I’m a survivor. 

In April 2011 I received the call that changed my life. It was my doctor. It’s hard to remember much of what he said after those three terrible words: You have cancer.

At the time, I was just 28 years old. It turned out that the type of cancer I had was very unusual for a woman my age. The standard treatment was a full hysterectomy. With that option there would have been no chance of me getting pregnant and giving birth to a baby of my own. Thankfully, my specialist, Dr. Andrew Browning, along with his amazing team, wouldn’t accept that as the only option. They did their research and found another way. I’m thrilled to tell you that today I remain cancer free. And, just under a year ago, I gave birth to the most precious baby girl!

I’ll tell you more of my story in a moment. First, I want to thank you sincerely for your part in this story. The generous gifts of donors in support of the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) helped to purchase the equipment necessary to diagnose and treat my cancer.

Do you know what else saved my life? Having regular gynecological exams. It’s something my mom, Sharon Partridge, insisted I start as soon as I turned 16. She was a nurse and lost her own mom to cervical cancer before I was even born. So I dutifully got the tests each year.

Then, in my early twenties, I got a call that they’d found some abnormal squamous cells. Nothing unusual. Many people get the same results. That’s why they do the screening. They kept an eye on it, doing more frequent testing. I alternated between normal and abnormal results for a couple of years. Then came two abnormal results in a row. That’s when I went for a full colposcopy, a procedure to closely examine the cervix, vagina and vulva for signs of disease. They removed the abnormal cells and all was good.

My family doctor was always really on top of everything. I kept getting regular tests every three months, then increased to six months and then a year when the results were normal. So, when I got the call from my doctor, just a week after my regular pap test, I was shocked. I’d done everything right. I thought I was safe.

It turned out I had a type of cancer called adenocarcinoma insitu—it wasn’t even related to the abnormal squamous cells they’d found earlier. It was an aggressive form of cancer, usually found in middle-aged women. It hadn’t even been present when they’d done my pap test a year earlier. While I was terrified to hear I had cancer, and fearful that I might not be able to have a child, I was also incredibly grateful. Grateful my mom had insisted I get regularly tested. Grateful I’d showed up and had the test on time. Who knows what might have happened if I’d put it off for a few months?           

More than anything, I’m grateful to the medical team at RVH – the surgeons, nurses, and pathologists -- who took the time to give me the best treatment option. They gave me the chance to have a baby of my own.

I also feel so grateful to the many generous RVH supporters who help make this health centre the best it can be!

In fact, it’s only recently, and thanks to donor support, that gynecological cancer can even be treated here in Barrie. I can’t imagine having to travel hours away for treatment, yet some women still must do so.

Aside from being away from my vitally important family support system, I wonder if a busy doctor in a bigger hospital might have just said, “You have to have a hysterectomy.” And that would have been that. No possibility of having a baby for me. It’s still an option down the road. If the cancer returns I may still have to have a hysterectomy—but at least now I have my precious girl. I was given a chance. Dr. Browning was able to remove the cancer from part of my cervix, leaving enough intact so I had the chance to get pregnant and carry to full term.

As I said, I’m so incredibly grateful!

And if by sharing my story with you I can help to save another life… to give another young woman the chance to become a mother, save a mom the heartache of losing her daughter… then I will!

I hope you’ll consider making a special gift to RVH today to help ensure that the talented team of Gynecological Oncologists, which now includes Dr. Leah Jutzi and Dr. Allison Ball, have the essential medical equipment to continue providing exceptional care.

Much of the treatment for women’s cancers centres around surgery. Your support will help purchase instruments designed for use in minimally invasive surgical procedures. You’ll also help train RVH nurses and medical staff on how to use new pieces of equipment and stay abreast of constantly changing treatment methods.

My mom was my rock through this whole ordeal… You might remember I mentioned she’s a nurse. She worked at RVH for 44 years! She saw a lot of change in that time, as you can imagine. In fact, when my grandmother had cancer, the treatment was so different. She had to have cobalt radium implants that really made her very ill. Although she lived another 10 or 15 years after, she still died at the young age of 53. She died before I was born, so I never even got to meet her.

 I’m so grateful my treatment was much less invasive. So grateful I had the chance to give birth.

I’m adopted, so I’ve always been open to adopting my own child, but I didn’t want the choice to be taken away from me. Especially at such a young age. Seeing how much medical treatments have changed over the years, it feels good knowing my daughter will probably have even better options than I did.

To me, it’s worth giving whatever I can to ensure people in this community—the people I know and love—can receive the very best health care possible. It’s important that we receive treatment right here in our own community. That we don’t have to drive outside of our region in order to receive the best treatment.

Let me thank the hospital's generous donors once more. Your support is the reason we have such exceptional care right here in our own backyard. Join me and send your gift to RVH today. It could just save your life, or the life of someone you love. Thank you!

Yours for the best possible health care when you need it most,

Sonya McEwen

Cancer Survivor and New Mom

PS:  I hope my story inspires you or someone you care about to get regular health checks. It can make all the difference in the world. If you can, please send your special gift to give everyone in this community the very best possible care. Thank you!

Our beautiful daughter was born at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre after the skilled team of healthcare professionals at RVH saved my life. 

Our first Christmas together was a dream come true. 

My mother is such an inspiration to me, and I am so grateful that she is able to share in these special moments with my daughter. 

I have a family, thanks to the incredible team at RVH!