Colin Anderson

Colin Anderson - ProfileName: Colin Anderson

Age: 32

Hometown: Calgary, AB

What school did you attend? BCIT Aerospace Campus (Richmond BC)

Do you work? As an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer

What are your career goals? My short term goal is just to get back to work, after that I guess we will see.

 

Your cancer experience:

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

Within two weeks of returning from our honeymoon to Peru in May 2010, I started experiencing strange problems including extreme thirst, excessive urination, weird headaches, loss of appetite, and low energy, to name a few. Four or five trips to the family doctor had them stumped, the thirst had them thinking diabetes, but I tested negative every time. I was referred to an infectious disease specialist thinking that I picked up some weird bug in Peru. He did another battery of tests, including a CT scan of my head. The CT scan revealed a 3.8 cm tumour in the pineal region of my brain. Further tests revealed secondary tumours in the pituitary area and lower spine. I was admitted to the Foothills Hospital in the neurology ward, where I had a biopsy done on the tumours in the lower spine. The biopsy revealed the germinoma diagnosis. The process took over three months from the onset of symptoms and I was diagnosed in September.

What is your diagnosis?

Germinoma, with the primary tumour in the pineal gland region of my brain, secondary tumours in the pituitary gland and lower spine.

In which hospitals are/were you treated?

Foothills Hospital, Rockyview Hospital, and Tom Baker Cancer Center

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?

I felt relieved because we had been searching for answers for three months, and this meant we could move forward with treatment. I was also scared for my life.

How did your family react?

It was pretty hard on everyone; I had only been married for four months and it was quite the shock. My dad had also had cancer surgery recently and the family wasn’t really recovered from that yet. My parents both flew out from Vancouver to be with me during my biopsy and diagnosis stage. It was really hard on my younger brother too; he had to be so strong throughout my dad’s cancer, and me getting sick too was the last thing he expected.

How did your friends react?

Everyone was shocked, of course. If I was treated any differently, I have not really noticed. I realize that it’s not always easy for people to relate. My co-workers have been amazingly supportive, they even took up a collection to help us out financially.

What did your treatment consist of?

Medical side:

A biopsy done through my spine to confirm the germinoma diagnosis, which took over four hours and was quite painful to recover from; three rounds of chemotherapy (cisplatin/etopiside); a five-day stay in hospital with a fever caused by low blood counts; and six weeks of radiation (five days a week) to my entire brain and spinal column. I am taking hormone replacements for some pituitary malfunctions, and those are expected to be permanent.

Non-medical side:

I have had a really hard time with the physical side effects—the vomiting, the fatigue, the pain, the pills, having no appetite. All of these combined have taken their toll on my emotions as well as my body. Some of the hardest parts have been being unable to help out around the house with the smallest things; I feel so useless sometimes. I still have times that I cry for the smallest reason.

What is your current medical status?

Treatment is over for now; I am waiting for my follow-up MRI which will hopefully show cancer free!  I am still experiencing severe radiation induced fatigue and my appetite is still a disaster.

How is life different for you now post diagnosis?

Life is different in a lot of ways. Physically, I have had a really hard time not being able to help out with housework, yard work, etc. I have been an emotional wreck for most of the last six months, and going out in public is tough too. I have been away from the real world for so long I find it hard to take sometimes.

What was the toughest part of your challenge?

I was unprepared for the emotional roller coaster of the whole thing. The smallest things can send my mood into huge ups and downs the likes of which I have never experienced before.

What was the best part of your challenge?

I would say the new perspective I have on life, I literally take time to enjoy every small thing, like when food actually tastes good, or when the snow stops. (If the snow stops.)

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

My wife had her first positive pregnancy test the day I was diagnosed, so we have had that to look forward to the entire time I was in treatment. Truly a miracle baby!

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

I have learned to call or visit the doctor with health concerns, and to stay away from the Internet for diagnoses, and not spend too much time speculating about medical stuff. That is what doctors are for, and my team has my complete confidence.

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

Cancer isn’t picky, and it will affect all of us in some way or another. I used to think that my decent diet and lifestyle gave me a good chance to not get cancer, but now I know otherwise. I have a hard time reading some of the articles in lifestyle magazines talking about cancer prevention, I guess I am a little bitter because for some of us, it’s just bad luck.

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?

Absolutely none, and that is one of the scary things about it.

Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?

I went to a couple of Localife events here in Calgary

What was it like? Did you find it helped?  

It helped to get me out of the house. I am looking forward to having more energy for future events though.

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?

I have been to a couple of Localife events here in Calgary, and I am going to Retreat Yourself West. The group was recommended by my brain tumour counselor.