health

'I thought I was just experiencing dizziness or vertigo. But it was the worst news possible.'

On the 8th of January, Cassy Morris was diagnosed with brain cancer. The news came under a year after she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, even though she’d never smoked a cigarette in her life. This is her story, as she and her young family fight this new challenge.

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Today, like the 19th of June 2017 – the day I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer – is a day that will forever be etched into our memories. Because today, the 8th of January 2018, is the day I learned I have cancer in my brain too.

To say this news came as an utter shock is an understatement. Let’s start from the beginning…

On Saturday the 6th of January when getting my daughters’ breakfast I had a bizarre experience. It felt like what could only be explained as a scene from Inception (you know the movie with Leonardo?), except I was the only one experiencing it. The room literally fell on top of me, I grabbed the breakfast bar, where I was standing to prevent myself and the girls from falling. I scared the crap out of the girls. They were screaming, “Mum, mum! What’s happening? Are you OK?”

It lasted seconds but it was so real. I had to sit down, and from that moment onward the room never stopped moving. Not spinning, just moving. I felt nauseous, scared and concerned but thought I just needed to sleep it off. So that’s what I did for the majority of the day.

The next day, I woke up not much better. My husband Kane insisted I go to hospital, as they have my history. I thought we could just go to Chemist Warehouse for some medication. Luckily, my husband was switched on. So on the morning of Sunday the 7th of January we made our way over to the emergency department presenting with what I thought was extreme dizziness or vertigo. Boy, was I wrong.

It was an extremely busy morning, with no beds, although they took me straight on to a trolley hidden in reception. I was there for most of the day before I met a talented doctor, Dr Champion (no jokes – his name really is Champion) who knew something wasn’t right. He did a series of tests and ordered a CT scan and insisted I stay overnight. He wanted me to have an MRI in the morning.

The CT scan came back clear but he still wanted me to stay, because at this stage I couldn’t walk unaided. I listened.

Monday 8th of January 2018

At about 7:30am, I met with two oncologists who both said they didn’t suspect anything dire and that I should be going home after the MRI later that day. So I had the MRI suspecting nothing. I then rested. Kane arrived at the hospital not too much later on.

Later that afternoon the news that I received couldn’t have been further from my mind. In my mind, I was going home. The oncologist asked how I was feeling, to which I replied “a little better”. I asked, “did the scan show anything?”

She said yes.

Instantly, I felt a lump in my throat and my thoughts went to my girls. “What did you find?” I asked. She said “lots of little tumours all over the brain but mainly in the back of the brain”. It would explain the excruciating migraines and dizziness I’d been experiencing for the last few months. This news was like a whack to the face. It jolted us, to say the least. A series of questions entered my mind.

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Why? How? This can’t be, I need to be here for my girls. This is so unfair. It’s so unfair on them. My poor family. I’m healthy. I’ve never smoked. How can the cancer be in my brain? Why was it not detected earlier? No, it’s not going to be the end of me. I won’t let it. Cancer can suck balls.

I just can’t stop thinking about my girls. They’re young. They need me for a long time. I plan to be here for all their important milestones – first day at school, last day at school, getting their license, going to university, having a boyfriend, getting married, having babies… I need to be here for all of this. I have to be. There’s no other option.

Later that day, surrounded by my family (fortunately the kids were having a sleepover, so weren’t with us), I had a meeting with the amazing Dr Ian Porter, my radio oncologist. He spoke about what they found and the next steps. He is informative but somehow manages to lift the mood even when the news isn’t too great. He informed us that they’d make a special mask for me to protect my eyes and ears from the radiation, and then over the next few days they would map my brain for radiation.

He told us there are hundreds of little tumours over my whole brain (the size of salt granules) and this is the best way to treat it. I will have two weeks of intense radiation. They need to be careful of my eyes and ears so as to not cause permanent damage. But they most importantly need to kill the cancer and save my life.

"I don't know how I'll feel seeing chunks in my bed, falling out between my fingers. I don't know how it will make my kids feel." Image: Makeup and Meds.
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So we have a long road ahead, faced with new challenges. I don't know what to do but fight. I'm scared, no doubt. I'm scared of not winning and not being here, but I have to try and give it all that I have because I cannot imagine the alternative.

During this journey many people have said to me, "Cassy you look great", "Are you sure you're sick?". I love hearing this, it makes me feel better even though it may not be representative of what's lurking underneath. But it's so nice to hear regardless. But I compare it to magicians, just as magicians have smoke and mirrors, I have my own illusion... makeup and meds. It's all an illusion. It makes me feel better to look and feel the best I can, even though the truth is not what you see.

But for someone who has been "faking it" with makeup and meds, I won't be able to do it for much longer. Because I will most certainly lose all my hair. After two weeks of treatment I won't have any hair. I'm not going to lie, this is shocking and I'm sure it's going to be confronting. My hair is a massive part of my features. It's big, very big, long and is just... Cassy. I don't know how I'll feel seeing chunks in my bed, falling out between my fingers. I don't know how it will make my kids feel.

LISTEN: Jana Pittman speaks to Mia Freedman about the key symptoms to look out for when it comes to gynaecological cancers (post continues after audio...)

All I know for sure is that life is uncertain, so we need to make the most of everyday. Family is everything, so hold your loved ones tight each night because who knows what's around the corner. Literally anything can happen.

All I want is to be satisfied by living a full life, watching my girls grow into the magnificent women I know they will be. I want to see who they become and what greatness they accomplish. I truly hope I get to see and experience that. I want to make more memories with my family. I want to laugh more, play more and just do more with them.

The road ahead is long, but I'm up for the fight! I'm needed, I need to be here. So let's do this and get back to creating memories and living life to the fullest.

This post originally featured on Cassy's blog, Makeup and Meds and was republished here with full permission. You can follow Cassy's treatment journey on her blog and Instagram account. You can also support Cassy and her family by donating to their GoFundMe page.

You can listen to Mia Freedman's full interview with Jana Pittman below...

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