Sydney mum, 46, paralysed after devastating cancer diagnosis

·5-min read

A “strong and loving” Sydney mum has vowed to walk again after a devastating cancer diagnosis caused her world to come crashing down just days before Christmas.

Emily Morse, who lives in Berowra Heights in the city's north with her partner of 15 years Darren Irwin and two teenage kids, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer just before her 46th birthday on December 16.

At the beginning of last year Ms Morse, a sales team leader, began suffering from back pain but chalked it up to sitting hunched over a computer for eight hours a day.

Because she had suffered from lung issues previously, a doctor ordered her to undergo a scan but didn’t see anything and told her to see a chiropractor, Mr Irwin told Yahoo News Australia on Monday.

“The the first Covid lockdown hit at the start of 2021 so she took Nurofen and got a massage every now and then, which seemed to do the trick,” he said.

Emily Morse is seen with her partner Darren and two teenage kids. Source: Supplied
Emily Morse chalked up her persistent back pain to sitting haunched over her computer for eight hours a day. Source: Supplied

However, by August the pain had become unbearable and the mum booked a chiropractic appointment.

After several sessions, the chiropractor told Ms Morse she needed to get a scan of her spine because the treatment wasn’t improving her pain as it should have.

Believing she was simply suffering from back problems, the 46-year-old failed to heed the warning until the chiropractor told her she would book the appointment if Ms Morse didn’t.

Just days later, the mum received the devastating news that she had “cancer everywhere”.

Tests revealed Ms Morse had four cancerous tumours — in her breast and on her spine, rib and pelvis.

The mum’s GP broke the devastating news that she “didn’t have long to go” and told her “you’re lucky you’re even walking at this moment”, Mr Irwin said.

Not wanting to disrupt her daughter Charlotte’s school formal, the couple spent the rest of the day supporting the teen before checking into hospital later that night.

Mr Morse in hospital after the cancer diagnosis. Source: Supplied
Tests revealed Ms Morse had four cancerous tumours. Thee cancer was in her breast and on her spine, rib and pelvis. Source: Supplied

Covid staff shortages affect mum’s recovery

After she received some decent pain relief, doctors told Ms Morse she would have to undergo surgery to remove the tumour on her T2 vertebrae.

With an early Christmas celebration with her kids already planned for the weekend of December 18, the 46-year-old was sent home for a few days.

She underwent the surgery the following Monday, but the strain Covid has placed on the healthcare system left her in limbo during her recovery.

Mr Irwin said exhausted hospital staff did their best while working continuous double shifts, but there were just not enough of them to properly care for Ms Morse, who was unable to go to the bathroom and feed herself on her own.

“Because it was so uncomfortable for Em she wanted out and because it was right on Christmas and they didn’t have enough staff, she came home after three days instead of five,” he said.

Her surgeon had been deemed a close contact and was in isolation at the time so he didn’t know she had been released.

A X-ray of Ms Morse's spine after surgery. Source: Supplied
Ms Morse suffered a blood clot after spinal surgery. Source: Supplied

Blood clot causes possible permanent paralysis

With staples still embedded in her back, Mr Irwin said his partner cried the entire drive home.

The couple spent a quiet Christmas at home and by Boxing Day the 46-year-old was able to stand up on her own for short amounts of time.

However, later that night, things took a turn for the worst.

“I was tidying the kitchen and she just started screaming,” Mr Irwin, a RFS fire-fighter, said.

“I raced out and grabbed her and she said ‘get me to the bed so I can stretch out, there’s something wrong’.

“I could tell something wasn’t right — she was changing colour and her arms were getting cold.”

Mr Irwin, who held his dad’s hand as he died and has attended numerous car accidents, said he could tell his long-time partner was dying.

As Ms Morse lost the feeling in her legs, Mr Irwin called paramedics for help and was told he might have to perform CPR.

Ms Morse and Mr Irwin seen before her diagnosis. Source: Supplied
Mr Irwin said the image of his partner writhing in pain will be burned into his memory. Source: Supplied

His RFS captain rushed over with a defibrillator and an ambulance arrived within 25 minutes.

It was later revealed that Ms Morse had suffered a blood clot and had to undergo emergency surgery.

“When she woke up she had no movement from the neck down,” Mr Irwin said.

A few days later, the mum was able to regain movement in her arms. Last week, she able to wriggle some toes.

Doctors explained that the blood clot caused the 46-year-old’s brain to shut down parts of her body to deal with the pain and is now rebooting itself.

Despite her vow to walk again while also undergoing intense chemotherapy, doctors have said she may never regain full movement.

“The tumours are still there and that’s our big fight,” Mr Irwin said.

“If she never walked again that’s one thing and so be it, but the real fight is the cancer.

“She’s going head on, she’s going to fight.”

Mr Irwin is now encouraging people to get checked out by a doctor if something doesn’t feel right.

His friends and family have created a GoFundMe to help the couple make wheelchair accessible changes to their steep driveway so Ms Morse can return home after spinal rehab.

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