Part 1: On being the first in your peer group with cancerSeptember 30, 2016
By Krystal Anderson
I am a mom of two beautiful girls (one-and-a-half and four-and-a-half). I am also a wife, a daughter, a friend, an aunt. I enjoy cooking, photography, painting and writing, dancing, good food, wine, good company, and laughter. Until recently, I was also the only person in my close group of friends who is a cancer survivor.
I am now 38-years-old and was diagnosed at 37, four months after my new baby came into the world.
I had symptoms. Nothing too crazy, but when I told my doctor at the time, it was brushed off. I was young and healthy; must be in my imagination. Things did not get better. When we moved back to Alberta from Montreal to be close to my family, my new doctor did listen; that was the beginning of my journey.
In spring 2015, I woke up one day and things were different. Not different because I wanted them to be, but a kind of different that began with a phone call. It went like this:
“The biopsy we took shows that yes, it is cancer.”
Time stopped; my life changed.
I was surprised, but not too surprised because the gastroenterologist had pretty much told me he suspected this as we watched the 2 cm mushroom-like polyp pop into view during my sigmoidoscopy the day before. Funnily enough, that did not make this confirmation any easier to hear.
Stage 3 colorectal cancer. We don’t ask for these things to happen, yet they do. My life was flipped upside down in the blink of an eye by the end of a camera scope. The following full colonoscopy showed nothing else present, my CT scan did not even show the cancer and my Carcinoembryonic Antigens (CEA) levels were surprisingly normal, and no family history. It was like my cancer was a ninja.
That summer was spent in a blur of surgery, recovery, bed rest and wrestling with the emotional upheaval cancer can bring. I can’t forget the feeling of helplessness while trying my best to parent two small girls and continue to be the strong woman that everyone seemed to expect. My mom moved in for four weeks after my surgery because major abdominal surgery means not even being able to lift and care for my new baby, let alone get out bed easily.
Almost two months later at my first follow up, my surgeon dropped the next bomb: they had found cancerous cells in a lymph node they had removed with the foot of my colon where my unwanted guest had been living. Chemotherapy was recommended; I agreed.
My first appointment with my oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute here in Edmonton was terrifying. Statistics suck. The unknown sucks. Choosing which poison you will be taking sucks. Quality of life? Survival rates? Percentages? A whole new world of suck. And off we went into the land of chemotherapy and all the joys that come with it. And, I felt even more alone.
Now where does Young Adult Cancer Canada fit into this? It clicks into place right here at this moment.