My name is Millie McConnell, and I am a fifteen-year stomach cancer survivor.
I was diagnosed November 15, 2001 with stage 3B signet ring stomach cancer and told to put my affairs in order. At the hospital, they put me on morphine, even though it was on my patient record prior to surgery that I was very allergic to it. Following surgery, I awoke vomiting what felt like most of the blood out of my body. This led to a blood transfusion to replace all the blood lost. My type of cancer at that time was labeled ‘juvenile and aggressive’. The doctors explained that they had no idea how to even treat it, so they put me on the second highest levels of chemotherapy and radiation treatments together.
Once the initial shock hit, I slowly came to realize that it was all out of my hands. At this point, I decided to let go and just follow the advice from doctors, oncologists, family, friends, and others and live as best I could with joy for each day of life left.
What followed was a very aggressive treatment, and through the entire experience I remained calm and even cracked jokes with my family, fellow patients, and the medical community treating me. This attitude seemed to ease the experience because I was not hanging on to the negative emotions that often accompany this experience.
It’s been a long journey. Five years following treatments I forced myself back to work (against my doctor’s orders) as an Admission Representative at a local business college. After about a year and a half, my system completely crashed and doctors told me I was done. I explained to these doctors, “Never say you are done to a cancer survivor! I’m done in this career but starting another.”
Following this I joined Toastmasters International and began learning how to be an effective public speaker. This has led me to so many more experiences and one is with another organization, Debbie’s Dream Foundation: Curing Stomach Cancer, based in the United States. This amazing group of people, (especially Debbie, who is my inspiration) flew me to Washington, DC to visit the legislators’ offices on Capitol Hill. I joined thirty people who came from across the United States to advocate that funding for stomach cancer research be reprioritized by the National Cancer Institute.
I also attended the Advocacy Boot Camp four-day program in Toronto to learn more about how the systems in Canada work and how I can fit in to advocate on behalf of patients here at home.
Meeting other survivors was inspiring and being the longest survivor there, I tried to help with questions and sharing information to help everyone learn as much as possible about this deadly disease.