BY NATHAN DeLONG
In the summer of 2016, Amy Montgomery’s life story turned on a dime.
On August 18, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
“My heart broke into a million pieces,” she said. She and her husband Scott sat down and wept together.
“We were heartbroken. So many thoughts went through our minds. How we would tell our two daughters and family?
“How would we financially afford this where we had just bought a house in May for our family?”
Since then, Montgomery, 34, has undergone two rounds of treatments. She’s now being monitored by doctors while waiting to determine her next steps.
Montgomery lives in Richmond Corner, a small community located 100 kilometres northwest of Fredericton.
Montgomery has a hard road ahead, but the love and friendship she and her family have experienced in their community has provided them with plenty of moral and financial support.
On Oct. 1, three days before her eighth wedding anniversary, Montgomery and her extended family benefitted from an evening of musical entertainment and an auction that was held as a fundraiser.
A couple months later, they also witnessed first-hand the kindness and generosity of their oldest daughter’s classmates as the holiday season wrapped up.
All the support throughout her journey has overwhelmed Montgomery and her loved ones.
Although cancer may not have crossed her mind until mid-August, Montgomery wasn’t herself for a while before that. She felt weak and sick for months and was in and out of the hospital prior to her diagnosis.
“I just brushed it off as ‘woman problems’ and never thought much of it,” said Montgomery, who stayed overnight several times at the Upper River Valley Hospital in Waterville, near Hartland.
On Aug. 17, Montgomery said her husband, Scott, came home from his job as a carpenter and found her passed out.
“I had been sick all day and was hemorrhaging,” she said. “Scott rushed me to the hospital, where this time, the doctors called the gynecologist at [Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton] and demanded that they see me.”
Montgomery said the specialist in Fredericton was contacted several times before she took a turn for the worse, but she didn’t get to see him and only managed to get varying ideas for medicine to stop her from hemorrhaging.
The gynecologist in Fredericton agreed to see Montgomery the following morning.
“I stayed the night [in Waterville] and had two blood transfusions and more [intravenous],” she said.
On Aug. 18, Montgomery was driven to Fredericton by her husband to see the on-call gynecologist. The doctor examined her and then asked his nurse to put her hands on Montgomery’s shoulders.
“The doctor looked at me and said, ‘I’m sorry, madam, but you have cervical cancer,’” said Montgomery.
“The doctor said he thought it was early stages – either one or two – and that I’d be clear of cancer in a month or so.”
Montgomery was admitted for further testing. She is grateful for the nurses who worked on that wing and consoled her and her family as they began riding the biggest emotional rollercoaster of their lives.
The following day, on Aug. 19, Montgomery underwent a CT scan to see how far the cancer had spread.
“My kidneys weren’t working, and I needed surgery to fix them,” she said.
“That was done that Saturday, but the doctor couldn’t get both stints in where the tumor was too large to get past, so I needed to go for another surgery to go through my back and add the other stint.”
Montgomery spent the following few weeks with a urine bag hooked to her back, but she was sent home from Fredericton on Aug. 24 to wait for officials at Saint John Regional Hospital to notify her of the next steps.
The next day, she heard from her doctor in Fredericton that her cancer was at Stage 4 and had spread to her bladder.
“Again, I was more heartbroken and just wanted life to be over with,” she said.
On Sept. 6, Montgomery was examined in Saint John, where she received even more bad news – her cancer was spreading faster than the doctors hoped.
Montgomery started treatments six days later. On Mondays, she received chemotherapy for six weeks.
Starting on Oct. 18, Montgomery took surgery rod radiation from Monday to Friday for four weeks, or 30 doses.
It was also in the fall when many people Montgomery holds close came together.
Two of Montgomery’s friends organized a benefit fundraiser for her in Woodstock that included a canteen, silent and live auctions and live music. The event brought in close to $20,000 to offset travel and medical costs, among other expenses her family might incur during her battle.
Her friends collected donations for the silent auction and contacted the Countryside 4-H club, where Montgomery is a member, about making desserts to auction off.
“I wasn’t able to be there, as my cell counts were low, and I couldn’t take the risk of getting sick,” she said, adding that her husband and two daughters, Katie and Sam, attended the fundraiser.
