Houda with her husband and son – Click here to support the DOvEE Project.
Since August 2007, Houda Moussallier has been a survivor. She beat ovarian cancer over a three year span after undergoing four surgeries plus countless chemotherapy sessions. Through it all, she never lost hope, and the professional and caring team at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) was with her every step of the way.
After confirming the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, Houda underwent her first surgery, but it did not go as planned. She had Grade IIIC (Stage 3) cancer and the location of the tumour made it impossible to be removed safely. “When the doctor gave me the news after surgery that I still had cancer, I was disappointed as the disease was still in my body, but I understood the surgeon’s decision,” Houda recalls.
The MUHC did not give up on Houda or her family. She underwent six chemotherapy sessions to shrink her tumour and was operated on for a second time, and this time, it was successful. For a couple of weeks, Houda and her family thought they were in the clear, until one day when a lump was discovered in her breast. She was immediately seen by an MUHC breast specialist and the diagnosis was confirmed – a carcinoma in situ (a group of abnormal cells) in her breast.
After confirming she was a gene carrier for BRCA1, she underwent a successful bilateral mastectomy, making this her third surgery at the MUHC, and the hospital team was there for her once again. Things were looking up for Houda, until she experienced two recurrences of her ovarian cancer. She underwent chemotherapy treatments in both cases and during her last recurrence she was successfully operated on for a fourth time.
Houda is currently in remission and she could not have become a cancer survivor without the MUHC by her side. “It was a long road to recovery and all of the surgeons, nurses, and staff helped me get back to living a healthy life. Most importantly, they got me back to my family – my husband and my son,” Houda says. “I wanted to live for them and they were my source of inspiration to keep fighting. There were days I was not sure that I could win, but the staff at the MUHC visited me and gave me the hope and will to get me through the darkest hours,” she explains.
Houda’s cancer journey brought out an inner strength that she did not even know she had. “Cancer gave me wings,” she says. “I am a completely different person because of this experience, and I am a better version of myself.” In appreciation of the exceptional care that Houda received, she decided to give back to the hospital that saved her life. In conjunction with World Ovarian Cancer day on May 8, Houda and her sister Mona, who committed wholeheartedly to this cause, will be selling handmade knitted items, and all of the proceeds will be directed towards the Diagnosing Ovarian and Endometrial Cancer Early (DOvEE) project. “Our late mother taught us how to knit a few months before her passing and this is a very fitting way for us to carry on her legacy while also keeping her close in our hearts,” Houda explains.
As a cancer survivor, Houda has dedicated significant time to increasing the awareness of ovarian cancer and its symptoms. There is currently no reliable test to detect this type of cancer, as a traditional Pap test only detects cervical cancer, but not ovarian cancer. “Women often think of themselves as superheroes – we balance our careers with taking care of our families, and we don’t always take the time to listen to our bodies,” she states. “It’s very important to pay close attention to any changes in our bodies, get tested if we feel something is not right, and talk to your doctor if symptoms persist.”
Houda also volunteers at the MUHC on the gynaecological oncology floor so she can share her experience with patients who are going through a journey similar to hers. “When I was going through my treatments, one of the volunteers came up to me and said ‘I won my battle, why can’t you’? It stuck with me, and now it is my turn to return the favour and inspire patients to keep fighting,” Houda states.
Houda and Mona will be selling handmade knitted items at the MUHC’s hospital at the Glen site on May 8, 2017 starting at 9 a.m., on Level RC, next to the main staircase above the cafeteria. All net funds raised will be directed towards the hospital’s DOvEE project to detect ovarian and endometrial cancer at the earliest possible stage.