years old. But when I got upset, the hot flashes would be even worse. And of course, I was exhausted. I had hoped to jump back into work. I loved working in cancer care – it was my dream job. But the exhaustion kept me down for much longer than I expected.
Months after finishing chemo, I wondered if I would ever feel like myself again. I felt like a 30-year-old trapped inside the body of a little old lady. I didn’t recognize myself at all.
It wasn’t until I realized you have to put just as much effort into cancer recovery as you do into cancer treatment that my own recovery started taking a turn. Once I started dedicating myself to recovery, I started to see glimpses of my former self. Those glimpses stretched into days, then weeks, then months, until finally when I looked in the mirror it was actually me looking back.
So after surgery, chemo, and a long recovery, my husband and I were ready to get back to living. Feeling like myself again – truly recovered from cancer. Cancer-free but also free from the side effects of cancer. I started back in the career I loved. As a cancer survivor, I am so much better at caring for my patients. Having gone through the entire experience myself, I truly understand what life is like for a cancer survivor. I was getting my life back and returning to some sort of sense of normal.
Welcoming My Miracles
With only one ovary, we apprehensively decided to try to start growing our family. On St. Patrick’s Day 2019, we were blessed with our son, Maximilian. Born on St. Patrick’s Day – we are very lucky indeed.
Just this past spring, we were blessed again with our little girl, Madelyn. With only one ovary, I’m living proof you can actually put all your eggs in one basket. Both our children are miracles.
Reflecting over my 12-year career, I can see I was truly destined to work in cancer. The detour of getting to experience cancer treatment firsthand has made me a much better clinician than I could have ever imagined. After the struggles I had recovering from cancer, I now focus my clinical practice on cancer recovery. Now I spend my days doing exactly what I love to do – helping other cancer survivors transform into thrivers.
I know first-hand that cancer is indescribably difficult. Treatment is tough. Recovery is tough. But there’s hope. You don’t need to feel stuck in your struggles. This doesn’t have to be your ‘new normal.’ You don’t need to feel alone. There is an entire community of support right here for you.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Dr. Amydee Morris from Saskatoon, Canada. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Pinterest, and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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