Cancer at 40 ~ 4 Major Surgeries ~ Chemotherapies ~ Genetic Mutations ~  OH MY!!

My journey began in 2019, when tumours were found in my fallopian tubes, after what was supposed to be a simple hysterectomy. I was diagnosed with High Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer, the most common, and lethal, of all women’s gynaecological cancers.  I was 40 yrs old, mom to 3 beautiful boys, in the midst of a busy, wonderful life, and everything just stopped on a dime. Multiple surgeries, 5 months of chemotherapy, and the struggles that go along with instant surgical menopause dominated my once fabulous life. I was devastated. Thankfully, I was surrounded by an amazing group of family, friends and co-workers that held me up, while I came to terms with it all. And then…. I found my strength, found my voice, and realized that the only way I was going to win this battle was to face it head on and so I began the fight of my life. I was going to infuse my life with hope, happiness, nature and new experiences. One of the most important things in life to me was to be a Grandma, and I was bound and determined to be here when my grandbabies arrived in the future!

I was not going to give in to the terror easily, so I fought back with laughs and new adventures. For each of my chemo treatments, I wore a new t-shirt with funny Cancer sayings like “My Oncologist does my hair”. I made a sign for each chemo, dedicating it someone or something special in my life. I had always wanted a pair of Converse growing up, so I treated myself to my 1st pair, and wore them to each and every treatment.  I planned something wonderful after each chemo and as soon as the sickness abated, I would be camped out in a new provincial park, or touring a city or visiting old friends. I found myself in ways I never expected, and realized the beauty of solo travelling. Spending time in nature, with just myself, was more healing than any medicine they could give me.

Advocate & Make a Difference! I became involved with Ovarian Cancer Canada, as a “Patient Partner in Research” and work with them in many roles to advocate, educate and push for much needed funding and research. I also volunteer with several pharmaceutical companies, providing a patient’s voice and perspective through my own lived experience.

Through genetic testing, I found out that I carry the BRCA1 mutation, (same as Angelina Jolie!) which is a genetic mutation passed through families that greatly increases the risk of developing Ovarian, Breast, Pancreatic and Prostate Cancers. It was devastating to learn that I unknowingly passed it to 2 of my 3 sons as well.  It’s the reason that I developed Ovarian Cancer at such a young age.  This mutation gave me an 87% chance of Breast Cancer developing anytime, so I was scurried back into another surgery in 2020, this time for a preventative double mastectomy. They have literally removed each and every part of my body, both inside and out, that defined me as a woman. No more uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, or ovaries, and now –  no breasts. I wondered sometimes if it would ever end. I returned to work, with the hope that I had been ‘cured’, and cancer would become a piece of my past.

But in the fall of 2021, my cancer returned, and metastasized to my spleen. I again underwent surgery and landed back in the chemo chair for another 5 months. With my recurrence, my cancer was deemed ‘incurable’, but treatable. This was not going to be a chapter to file away as I hoped, and I was going to have to learn to live my life alongside cancer. But how?

I was looking for a place to just get away from it all, when I came across the Abbey Retreat Centre’s website and information on their retreats for those battling cancer. I was intrigued with their vision, and contacted them to learn more. I quickly realized this was exactly what I was looking for and promptly signed up. I drove up north for 6 hours, in the midst of chemo infusions, alone, and had no idea what to expect. I can’t articulate how absolutely amazing it was, and how a room of complete strangers became instantly connected. Led by a group of wonderful, caring and dedicated organizers, we hit the ground running with a packed schedule of things to do. We laughed, we cried – sometimes at the same time! Through stories, art, crafts, delicious vegetarian food, and talks late into the night… we got to know one another on a most intimate level. I maintain friendships with several of the other retreat participants to this day. The beauty of the grounds, the water and forest, just forever melted into my heart. It’s a place of magic, connection and healing.

After I returned home, I was delighted to learn that the Abbey Retreat Centre was offering online classes and programs. I jumped at the chance to participate in many wonderful online programs such as expressive practices with Fay, yoga with Miriam, and sharing circles with Joyce and Laurie. They became an important part of my cancer ‘family’.

My time at the Abbey Retreat Centre was literally life changing, and I encourage anyone dealing with a cancer journey to reach out and connect with them. Their mission and their goals are truly a blessing. When you arrive at Abbey Retreat Centre, you have arrived HOME, and I truly believe the memories and experiences during your time there, will remain with you always.

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After 4 months of listening, creativity, small group conversations and A LOT OF COMMUNITY SUPPORT, the decision has been made. Within the next few months, Abbey Retreat Centre (ARC) will officially change our name to Brooksong Retreat and Cancer Support Centre.

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