In August 2018, Lorri Winship’s life changed when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She began the standard treatment of surgery and chemotherapy for her aggressive diagnosis that September. In the next year and a half, Lorri underwent about five different chemotherapies, but the cancer continued to grow and show resistance. She was eventually told that there wasn’t much that could be done and that she should develop a palliative care plan. But Lorri could not accept that. Without giving up hope, Lorri decided to get a second opinion and began doing some research.
That’s when she came across a naturopath oncology care centre in Calgary, where she was given some hopeful news. “I was told not to give up and that I still had some options,” she says. She was then encouraged to see an oncologist at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. Lorri then underwent naturopathy treatment for three months before beginning treatments at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in August 2020. At the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Lorri was put back on a type of chemotherapy that was initially found to be effective, and after six months, the growth had slowed down and showed some improvement. “My last CT scan showed that there was a mixed response (meaning some shrinkage and some growth albeit small) It feels very hopeful,” she says.
Today Lorri lives in Cochrane, Alberta, while she continues treatment. Holding back tears, she says, “It was a dream to retire there. My daughter and her husband bought a house for me, a block from where they live,” she says. Being so close to her family and grandchildren has been a gift for Lorri. Lorri recalls a close call she had during her cancer journey, an event that reinforced her appreciation for her loved ones. In July 2020, she was rushed to the emergency room after experiencing an internal abscess in her abdomen. “The surgeon could not see where it was coming from, and the tumors were too big to operate. They said that they would have to send me to palliative care.” Lorri pleaded to her surgeon, asking if there was anything that they could do. Her surgeon decided to place her in the GI (Gastrointestinal) Unit with an IV hoping that the abscess would heal on its own. Five days later, a CT scan showed that the abscess was gone. “It felt like a miracle to me,” she says. Lorri’s health eventually improved, and she was able to go home.
“My faith has been a big factor that helped me get through this. By the grace of God, I am here, and I’m very grateful for that,” she says.
After that scare, she and her family have become very close, “We realized how fragile life is and how we need to appreciate each other and every moment together. I have had a renewed and intense appreciation for the time I get to spend with my loved ones. Every occasion that I get to witness, every birthday I get to celebrate, every Christmas, every Easter, I’m so grateful,” she says.
Lorri’s family has supported her throughout her cancer journey. At one of her last chemotherapy treatments, when two patients rang the bell of hope – signalling completion of their chemotherapy treatments – Lorri clapped and cheered for them, but after almost three years of chemotherapy, she couldn’t help but wonder when her time would come. She shared these thoughts with her son. Later one evening, Lorri’s son gathered their family and explained the significance of ringing the bell of hope and how Lorri had been feeling. “And then, as I turned around, there was a bell hanging on the wall behind me. My son said that just because I had not been able to ring the “chemo bell” didn’t mean that I hadn’t had bell ringing moments. Just being with family was a bell ringing moment. So I rang that bell as loud as it would go!! I brought it back home, and I will carry it with me to bell-ringing all the special times.
“I am looking forward to many more bell-ringing moments in the days ahead.”
Through her cancer journey, Lori has come to learn a lot about herself and her strengths. The current treatments are “holding” the cancer (both some small shrinkage and small growth), but doctors warn of further growth. Because of this, Lorri would sometimes experience fear when she felt a minor ache in her body, before a follow-up scan or even during the joyful moments in her life. “I was at my granddaughter’s birthday, it was so beautiful, and suddenly I got scared that I wouldn’t be there next year,” she recalls. Although she cannot control what the cancer does, Lorri is learning to manage her fears. “When I have those thoughts, I try to think of the positive things. I tell myself that cancer is not going to win and that I will get through this. I pray and picture myself as healthy. It’s also important to think of yourself with a future. My youngest granddaughter starts kindergarten in the fall, and I picture myself at her high school graduation,” she says.
Lorri has also learned the importance of looking at cancer care through a holistic lens. She now takes steps to take care of not just her physical health but also her mental, emotional, and spiritual health. More than anything, she has learned the importance of advocating for herself and not giving up. “It’s important to ask questions, speak up and advocate for yourself as a patient. And if you hit a roadblock, get a second opinion and don’t give up,” she says.
When Lorri looks back at those trying times, she recalls them not as painful memories but something she is grateful for, “I have a fridge magnet that says – ‘If you’re concerned about where you have to go, look back and see how far you’ve come.’ I was able to overcome those challenges, and now I’m more appreciative than ever.”
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