Katy's Story - "The medical community are very good at telling you how to be sick. But I had to educate myself on how to live"

03 Apr 2023

Katy Morrison, 43, is married with three children, 7, 10, and 15. She was diagnosed with metastatic stage 4 cancer .

“I was the person who never went to the doctor. I always swam, and walked everywhere. I enjoyed my life in my 20s like most people, then became the kale-eating, smoothing-making suburban mum. There’s no history of breast cancer in my family, so when I was diagnosed, it came out of the blue.

“I regularly checked my breasts. I found a small, pea-sized lump in my left breast in January 2020. I immediately went to my GP who dismissed it as a likely blocked milk duct from breast feeding my children. They weren’t worried about it, and told me not to worry either.

“Over the next six weeks the lump grew until it was the size of a golf ball. I was finally sent for a mammogram in March 2020 where they saw the lump was 11 centimetres in diameter. My left breast looked like I’d had plastic surgery on it (while the right breast looked as though I’d breast fed three children!).

“I have a healthcare background. I knew what I saw on the screen. It was undoubtedly breast cancer. So I wasn’t surprised when they told me to go immediately for a CT scan then a biopsy. By this time the world was starting to fall apart, with businesses and schools closing down. Doctors were being furloughed. So I wasn’t surprised when the endocrine unit of the hospital called me on the Friday to tell me they were moving my appointment to the Monday. But then the receptionist told me that this was normal, ‘when the patient has stage four breast cancer’. I went silent. She of course, realised her blunder and said: ‘You didn’t know what was wrong, did you?’. Well, now I did! I demanded to see the doctor and arranged to come in within the next 30 minutes.

“I found my husband and told him that the diagnosis was bad, really bad. Our appointment with the endocrinologist was terrible, the doctor could barely meet my eye. She told me I had stage four cancer, that it was in my breast, my lungs, liver and my pelvis. She told me to go home, tell my family and children my diagnosis.

“I was convinced I was going to be dead by Monday. I went into shock and cancelled everything – my work commitments, social dates, courses I was enrolled in. I couldn’t think about anything other than that I’d be in the ground by Christmas.

“My Monday appointment with my surgeon did not go well. He told me ‘I can’t cure you.’ All he told me was the treatment I’d be going through: full mastectomy followed by IV-fed chemo. He told me that if I was alive at the end of this, then we’d discuss my other options.

“Thankfully, he referred me to a medical oncologist. He was young, eager and knew that I needed a positive approach. He sent me to have all my scans and tests again before determining my course of treatment. He told me he would not give me a time line, otherwise I’d hang onto it. Instead, he told me that he was going to do everything he could to keep me alive.

“I agreed. Dealing with breast cancer is a mind game. If you give up, then you’ve lost. I knew I had to be my usual optimistic self and to meet the challenge head on. Having that mindset works for me.

“Rather than IV chemo, I had hormone therapy. I had a hormone blocker as my cancer is oestrogen-fed. Then I had a single mastectomy to remove my left breast and the lymph nodes on the left side. This was followed by five weeks of radiation. I wasn’t offered reconstructive surgery, as that type of operation isn’t considered necessary for people who have stage 4 cancer. The treatment is like having a permanent hangover – you feel exhausted, tired, nauseous.

“I’ve had to fight to have my other breast removed, and it’s still being discussed.

“Having stage 4 cancer is like being at the top level of a game. You can’t go back down the levels. You can’t go backwards. The cancer in my lung, liver and pelvis has shrunk, but I will always have stage 4 cancer.

“I have made some big changes to my way of life. I try to eat plant based as much as possible; I swim whenever the stress and anxiety gets too much; and I do drink tequila! I’ve also become a huge fan of Reiki as part of my healing journey. I’m now very picky about the people I bring into my life. And I fight every step of the way to be included in my medical information.

“I know some patients treat their doctors like God, but I demand to get every piece of information my medical team does. I approach life and my diagnosis with humour, but I’m also extremely dogged about being informed. I’ve always been this way, but I’ve had to toughen up.

“The first nurse I saw told me to go home, eat ice-cream and to get my affairs in order. Thankfully I ignored her. Instead, I reached out to people on social media for their help and advice .That’s when I found Pink Hope. Their advice and support has helped carry me through some tough times. Because when you are given a cancer diagnosis it can become monotonous – for you, your family, your friends. After a while people get bored of it. So having an online community, where there’s always someone to listen to you rant, or cry, or ask questions – even at 2am - has undoubtedly saved me.

“The medical community are very good at telling you how to be sick. But I had to educate myself on how to live.”

This content is brought to you in partnership with Eli Lilly Australia and developed independently by the team at Pink Hope.