Cathy Hunter

Cathy_Hunter - profileHometown: Toronto, Ontario

What school did you attend?

George Brown College

Do you work?

I’m not working during treatment but in my “normal” life I work as an event planner at the CN Tower. I hope to go back to work soon!

What are your career goals?

To expand my career as an event planner handling large scale conferences and events.

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

I had been having what the doctors thought were allergy symptoms for about nine months prior to diagnosis. I had a cough that wouldn’t go away and had been getting rashes and eczema. My doctor prescribed creams that weren’t working and finally sent me to a dermatologist. The eczema cleared up but the cough wouldn’t go away. After I started getting hives they sent me to an allergist. I saw the allergist in August. Over the summer I had lost about 20 pounds as well as my appetite. Plus my energy levels were low. The allergist sent me for blood work and one of the tests came back showing elevated inflammation in my body. My family doc ran a routine chest x-ray to follow up and it showed a large mass over my right lung and all down my right side. I was sent for a CT scan the next day. The CT scan came back showing the mass (a football sized tumour) was compressing my superior vena cava (major artery) by 95 per cent. They tell me collapse and a stroke was imminent. I was sent immediately to emergency. I spent 10 days in the hospital while they ran about a million brutal tests and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, large diffuse b-cell on September 30, 2008. I began chemotherapy immediately.

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

I was diagnosed September 30, 2008. I was 35.

At what level of education were you at diagnosis?

College graduate

What was your diagnosis?

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, diffuse large b-cell

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?

They are talking about someone else. I’m healthy. I was playing baseball two weeks before diagnosis! How could I be running around with a huge tumour compressing my lung?

How did your family react?

My family was very strong and supportive. My partner couldn’t look at me without crying for the first few days but he was my rock while I was in the hospital and since.

How did your friends react? Were you treated any different?

My friends have been amazing. They all make sure to send me messages or call me frequently and have not treated me any differently although I know they are all really concerned.

What did your treatment consist of? Describe the non-medical side (how you felt physically and emotionally, side effects)

I spent 10 days in the hospital in the beginning. That experience was totally new to me. I have always been healthy and all of a sudden was thrown into the world of lung biopsies, bone marrow biopsies, lumbar punctures and blood draws 10 times a day. It was very overwhelming. I began chemotherapy (R-CHOP) on October 2. I am still in chemo. I will have eight rounds followed by radiation. I was originally scheduled for six rounds of chemo but unfortunately my tumour hasn’t responded as well as they had hoped to the last three rounds of chemo so they decided I needed two more. Physically I feel pretty run down both physically and emotionally for about 10 days following chemo. After those 10 days I feel pretty much like my old self.

In which hospitals are you treated?

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Odette Cancer Centre

What is your current medical status?

Currently in treatment

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

Life is much different. I am normally extremely active and very busy. Always on the go. Trying to keep myself busy at home is new to me. I try to keep myself as busy as possible but it’s a different kind of busy than before.

What is the toughest part of your challenge?

Being at home and being by myself a lot is difficult. I am a very social person and really miss being out and about every day. It can make a person feel very isolated. Having to survive on a lot less money really sucks as well!

What is the best part about having your challenge?

It has taught me to appreciate my health more and to try and not sweat the small things. When you are forced to take a step back you realize how much more to life there really is.

What motivates you to keep going while you were sick?

My life wasn’t always just about cancer and I know it will be that way again!

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

Don’t sweat the small things. Also, never take your health for granted. At the end of the day it matters more than anything.

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

I am like most people, I thought I knew about cancer before my diagnosis but I now know that I didn’t really know anything. As strange as it may sound, my illness is now a part of me and regardless of what happens in the future it will always be a part of my life. I have learned so much during my cancer journey and hope to keep on learning and sharing my experience with others in the hopes that I may help someone else.

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?

Unfortunately there are few specific known causes for my type of cancer. There was nothing I could have done to prevent this. In fact I am the first person in my family history to have cancer..

Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?

I attend a lymphoma support group at Wellspring Cancer Support Centre. The group is amazing. They are so supportive and the participants really “get it.” I look forward to the group every month.

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada? What are your thoughts/feelings on Young Adult Cancer Canada?

I found YACC on the internet while searching for Young Adult groups in Canada. I am very frustrated by the lack of support and programs for younger people going through this experience. I would like to be involved as much as possible as I think groups like Young Adult Cancer Canada as so important for young men and women struggling with this disease.