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Overcoming Ovarian Cancer – a story of faith and courage

Mary MerrillIn 2009, Mary Merrill found herself caught up in a whirlwind – a stage 3 cancer diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and all the symptoms and emotions that come with it. Now on the other side, she realizes it was her faith in God, the support of family and friends, and the excellent care of a superb medical team that held her feet firmly on the ground.

In the spring of 2009, Mary, then 51, went in for her annual exam. “Although I wasn’t sick, I knew something was different.” Her doctor felt something on her right ovary, ordered an ultrasound and referred her to Avera Medical Group Gynecologic Oncology. A mass indicated the need for a complete hysterectomy.  A post-surgery biopsy proved the mass was stage 3 ovarian cancer.

“It was so sudden that I didn’t even have time to think about it,” Mary said. “I had the absolute best medical team behind me, and the best support that family and friends could give. I hardly had time to think about myself.”

Mary had six chemotherapy treatments after her surgery. “Chemo was tough, especially the first three treatments.” She remembers the sympathetic eyes of her nurses. “I knew they wanted to help me more than they already were. That’s the kind of medical team I had. I am in awe of them.”

Mary relied on the support of family, friends and her medical team. “I also have a tremendous faith in God. I just talk to him a lot. I always have. But when you go through something like cancer, you talk to him a lot more.”

“Cancer is quite a journey. You become bonded with every single person who has ever been diagnosed. People in the grocery store tell you they’re praying for you,” Mary says.

Having received so much as a cancer survivor, Mary has the desire to give back. A 25-year employee of Avera McKennan, Mary works for Food & Nutrition Services. Many know her as the welcoming, encouraging person at the Starbuck’s Coffee Bar. She’s also a familiar face at the Quarry Café at the Prairie Center. Her goal goes beyond serving a great meal or snack: “I just want to be there for other cancer patients and their families.”