Montgomery took in the event via Facetime – a video call app for mobile devices – and was sent lots of photos on social media that showed a packed hall.
She said some people simply stopped by to make donations, while many others showed up and stayed.
“This was a very successful night, and it’s amazing how our Woodstock community pulled together and made this amazing event for our family,” said Montgomery.
“It gave us a breath of fresh air financially where Scott has missed so much work, and my medicine was so costly, and travelling and parking fees were adding up, as well.”
When Montgomery was taking treatments, her husband often was off work for several days to accompany her at the hospital or to support her at home when the chemo and radiation took a toll on her stamina.
“Now that I’m in between treatments, Scott has been back to work mostly full-time,” she said. “His boss has been amazing during this time.
“There would be days where I was so sick he would stay home with me. Whenever I have doctors’ appointments, he still takes me, as I wasn’t allowed to drive for the longest time, and I’m just starting to drive full-time again.”
Being away from home for five days a week for treatments was even harder on Montgomery herself where she’s a stay-at-home mother. Until then, she hadn’t been away from her family for more than a day or two.
“Thank goodness for Facetime each day, and some days, several times a day,” she said.
“I always did everything for our household – paying the bills, getting groceries, making meals and running around, while Scott worked to provide for our family. He had to find out about all that quickly on top of working and looking after me on weekends when I was home.”
Shortly after the Christmas holidays, Montgomery and her family were touched by yet another generous display of support.
Her husband was contacted by the Woodstock High School Thunder girls’ hockey coaches, who told him the Grade 12 players wanted the team’s annual alumni game to be a fundraiser for her family and their classmate – Montgomery’s oldest daughter, Katie – to help them in trying times.
Donations at the door and 50-50 ticket sales raised close to $1,500 for Montgomery’s medical expenses.
“We were overwhelmed by this, and it was heartwarming that the hockey girls thought of their classmate and her family,” she said.
“[The game] was my first outing for some time. It was nice to see our friends and a good hockey game.”
Aside from the fundraisers, Montgomery said her extended family has been supportive from the get-go.
“My parents have been amazing and on call 24-7 for both our daughters,” said Montgomery.
“When I’ve been in the hospital, and Scott has been with me, the girls stay with them, and they make sure they get to school and are picked up and looked after.”
During Montgomery’s hospital stays in Saint John, her sister-in-law made the 100-kilometre trek from St. Andrews, a small southeastern town along the United States border, once a week to visit her.
“She was a spy for her baby brother and filled him in on how I really was,” Montgomery said, jokingly.
“When I was home on weekends, both our families came over to visit, or they brought us food.”
Montgomery said she has also enjoyed an outpouring of love from friends, who – like her close family members – have provided food, paid visits, offered a listening ear and agreed to help address her needs.
Nowadays, Montgomery’s medical future remains to be determined, as doctors continue to monitor her with weekly appointments and blood work.
The chemo and radiation she previously received has compromised everything from her ability to do basic household chores to her memory.
“Cancer treatments and chemo make you tired and sick,” said Montgomery.
“Week 1 wasn’t bad as it was just getting into my system, but from Week 2 until just a few weeks ago, I was sleeping 18 to 20 hours a day. I couldn’t go up or down the stairs, do laundry, cook or clean where I had no energy at all.”
Montgomery’s sleep has now been reduced to about 12 hours a day. Each week, she gets better, and she’s even returned to doing some housework and cooking a few meals.
Montgomery recently weighed her options with a doctor in Moncton and declined to undergo a surgery mentioned by that doctor that would include the removal of her bladder, rectum and vaginal organs.
“I would have to live with a bag on each side of my body for the rest of my life,” said Montgomery.
“I would be in Montreal for a long time, then transferred to Moncton or Saint John to finish recovery.”
Where that procedure is not currently the difference between life or death, Montgomery said, she opted not to go ahead with it right now.
“[Turning down the surgery was] for myself, and where it’s my oldest daughter’s graduation year, I want to be here for that.”
Montgomery also provided some advice about being screened for cancers.
“All women aged 16 to 116 should go get tested every year,” she said. “Maybe if I didn’t wait seven years from my last test, I wouldn’t be dealing with cancer today.
“I know it’s no fun to have this done, but five minutes of your time is well worth it to protect yourself.”