Cervical Cancer Story: Sam McKinnon

Sam McKinnon’s life prior to her diagnosis is one that most would describe as normal. She
worked for years as a nuclear medicine technician in the diagnostic imaging wing of her
hospital. She’s married with a four-year-old son and lives in a rural part of Canada.

“I was starting to try and get involved with the licensing body on both provincial and national
levels. I was volunteering on a national committee developing a fellowship program, which was
way over my head, but they wanted the younger, newer type of person to the industry to have
that perspective on how they could get the younger, newer candidates on board. So that was
really cool. I was doing lots of stuff like that, career-wise, it was a little more volunteer time, but I
felt like I was actually like, helping my industry.”

She and her partner were excited about making plans to conceive another child. She credits
her IUD removal appointment as helping lead to the diagnosis. During the process, her
physician discovered that it was stuck. Following an ultrasound, a “mystery spot” was
detected that her gynecologist predicted would be a benign cyst. However, two weeks before
her 30th birthday, her MRI scans revealed something much worse – a 4 cm tumor on her cervix
and an 8-10 cm lymph node mass. Physicians rushed to schedule an appointment with an

“The turmor was pressing on my IUD, and that’s why they weren’t able to get it out. That’s
probably the most heartbreaking part of the whole situation – the loss of my fertility and not
being able to have another child to grow our family.”

Sam says that there was no time to harvest eggs and because of the location of the cancer,
they determined that it was an aggressive form of cancer – somewhere between Stages 2 and
3. As a medical professional, she knew the importance of preventative measures and always
practiced them. She had no family history of cancer. Sam was blindsided.

Her physicians developed an aggressive treatment plan. It involved removing the mass and
moving her ovaries higher up in her rib cage to minimize the impact of menopause and
radiation, and chemotherapy. Now clear of cancer, Sam describes her post-treatment as
nothing less than challenging and says that she feels worse than she did with cancer. Earlier
this year, she spent two months in the hospital during the spring following an infection that
affected her kidneys and bladder and required nephrostomy tubes to be placed in her kidneys.
Though Sam still struggles with infections and chronic pain, she’s maintained hope. When
asked what advice she would give other women, her response is straightforward. Advocate for
yourself and your physical health.

“Follow your intuition. And if you don’t agree with what your doctor says, find another doctor.
Like, that’s really why I share my story because I worked in the healthcare field. I knew where
the breaks are, and the downfalls. But being on the other side, I think that helped me knowing
how easy it is to get lost in the system. So I’ve always followed up on doctors. I don’t trust
doctors to remember to call me when I have test results. I very much believe in seeing the test
results myself. So that I can ask them questions. I’m getting second opinions. Like, doctors are
human, too, and they haven’t encountered every single case.”

She also tells anyone who will listen to be persistent, never be afraid to ask questions and to
ask for referrals to other more specialized physicians. Though this advice can be challenging
for many women in part because, as Sam and countless other women have described, women
can often be written off as exaggerating when bringing health concerns to doctors, it does
work. Sam says that she’s been seeking a referral for a new urologist to help with her medical
condition for the last six months in hopes of getting the quality of life that she both wants and
deserves. Excitedly, she revealed that she finally received an appointment with a doctor in a
nearby city just two hours away!

“They called me for the appointment, and I nearly cried because I’ve been, trying so damn
hard…I’m so emotional and so happy that I do have these few gems of doctors that are really
trying to help me. And that’s such a breath of fresh air to have someone take me seriously and
trying to make me better.”