Donica Chartrand

Donica Chartrand - ProfileName:Donica Chartrand

Age: 20

Hometown: Edmonton, AB

Do you work?

Professionally I have nothing going for my right now; every time I would try to get going on my schooling, something would get in my way, and for work, well, they fired me for being sick (jerks). I got a nice break from them though; unfortunately, I’m going a little stir crazy knowing that I’m not able to work for a year. I’m hoping to do some schooling online and get my unit clerk ticket.

What are your career goals?

My goals in the future are to get my certification to become a unit clerk. I also want to work at the CCI as well as volunteer at the children’s cancer center.

How did you find out you were sick? What event(s) led to the diagnosis?

Let’s see, for the past few years I have always experienced problems with my nose and by late 2009 through most of 2010, I was constantly sick (or so I thought). I would be going to the doctor’s office and hospital only to be told that I had a throat infection or a nose infection, it got so bad that I was always, and I mean always, walking around with Kleenex in my nose because it would not stop running.

One day I was sitting in bed, Kleenex in hand, covered in blankets, and thinking “I am not sick, the only thing wrong right now is my nose what the heck why won’t it stop running!?” I went to a doctor and he diagnosed my with sinusitis. I didn’t believe it so I went a few more weeks and eventually I decided to look up my nose and see what was causing the problem. To my surprise, there was a massive lump in my nose. I knew this was not sinusitis so I called my doctor who referred me to a specialist who took an MRI who discovered that this mass was taking up half of the right side of my face, pretty much. Then I was referred yet again to an ENT doctor who did a biopsy.

A month later I was told that it was benign only to be referred yet again. When I arrived to my appointment, I thought I had nothing to worry about. You know, I was fine. Once I started talking to my doctor, he asked “So what can you tell me about your tumour?” I answered “Oh, it’s benign I have nothing to worry about” with a nervous laugh. Dr.Siekly gave me a look like I should be worried and out came “No, you have cancer.”

What was your diagnosis?

Esthesioneuroblastoma cancer

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

2010 and it was a month after my 20th birthday.

In which Hospital were you treated?

U of A hospital in Edmonton.

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?

I froze and laughed, I mean I didn’t know what to feel. I had no sense of sadness or anger, nothing.

How did your friends and family react?

I have a great social life and without my loving friends, comforting mom, and amazing fiancé and his family, I could have not gotten through this. There are no words to explain how grateful I am for them.

My mom was devastated and she felt very guilty, I’m her only child so you could only imagine. My dad was very surprised he didn’t believe it at first. The way I acted towards everyone I made it very easy for them to look past the fact that I was sick.In the hospital. My mother was at my bed side 24/7, night and day, taking care of me, wiping me with ice water, getting my towels, and taking me to the bathroom. I know that without her I would not have gotten out after two weeks and I owe her my heart.

Also with my friends being the way that they are, they didn’t make me feel like I was sick, I felt normal like nothing was different I couldn’t thank them enough. I have the best friends anyone could ask for. I never let the fact that I had cancer get my down I always stayed positive towards it, there is no point in pouting about it because it won’t change anything. I was never treated differently because to them, I was still the same Donica, just a little more tired.

For my fiancé, he stuck through this with me, and even in a way he fought with me, I love him to death. Thank you.

What did your treatment consist of?

I had a massive surgery that took 24 hours, reconstruction of my face using other body parts of mine, as well as four blood transfusions. I have to do radiation which I have not started yet so I can’t describe how it is, I do know I’m an out-patient and that I go five days a week for 15 minutes for five and a half weeks.

What is your current medical status?

I had surgery one month and eleven days ago, and in about three weeks I will start my radiation treatment.

Today I am great, the progression I have made in one month amazes me. 30 days ago I couldn’t walk, let alone wipe my own butt, and now I’m walking, going out, and shoveling. In the hospital, all the nurses kept saying “You have youth on your side.” I mean yes, I’m young, but the most important thing that helped me get to where I am today is the motivation of positive energy.

How is life different for you now post diagnosis?

Physically my short term effects are that I can’t really work my big toe and I have a tiny limp. I have to exercise my leg, foot, arm, hand, and jaw. I have a scars on my face, neck, leg, and arm as well as a 5×4 chunk of muscle missing from my forearm but in time everything will work its way back to “normal.” The long term effect is I know I have beaten cancer and I am proud of my scars.

Emotionally, I’m a rollercoaster, but who isn’t after that kind of journey? I have my days but you know you take one day at a time, and some days are harder than others but the next day can only get better because it’s one more day that your getting healthier.

What was the toughest part of your challenge?

The toughest part of my challenge was being the reason why everyone around me was crying; I felt guilty and a burden on them. Another hard part was being stuck in a bed for days on end. Holy cow, once I was starting to learn how to walk again I was getting out of my room at any chance I got :).

What is/was the best part of your challenge?

The day I got out of the hospital because I got out a week and some early, I also blew my team of doctors as well as the nurses away. 24 hours in surgery, two days in neurosurgical ICU and 11 days in the ENT ward, it was hell and it was the most life changing experience I have had, that was the best part of my challenge.

What really motivated/motivates you to keep going while you were/are sick?

My Mom (because of her constant bedside attention I got out of that hospital so fast), my new family, my fiancé, and my friends. I love them so much for all the motivation and support.

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

Take advantage of water, abuse your ability to drink water, because when you can’t it sucks! And also life is too short to sweat the small stuff, do what makes you happy and try new things! Take one day at a time, because it will only get better.

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

Sometimes I have the “why me?” thoughts, and the reason why it was me is because I was strong enough to fight this, everything happened so fast so as of right now I don’t really have any feelings about it except i wouldn’t change anything that happened.

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?

Eat a lot of dark green vegetables! And exercise; it’s the most you can do to try to prevent any experience.

Are you attending any support groups during your challenge?

I am not. I don’t know of any and I think I have all the support with my family and friends.

Would you if one had been available? Do you think attending one would have helped you?

I would try it out, I’m not entirely sure.

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?

I have a profile on www.goaltender.com and Angie contacted me through one of my little journal posts about coming home from the hospital.