You are using an unsupported browser. Please use the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Edge.
A Rare Cancer Diagnosis, an Indomitable Spirit

Patient Story

A Rare Cancer Diagnosis, an Indomitable Spirit

A rare adrenal cancer diagnosis meant multiple surgeries, radiation treatments and 2.5 years of chemotherapy for Erin Morrissey. Today, as she trains to run the Boston Marathon, she says she could not be more grateful for the life-saving care she received from Mass General.

Mass General Giving
February 28, 2024

This story was first published here.

Ten days after college graduation, Erin Morrissey began her career as a clinical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, a dream job for someone aspiring to go to medical school. A former NCAA Division III lacrosse player and active 21-year-old, Erin threw herself into half-marathon training after graduation. Staying active and eating well had been part of her routine for years as an athlete, so when Erin started noticing changes in her energy levels and athletic abilities, she knew something wasn’t right.

A Rare Cancer Diagnosis

Pain in the lower right side of her abdomen coupled with fatigue and other symptoms brought Erin to Mass General, this time as a patient rather than an employee. With so many life changes occurring in such a short period of time — graduating college, moving to Boston, starting a new job, staying active and balancing a social life — experiencing fatigue was not out of the ordinary. But what kept worrying Erin was the pain in her side.

Together, Erin and her care team worked to find a diagnosis and in the fall of 2019 she learned that she had a rare form of adrenal cancer called adrenocortical carcinoma. Philip Saylor, MD, Allison Kimball, MD, and Sophia Kamran, MD, led her expert medical team at Mass General Cancer Center and with an acute interest in the medical system herself, Erin was an active, informed participant in her care plan.

“For as long as I can remember I have been very interested in medicine,” says Erin. “I was able to approach everything scientifically, taking myself out of the situation and replacing that with an interest in my case from the other side.”

A Dual Identity

Erin underwent surgery to remove the tumor found on her adrenal gland. She believed that within a short time, she’d be back in the office and back to ‘normal.’ But the tumor turned out to be malignant and reality set in that instead of just a few weeks’ recovery, Erin was facing a longer term challenge.

Maintaining a sense of normalcy at work was important to Erin. Her coworkers surrounded her with support as she worked to navigate her status both as an employee and a patient at Mass General. “I had a dual identity,” she says. “Am I a cancer patient, or am I crushing it at work? I learned that in many settings I can do both.”

Because of her experiences as a patient, Erin was exposed to many areas of the medical field she may not otherwise have had a chance to explore, like reproductive endocrinology. “I was really interested in endocrinology and reproductive and women’s rights, but it wasn’t until I froze my eggs in preparation for cancer treatment that I knew what reproductive endocrinology was,” she says. “It’s been cool to see all the different areas of medicine I could possibly be interested in.”

Earlier this year, Erin was told she was cancer free.

A New Sense of Purpose

In 2021, after 11 photon radiation and 22 proton therapy treatments, Erin was still on long-term chemotherapy but ready to get outside and get moving again. During one of her radiation treatments, she was gifted a workout set from her care team, which was sponsored by Caring for a Cure, a program founded by Mass General nurses to help improve the journey of patients and families with cancer through research, resources and awareness. “[The team] knew that I loved working out and being active and was struggling to do so during treatment.”

Inspired by the generous gift, Erin signed up to run that year’s Boston Marathon®, and raised more than $15,000 for Caring for a Cure. “It was fun to do because I was giving back to the cause that I cared so much about.”

From Strength to Strength

In the first week of 2024, following 2.5 years of chemotherapy, Erin was told that she was cancer free. She continues to be monitored by specialists in genitourinary oncology, radiation oncology and endocrinology (and likely will be for a long time), but she and her care team are very positive about her case. While she is still dealing with nausea, lower energy levels and an appetite that hasn’t fully returned, overall she is “thrilled with the progress and could not be more grateful for the life-saving care I have received from Mass General.”

What’s Next for Erin?

Erin is now healthy enough to be able to return to the classroom as a medical student; she is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Biomedical Science at Tufts University School of Medicine. “Upon completion of this program next year, I hope to continue on to medical school to become a doctor,” she says.

She is running the Boston Marathon again this April in support of Mass General for Children’s Pediatric Cancer program. “I am driven everyday by knowing how fortunate I am to have survived such a rare cancer diagnosis, and privileged to have received world-class care at Mass General. Running the marathon is an amazing way to celebrate all that my body is capable of and to utilize mental toughness that I gained through battling cancer, all while supporting a cause so personal to me.”

For more information on Mass General Cancer Center, please contact us.

If you would like to support Erin’s marathon fundraising efforts, please click here.

To learn more about Mass General’s marathon team, click here.