Andrea McKee

Andrea_McKee - profileAge at Diagnosis: 29

Current Age (at time of profile): 29

Hometown

Halifax, NS

How did you find out you were sick? What events led to the diagnosis?

I had been sick for a few years, constantly in and out of the doctors complaining of pain in my side and stomach. I had a really hard time eating and would sometimes not eat at all. I was sweating a lot at night and would wake up drenched. I was having a really hard time staying awake during the day. I was treated for a bladder condition (Interstitial Cystitis) which had similar side effects.

Then three years ago I was treated with mono, then I had shingles, then finally last year, I got the chicken pox! I lost 45 lbs. in two months. I started to think I had one weak immune system. Then in July of this year, I found a lump in my breast. It ended up being under my breast. It caused a lot of swelling in my breast so much that I was a full cup size bigger on one side… I started to panic. I requested to my doctor that I have a mammogram. I went for it and the doctor ordered an ultrasound while I was there. I was able to see the lumps, they looked like black holes. Scared me to see them.

Then in August, I got a tattoo for my birthday and the same day had a lump in my groin pop up and it hurt really bad. I thought maybe I was reacting to the tattoo. I quickly developed more lumps, in my groin, underarms and neck. They just kept popping up! I then knew I didn’t have breast cancer.

One day in October 2006, my daughter and I were watching Ellen and on came a popular actor. He started to describe some of his symptoms he had been going through with his lymphoma ie: night sweats and tiredness then he said he found a lump in his neck. I started to cry. I knew at that moment I had lymphoma too. I called my doctor and told her I wanted a biopsy to see if this is what I had. It was like God spoke through this person and smacked me saying wake up Andrea this is what you have. Thank goodness I listened. I went for my biopsy and found out in November that I had follicular lymphoma grade 4B and I started chemo the next week.

What year was it? What was your age at the time?

It was 2006, I was 29.

Do you work? I had to take a break.

What was your diagnosis?

Follicular lymphoma 4B

What are your career goals?

Special Needs Teacher/Art Teacher

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?

Scared, but relieved at the same time. I had been so sick for so long, I had been so hard on myself for feeling sick all the time and just thought it was my fault. It was nice to know that all that had happened was not my fault. I actually did pretty well considering I had been living with this cancer growing inside of me.

How did your family react?

My mom took it the hardest. She was relieved as well that it wasn’t breast cancer, but hard to take any kind of cancer when it’s your child. My daughter was amazing, she’s been so strong and positive through the whole process. She cried but told me herself that everything was going to be okay. She’s ten. My sister is still in shock and I think has a hard time swallowing it… as do I. My boyfriend Brad, he’s my rock. He has his sad days, but never will show them to me, he’s always positive and keeps me smiling. He makes me laugh on a daily basis. Laughing is great.

How did your friends react?

My friends are awesome, my best friend is a doctor so it’s great to have realistic facts and not the mumbo jumbo you read on the net…. wayyy too scary. But others I think just don’t know what to say and are scared to say anything at all. Some avoid me all together, but you really find out who your true friends are.

What did your treatment consist of?

Medical Side: I am currently on R-CVP and I have eight treatments of which I have conquered four! I found out it was in my bone marrow, but I’m keeping positive and hoping that I won’t need a bone marrow transplant. But hey, my sister lives in Australia and I haven’t seen her in years. Heck of a reason to see each other, but I’ll take what I can get.

The side effects suck. The first treatment was the worst so far. I was very sick and never thought I’d make it through. The mouth pain I had was so intense I thought my head was going to explode. I had to go to emergency and they gave me Hydromorphone and a shot of Demerol to ease the pain. If you ever have to take Hydromorphone, take plenty of laxatives… that stuff sucks. I was constipated for a week. I then had what I call The exorcism, I have never experienced that kind of pain and never want to again. Laxatives – take them, love them. The second and third treatments I never puked, but got really nauseated. If anyone was cooking anything my guts would turn. I had a really hard time eating anything with smell, so I mostly ate fruit and raw veggies. Everything tastes like metal too, it’s like there’s a film of pennies over my tongue. I use to love chocolate milk, now I can’t even think about it. In fact, I hate chocolate all together now. My whole body aches and I feel like a walking bruise. My legs ache constantly, it feels like growing pains times 50. My fourth treatment, it was a breeze. The only side effect was a little mouth pain. It is like there is an open soar in your mouth and your pouring lemon juice in it. I can’t chew gum and have to brush my teeth very gently. Nothing I can’t handle though… especially if that’s the only side effect from now on! YAAYY is all I can say! Oh the smell from the chemo… yick. I’m an overly hygienic person to begin with, so smelling like I do… isn’t easy to accept, especially since smells make me nauseous. I just take lots of showers and thank the chemo for getting rid of my cancer. Smell away I say.

Non-Medical Side: Emotionally, I’m a wreck most of the time. My boyfriend has to tip-toe around me and make sure he doesn’t say anything that could offend me. Even if it’s something he doesn’t like, making a comment on something I’m wearing… he’s had to learn the hard way. Everything I wear is beautiful now… hahaha. You just feel ugly and miserable and smelly. I cried a lot in the beginning and I cry before every treatment. But I think I’ve had an attitude adjustment now and am so thankful for having the resources available to me. My Gramma died of breast cancer and the treatment she had to go through knocked her off her feet. So I try and keep as positive as possible. Knowing that the chemo is doing it’s stuff to get me better. I’m killing the cancer, the cancer is not killing me. I think it’s better to laugh then sit and cry. Sometimes there is no answer to why so we have to stop asking and just accept.

In which hospital(s) were you treated?

I go to the Victoria General in Halifax.

What is your current medical status?

I’m stilling waiting for this to be gone.

How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually)?

I’ve always loved my life and have always been a positive happy person. I feel that now I just appreciate everything in it a whole lot more. Especially my overly thick hair! I have done my hair and make-up everyday that I go out and never really cared before. I would just tie my mop up and head out however I looked. Losing your looks is hard when you’re a girl, you need to just love yourself no matter what. I know my boyfriend loves me no matter how ugly I’ve been! He still tells me I’m beautiful.

What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?

That it’s living in my body. It creeps me out a lot. I think of this thing growing inside of me and I just want it out. How dare this invade my body!

What is/was the best part of your challenge?

I never knew how strong of a person I was. I’ve got a lot of fight in me and I feel empowered. I thought I had no control in my life anymore that things were out of my hands. But I was wrong. I’m fully in control, I’m the one that will make the outcome positive. It’s all in the attitude.

What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?

My daughter and my boyfriend. They keep me laughing and happy always. Even if I feel like exploding, my daughter walks into the room and everything seems to go away. Like nothing else matters. Because honestly, nothing else does. My family is the core of my soul.

What lessons or messages have you taken away from your experience?

Live life, love life, don’t waste it thinking I’ll do it tomorrow. Don’t judge others as you never know what’s going on in their life. So many people judged me for being sick all the time. I walk around looking at people now thinking, he or she could have cancer, everyone is effected by it. It is such a hard thing to deal with, so love your neighbor. I’ve made a promise to myself to teach my child to love others for who they are.

Also, find out as much about your diagnosis as you can, it takes so much of the worry away. Knowledge is power!!

What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?

I still hate cancer, but they are called survivors for a reason. If you can beat something like cancer, you’re one strong person.

What are some (if there are any you know of) preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?

Don’t smoke cigarettes. Why would you inhale and pay to inhale something that kills you.