The last 14 months have been an emotional and physical roller coaster ride for Estevan's Marlene Gaudry.
Gaudry was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer in March of last year, and has since been undergoing treatments. And her experiences, coupled with her willingness to publicly share her cancer journey, has resulted in her being named the honourary chairperson for this year's Estevan Relay for Life.
It's a volunteer capacity reserved for a cancer survivor.
Gaudry said she had many of the symptoms of ovarian cancer prior to her diagnosis. She felt bloated; she was frequently going to the bathroom; she was feeling full after eating a small amount at meals, and she was constantly exhausted when at work or at home.
But she didn't know about the symptoms for ovarian cancer.
“I made many trips to the doctor, and one to the emergency room in Estevan, and I was none the wiser (about cancer),” said Gaudry.
The diagnosis came last year when she was on her way to Regina for an Easter brunch. She needed to stop repeatedly to use the washroom, and at that point, her husband, Duane, told her she needed to go to the emergency room in Regina.
“They did a CT scan there, and at that point, they told me that I was full of tumours, and I had advanced cancer,” said Gaudry. “I was hospitalized, and then they did a biopsy, and my abdomen expanded like I was six months pregnant.”
Gaudry was told to go home and wait for chemotherapy to begin. The plan was to do three rounds of chemo, and then attempt an operation.
She had the surgery, and it proved to be more extensive than her doctors expected. They couldn't remove all of the cancer. So she underwent additional chemotherapy.
In September, she was experiencing symptoms similar to what she had before her diagnosis in the spring. A CT scan discovered another tumour, and that meant more surgery.
“The heart-wrenching thing was that news came on the same day as my dad died of esophagus cancer,” said Gaudry.
Her second surgery happened in November. The doctor said they removed the remaining tumours from her ovaries, but they had to leave a large, dormant tumour in her pelvis that the doctor said was too involved to be removed by surgery. They were also confident that any cancer in her pelvis had been removed by the chemotherapy.
But the pelvis tumour has grown slightly, and now it's being treated through palliative chemo, she said. It was difficult to hear the news about the tumour's growth.
“I have faith that we'll be able to cure it,” said Gaudry. “I have lots of people praying for me. I have faith in my oncologist, and in the skilled staff at the Allan Blair (Cancer Centre).”
Gaudry is in the midst of her 15th round of chemotherapy; she has one more round remaining in mid-June. After it is finished, the need for future treatments will be assessed.
The first 11 rounds saw her undergo a full day of treatment once every three weeks. But she had adverse reactions to the treatment, which is common, she said. Now she has two hours of treatment every day for a week, and then a two-week break.
“The upside to that is I can have it here in Estevan,” she said.
Her fight against cancer caught the attention of Carol Cundall – a local breast cancer survivor who was the relay's honourary chair in 2009, and is now the survivor committee co-chair. Cundall urged Gaudry to be this year's honourary chair.
“I felt like I shouldn't, because I'm going through cancer, but of course Carol said 'Once you start (treatment), you're a survivor,'” said Gaudry. “I said I hadn't earned the t-shirt, but her words were 'Most of us have earned the whole track suit with what we've been through.'”
Gaudry said nothing could have prepared her for what she would go through during her cancer treatment.
People should support the relay because funds raised during the event go to the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), which Gaudry said is a great organization. The CCS helped connect her with peer support volunteers like Cundall. And its education programs include pamphlets to create awareness about cancer symptoms and coping methods.
“It's why the Canadian Cancer Society is such a significant and valuable organization,” said Gaudry. “It's why we need to support the Relay for Life. They offer support for the cancer patient, as well as research and education and awareness.
“That's what happened with me. I didn't know what the symptoms for my cancer were. And I don't know if the doctors even knew.”
Cancer is a silent killer, she said, because symptoms can often be confused for other health conditions and illnesses.
One of the messages that she is trying to convey is the need for people to know their own bodies.
“If something isn't right, keep persisting, until you get some kind of an answer,” said Gaudry. “If you know your own body, and if you know something is wrong – and I knew something was wrong, I just didn't know what – (then it improves your chances for an early diagnosis).”
As the honourary chairperson, Gaudry will have to give a speech at Estevan's Relay for Life on June 7 and 8 at the Civic Auditorium. She'll also walk in the opening laps for cancer survivors.
Gaudry also shared her cancer journey at a local retreat for cancer survivors, organized by the CCS, in late April. The workshops are another valuable service offered by the CCS, as they allowed her to connect with other cancer survivors, including some who battled cancer for years.
“It gives you a lot of hope, and then, also, you see people who are living with cancer, and how you can cope with things, and all the Canadian Cancer Society has to offer,” she said.
Gaudry's commitment to the fight against cancer extends beyond the Relay for Life. She will be participating in the Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope in Regina in September; her team will be named Crazy Cat Ladies – a tribute to the number of cats at her home.
“This year I vowed I was going to have the biggest team,” said Gaudry. “I think I have 15 people committed so far.”
While she would like to have a clean bill of health, Gaudry said she is getting stronger, and she is thankful for her support group of family and friends.