By Alyce Collins
THIS PHARMACIST spent years supporting cancer patients before BECOMING ONE HERSELF and after having an ovary and fallopian tube removed surprised everyone when she overcame the odds and fell PREGNANT with a baby boy.
Oncology pharmacist Dr. Amy Smith-Morris (32) from Saskatoon, Canada specialises as a pharmacist in cancer care, which led her to working for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, providing care for patients fighting cancer.
In September 2016, Amy and her husband, Marc (31), got married and took a honeymoon to Italy and Greece where they took in the beautiful sights and local foods. However, weeks passed after their return home and Amy was still noticing symptoms which she initially thought were a result of her recent holiday, including weight gain and bloating.
When she became troubled by heartburn also, Amy went to her GP who then referred her for an ultrasound. But due to Amy only being 30 at the time, cancer wasn’t expected to be the outcome. Unfortunately, the ultrasound found a large tumour on Amy’s ovary, which was later confirmed to be cancerous.
Within weeks, Amy underwent surgery to remove one ovary, which had been engulfed by a 21-centimetre tumour, and a fallopian tube. In December 2016, Amy began her first of four chemotherapy cycles, with her final round in March 2017.
Throughout her cancer fight, Amy maintained a positive mindset and held onto her beliefs of one day starting a family of her own. Then, in the summer of 2018, Amy received the exciting news that she was expecting her first child in 2019, despite having an ovary removed.
On March 17, 2019, Amy and Marc welcomed their son Max via emergency c-section, weighing 6lbs 10oz.
“I spent my twenties doing an undergraduate in pharmacy, master’s, and finally, a doctorate from the University of Toronto,” said Amy.
“I specialised as a pharmacist in cancer care. I know a lot about drugs but even more about chemotherapy and how to care for someone with cancer. I love my job because I can use my skills to help people in my community fighting cancer.
“In 2016 my life was exciting. My husband and I had just bought our first house and we got married at the end of September.
“We had gone on our honeymoon to Italy and Greece and did what everyone should do if you travel there – we ate our way through the countries. We ate pizza and cheese and drank wine.
“So needless to say, when we returned home, I had gained a bit of weight, but nothing unusual, just a couple of pounds. I was certain the weight would come off quickly once we got back to our regular lifestyle.
“But that wasn’t the case. Over the next couple of weeks, I didn’t lose any weight – I actually gained weight.
“I also had awful heartburn, although I’d never had heartburn before, as well as some bloating. Ovarian cancer is so tricky to detect, and my symptoms were sneaky.
“So, I went to my doctor and she sent me for an ultrasound. Because of my young age, no one expected cancer, but many strange things can grow on ovaries, so she sent me for an ultrasound to see if there was a fibroid or something. Unfortunately, a large tumour was found.
“In that moment, I was definitely in shock. I lay down on my bed and called my mum because I felt like my world had just stopped.
“Thankfully, I was pushed up the waiting list for a CT scan. I sat in the emergency room of a hospital waiting for the results, waiting to hear if this was cancer or not.
“We all have that inner voice that tells us when something is wrong. Mine was saying that this news wasn’t going to be good. The gynaecologist came in, sat next to me on the bed, and said it was cancer.
“When you’re trained as a clinician, you don’t stop acting like a clinician when you become the patient. I began asking questions about what they saw on the scan to try to predict my chances of surviving. My chances of living past the age of 30.
“I had a rare form of ovarian cancer and a mixed tumour so it’s really difficult to put my diagnosis in a box. The tumour was a mix of a teratoma and a type of germ cell tumour. I received chemotherapy to treat a germ cell tumour.
“I had one ovary and the fallopian tube removed. In my case, this included a tumour that had engulfed my left ovary, measuring 21 centimetres by 10 centimetres.
“I then started chemotherapy just before Christmas 2016. I did a total of four cycles, each 21 days apart and I finished in early March 2017.”
Amy gained a whole new perspective from her battle with cancer but maintained the same optimism she has carried through life.
Once she completed chemotherapy, Amy spent months in recovery to eventually allow her to get back to her life and to work when she was ready. Last summer, Amy found out she was expecting the couple’s first child to her sheer delight, and Max was born in March 2019.
“During my treatment, there were definitely moments of darkness but there were also a lot of great moments. When you are diagnosed with cancer, everything is put into perspective,” said Amy.
“The sky seems bluer, hugs are a bit tighter, life just feels so much fuller, so living life during treatment can be very, very rich. When you are diagnosed, you start really living.
“After treatment, I took a long time to return to work. The fatigue was crippling, and I needed to do what was right for my body, to make sure I could eventually go back to work full-time.
“I strongly believed that it would be possible for us to conceive and I held onto that belief until it became our reality. Even though I’m very scientifically driven in my practice as a pharmacist, I still believe strongly in the power of mindset.
“I held strong beliefs throughout my diagnosis and recovery and those beliefs are what carried me through.
“Pregnancy was amazing. I really can’t complain. Sure, I had morning sickness, fatigue, heartburn and insomnia, but compared to what I’ve been through, it was easy.
“I would say the most concerning part of my pregnancy was that I couldn’t be monitored for a cancer recurrence with a CT or PET-CT because it isn’t safe for the baby to have these scans. So, I’ve gone nearly a year without any follow up scans to access for recurrence.
“It’s tough to not think about all the ‘what if’s’ after cancer. It can be really debilitating. You want to do what you can to protect your family in case you aren’t around anymore. It often makes it tough to think about moving on, but you have to.
“Cancer already took so much of my time and energy. It basically paused my life for the better part of a year and a half. I can’t let it take any more time from me.
“You must advocate for yourself. You only have one body and one chance. You must do whatever you can to protect it and protect your future.”
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