Chaya Katrensky

Age at Diagnosis: 24 (2006)

Hometown

Vancouver, British Columbia

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

I spent the beginning of the year feeling sick and constantly tired. I developed a wheezing in my lungs that was accompanied by a horsy cough. I saw a doctor at a walk in clinic near my place and he diagnosed me to have a bronchial infection and asthma. I was put on antibiotics for the infection and a daily inhaler to help the asthma.

After finishing the medication and having no improvement, I went back. Now I was told that the infection was gone and I was put on a longer dosage of the inhaler.

Over two weeks went by and I was having trouble breathing, especially at night. After an especially difficult night I went into work feeling as though I had barely slept, I was telling one of my co-workers how bad it was and she suggested I should head to the local clinic right away. So I did. I told that doctor the whole story and she prescribed me a fast acting inhaler and set me up for an x-ray that same day. After having the x-ray, I was heading home as my boss had given me the rest of the day off. I was almost home when I got a call from the doctor I had seen that morning. She proceeded to say, I hate to do this over the phone, but we’ve found something in your x-ray that will require some further investigation. I would like you to get to the nearest hospital and I’ll send over the x-ray and let them know your coming. I was so scared at that point. I cried most of the way to the hospital. My sister and my boyfriend met me there and I spent the rest of the evening having people poke me, having a CT scan, blood work, but mostly just waiting. By 1am the word cancer came out. I was devastated.

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

At what level of education were you at diagnosis?

Two years post secondary.

Do you work? Yes, October will be my 10 year with Safeway.

What was your diagnosis?

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma stage 2b

What are your career goals?

To work my way up the corporate ladder at Safeway. My dream is to start a retail chain of high-end lingerie stores and to design my own line.

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?

What do I do now? Waiting for the biopsy results and waiting for an appointment with an oncologist were the worst parts for me. Once I knew how we were going to deal with the cancer, I felt better.

How did your family react?

Stunned, cancer hadn’t really touched my family until my diagnosis.

How did your friends react?

So much support.

What did your treatment consist of?

Medical Side: My doctor presented my case to the BC Cancer Agency and they decided the best treatment for me, which is also the most common treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, would be a course of chemotherapy called ABDV. This treatment is given every two weeks. I hope to have my last treatment on August 15th, but after my last CT scan my doctor reminded me that after the 6 months I may still have some cancerous cells and another 2 months may be needed. That has really been bothering me, the last few treatments have been very hard on me, I feel weak, sick and tired afterwards. I find even going to the appointments has my stomach turning. My white blood cell counts have dropped so low we almost had to postpone my last treatment, but we carried on and I am taking hormone injections for the second time. I wonder if there is more I should have been doing in terms of meditation, diet and exercise that would prevent me from having to do more chemo. I realize that it’s not too late and for me incorporating those things into my life will be a positive change cancer has brought me.

Non-Medical Side: I usually stay pretty positive, sometimes I need help from the people around me. The thing that keeps me moving forward the most is picturing myself when this is done, I can’t wait to wake up every day feeling great and having the energy to do whatever I want.

In which hospital(s) were you treated?

VGH (Vancouver General Hospital).

What is your current medical status?

Currently in treatment.

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

Before I was diagnosed, I was becoming more interested and aware of my spirituality. In a way, I feel I got cancer so that I was forced to tap into myself. I have always been a worrier, worrying about others, about the future, about money. Being able to live each day for the moment and having faith that everything will work out the way it is supposed to and knowing that worrying will only weaken me and not help the situation are ways that I am changing.

What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?

The physical limitations due to fatigue.

What is/was the best part of your challenge?

Learning to take that time to heal.

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

Having a vision of myself when I am healthy.

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

1. Fantisize about the future, don’t worry about it. 2. Nourish my body through diet, exercise and meditation; that is my self-love.

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

I think that cancer tells us something in our lives have to change, it is up to us to figure out what that is and change it. Then we will truly heal.

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?

Take time for yourself everyday, learn what works for you to manage stress in your life. Stress weakens the immune system and then cancer can grow. For me, diet, exercise and mediation have helped me manage stress.

Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?

I have started attending YACN, a support group for young people with cancer. It has been really good to see other people going through the same stuff I have. It gives you an instant connection. I always feel good after attending.

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?

A friend from YACN sent out an e-mail about the retreat. Sounds like it’s going to be a great experience.