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Amy’s Journey: One Young Canadian’s Story Of Living With & Beyond Cancer
April 21, 2013
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Last summer, Amy McDougall went on an unusual journey.

Amy was just 24 when she was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. The diagnosis and subsequent treatments changed her life.

She and her husband had a baby, Avery, while she was undergoing treatment in Toronto; they call Avery, who's a little girl now, their "miracle baby".

Because of the cancer and treatment, Amy lost her hair, experienced severe pain, and had to face some stark realities that most people her age don't have to consider.

Through it all, she found ways to stay strong and keep hoping for the future, and she is now only days away from her last cycle of chemotherapy after two years of treatments.

And that trip she took last summer? It was a journey of hope.

rafting-amy.jpg

Amy, along with 24 other cancer survivors, took a 190-mile white-water rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. She told Strombo.com she learned a lot from the experience:

"I learned that I am a lot stronger physically, mentally and emotionally than I thought I was, but I also realized how much "baggage" I was carrying around," she wrote in an email, "and the ability to talk about my experience and exert the right amount of physical energy with other people that just understand is just priceless."

And the effects of the trip didn't stop when she got home.

"I think going on the rafting trip allowed me to relax enough to come home better able to cope with the treatments I still had to do and to really reflect on the relationships I have," Amy told us. "I came home ready with a renewed sense of purpose."

The expedition was organized by another cancer survivor, Mike Lang who's from Calgary. Mike finished his own cancer treatments four years ago, and decided he wanted to use what he'd learned from his experience to try and help others.

Now, he runs Survive and Thrive Tours, which offers young adults living with cancer the chance to go on adventures together.

rafting-group.jpg

The rafting tour was the first of its kind, and to mark the occasion, Mike decided to film the entire trip, focusing on Amy's experience, and that of her friend Annie who came along to support her.

Now, that footage is part of a web series called 'Valleys' (that's the first episode at the top of the page).

The series weaves the experience of the rafting trip together with Amy's story of living through cancer, and how her family and loved ones have dealt with it.

Here are episodes two and three of the series - a new one will come out each week on the Lazarex Cancer Foundation's YouTube page and on the Cancer Bridges website:

The series focuses on one person's experience, but the issues it raises are bigger than Amy's story. 'Valleys' and Mike's other work also aim to raise awareness about 15-39 year-olds with cancer, a patient group that is often overlooked..

In fact, young adult cancer patients have been called the "lost generation".

Amy says "there are a lot of barriers for young adults that unfortunately lead a lot of us to fall through the cracks."

"Many family doctors are skeptical about ordering tests for certain cancers," she told us, "especially when the symptoms can be indicative of so many minor injuries or diseases, because 'we are too young' to have cancer."

Her suggestion? "The discussion needs to start that treating a young adult with cancer is different. We have different needs, we are in a different stage of life, so our priorities and long term objectives are different. We need support with people our own age and different supports than those who are in paediatrics or in the 'older age' demographic."

Amy has a message for other people who are in a similar situation:

"I want other young adults who are facing cancer and their caregivers to know that although it is a struggle, and at times it may seem impossible - you can get the help you need. It may not always be easy but there are others out there to connect with. Also, never be afraid to be your own advocate. Sometimes you need to be pushy and that's okay. But just know: you're not alone."

Related:

On Her Deathbed, This Nurse Offered Herself To Students So They Could Better Learn To Care For Terminally Ill People

McGill Researchers Dance to Beat Cancer

INFOGRAPHIC: An Interactive Look At How Cancer Affects People Around The World

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