My Journey with Cancer

Cancer was both the worst and the best thing that ever happened to Kelly Anne. It changed her in ways she'd never expected. Here's her journey...

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I stopped getting a period for six months in 2012. I was 32, in my prime child-bearing years, and I had been regular since I was eleven years old. My gut told me it wasn’t right. My family doctor ordered an ultrasound which showed a small mass on my right ovary. I went to see a gynecologist for a follow-up consultation. She asked me, “Are you in any pain? Do you have any other symptoms?” I replied “no”. Then she looked at me at said, “So, stop complaining. It’s just a cyst. If it starts bothering you again, come back.” I finally got my period in July. But it stopped again in 2013. Back I went to my family doctor and asked to see a different gynecologist. I knew something wasn’t right, and this wasn’t going to go away.

Once again in July, my period came, but this time it didn’t stop. I bled every day straight for six months. I went to see a different gynecologist. She suspected it was a fibroid gone haywire and it needed to come out. An MRI showed the mass was growing and eventually it was so large, it covered my right ovary. I was bloated all the time, I had pain in my right leg and my back, and I was exhausted all the time.

The surgery took place in January 2014. The mass had consumed my right ovary, so she removed the whole ovary. It wasn’t a fibroid. It was a Granulosa Cell Tumour, a rare form of ovarian cancer that accounts for less than 5% of all ovarian cancer cases in Canada. At my follow-up, my gynecologist told me, “It’s benign. We’ll keep an eye on you, but you’re fine. If it comes back, then we’ll worry.” But it wasn’t benign. The pathology report said it was of “low malignant potential”, commonly misinterpreted as benign but really malignant. The pathologist also recommended referring my case to an oncologist for further assessment. My gynecologist didn’t share this information with me. She decided she would monitor my case herself, and booked me for follow-up ultrasounds every six months. I was just so relieved I didn’t question it.

A year later, in May 2015, my follow-up ultrasound showed a mass where my right ovary used to be. I was stunned since I had no real symptoms and I was feeling good. My gynaecologist sent me for an MRI which confirmed there was a mass. She then sent me to the regional cancer centre for a “pre-op consult”. I met with the gynaecologic oncologist a week later. “I looked at the MRI and it looks like it’s probably a reoccurrence of the cancer you had last year, he said.” It was like a bomb had gone off in my head. “Um, excuse me; you’re saying its cancer? My gynaecologist never said it was cancer. This is newd to me.” He was flustered, “Oh no, this is cancer. You had cancer and you have it again. I don’t know if it’s been growing all this time or if it’s just come back again.”

The next month was filled with medical appointments to prepare for surgery: a CT scan, biopsy, follow-ups, pre-op clinics and surgery prep. I put my life on hold and prepared myself for the fight of a lifetime. I went in for surgery in June 2015. My surgeon removed my left ovary, and my uterus which was covered in disease, and masses in the area of my right ovary, and on my bowel and colon. I started chemotherapy two months later. Going through the chemotherapy was the only time during this journey where I truly felt like I was dying. It literally kills you to cure you. I completed chemo in October 2015 and now I’m in remission.

Cancer was the worst and the best thing that ever happened in my life. It challenged my physical strength but I grew emotionally and spiritually. I became a better woman. Cancer also gave me purpose. I want every woman to know my story. You live in your body every day; you know when something is wrong. Listen to that little voice inside, ask questions, challenge your doctor, arm yourself with facts and information. The more information you have, the better equipped you are to make decisions about your health. You only have one life to live, don’t let anyone stand in your way.

 

Kelly Anne Branco is a two-time Granulosa Cell Tumour Ovarian Cancer survivor and a thriver. Kelly lives by the axiom, “where you sit, is where you stand”, and uses her real life experiences with cancer and mental health disease, to help women find their voice in the clinical setting and empower them to take charge of their health care. Kelly volunteers with Ovarian Cancer Canada’s (OCC) Survivors Teaching Students program, which educates future health care providers how to suspect, detect and support women with ovarian cancer. A dedicated public servant, amateur knitter, and self-proclaimed book nerd, she is currently working on a memoir of her cancer journey, between knitting ugly sweaters, and keeping her two sassy cats and one crazy dog off her laptop. She lives in Toronto.
Follow Kelly on Instagram @brancobooknerd or Twitter @k_branco
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