Heather Watt

Heather Watt - Profile

Age: 31

Hometown: Calgary

What school did/do you attend? Shawnessy High

Do you work? I am a stay at home mom/ was a facilitator for a 12-step group before I got sick.

What is your career goal(s)? To be a social worker/child & youth counselor

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

I had a DNC back in march 2009 and two days after when I was recovering from that I was putting lotion on my neck and I felt this strange lump on the left side it was a fair size and I just new it wasn’t like any other cysts I have ever had. This one was harder and I couldn’t move this one around when I touched it so I phoned the next morning to make an appointment for the following week with my family doctor she sent me for a x-ray and an ultra sound. It was, I think, a week later I was phoned to say the doctor would like to see me so I went in and she said I think we need to get a biopsy of what was seen but most always lumps in your neck come back benign. I just knew mine wasn’t going to be benign.

I waited five weeks to get my biopsy done and the pathologist took two separate samples and as I was leaving he said it would take a few weeks for the doctor to get the results I thought “that’s great” and left. It was the very next morning after meeting with the pathologist and my two biopsies were done I was called into see my family doctor. I remember packing my daughter’s bag so she could go to a friend’s house while my husband and I were at the doctor. All I could do was stare at my little one and cry I just knew that I had cancer before I was even told. My husband and I sat there waiting for my doctor to walk in and when she did she couldn’t even look at me, I knew!  I looked out the window at a busy street watching everyone go by hearing her words, “I am sorry, you have cancer.”  I just asked for a hug and cried. My husband just held my hand. I wanted nothing more to get out of there and see my daughter.

Three days later I was sitting in the surgeon’s office. He said, “no problem I will remove the entire thyroid gland take a look around take out anything else that looks suspicious and that should be that.” On July 8 I had my surgery a thyroidectomy, waited two weeks for the final results to come in, and the cancer never spread beyond the thyroid gland.

But I can say about a year before I had a physical done and it showed that the blood cells in the bone marrow where not normal but nothing to be too concerned about. I had no idea what my doctor was talking about. I did complain in all of 2008 I didn’t feel well and nothing was ever found or looked into. They thought it could have been associated with my kidney and bladder disease. Close to becoming anemic I was told to take some iron pills and left it at that. I was told perhaps I had some depression and I should talk to someone.

In the last three months before surgery, a tumor on the thyroid was pressing on so much I couldn’t lay flat or on my left side or I couldn’t breathe. It started to cause a lot of pain in my face and the left side of face would totally swell up, the pain would go up my neck through my left ear and around my head and no pain meds seem to relieve the pain and pressure. I felt like I was going crazy. Talking, chewing, turning my head began to be too painful closer to the time of surgery and my voice became really husky.

What year was it? What was your age at the time? July 2009. age 31

At what level of education were you at diagnosis? Addiction studies Mount Royal College 2007

What was your diagnosis? Papillary Carcinoma

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?

With not knowing much about my cancer at the time I though I was going to pass away like my dad did from cancer in 2007, until the surgeon looked at me and sat down beside me and said, “it is going to be okay you are going to be okay.” From that moment I clung to my husband and just cried and said, “please God not now I have a daughter who needs her mommy and a husband who needs his wife. I don’t want to do this, I just don’t want to go through this.”

How did your family react?

Oh boy my mom and auntie cried, my family just said we will be here to support you. I think everyone was just stunned nothing really was said. There where some family members that where just great and where completely there others weren’t just the way it was.  My mom has been amazing her support for me, my husband, and my daughter has been everything I could have ever asked for and more.

How did your friends react? Were you treated any different? I had friends that remained great through it all while other friends have walked away.  I have been treated differently and I don’t think on purpose. Cancer is a very scary disease and some can handle it while others just can’t.

What did your treatment consist of?

Removal of my thyroid gland. My surgery wasn’t too long ago so I am still healing from that. Also the right side of my incision completely opened up10 days after the surgery so that has been a nightmare trying to get that healed up and closed again. Cleaning that everyday was awful but it had to be done. I have my first appointment with the Tom Baker centre on October 7, 2009. My body has had a tough time adapting to not having a thyroid, that’s for sure.

In which Hospital(s) are/were you treated? Surgery was at the Peter Lougheed in Calgary.

What is your current medical status? The surgeon believes he was able to remove all the cancer because he took out the thyroid gland but thinks I will need what he calls “the radiation cocktail” to make sure.

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

Physically: I am nauseated; I don’t sleep well; have little appetite; cold and hot sweats; dizziness; my fingers, toes, and face can go numb; totally tired; low energy; face sometimes twitches; weight gain; husky voice; and lately, I’m itchy with burning skin.

Emotionally: I am a wreck, I feel lost, I don’t know who I am anymore, I cry at the drop of a hat.

Socially: I don’t fit in any more, I am treated differently either no one knows what to say so they don’t say anything, I am not invited any where like before so I am not sure what happened I had cancer not a contagious disease.

What was the toughest part of your challenge?

Finding who the New me is now and saying goodbye to the old me, letting go of the hurt, anger, sadness, fear they didn’t get all the cancer, just going into a normal life because I don’t know what normal for me is anymore or right now. Seeing the tears my daughter would cry because mommy was too sick to take her to the park or play with her like other mommies could. Hearing how mad she was at me for having cancer. She asked me once “mommy will you go to heaven like Papa did now?” It broke my heart. I said, “no honey, Papa had a different form of cancer.” She really suffered because of my cancer and I have a hard time forgiving myself for not being able to get out of bed to play with her or when I lost my voice for three weeks after surgery, I couldn’t even talk to her very well. Also not being the wife, friend, daughter, mom, niece, sister, cousin I once was and the guilt over that is what tears me up.

What was the best part about having your challenge?

Receiving a second chance at living my life and reaching my goals. Knowing that it is okay to walk away from anything negative that holds me down. I really believe that God has a plan for me and what that is I don’t know yet but I can’t wait to find out. I feel going through this challenge in my life has taught me to stand firm and proud with both feet planted on this earth and that it is possible to after all these years of not knowing who it is that I am, or meant to be can still be found. Cancer has taught me that I must live my life with every ounce of being. I cannot worry about what others might think is best for me I will now be the judge of that. I can’t wait to laugh, live, trust, to love and enjoy my journey with those that I can count on. Cheers!

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

My daughter has been my biggest motivation to keep going. She was amazing through my sickness. At four-year old she would lay beside me and say “Mommy I am so proud of you.” Seeing her smile and hearing her laughter certainly helped. The friends and family that have remained through this at the hardest moments is what kept me going. Hearing my husband say “I admire your strength” help too.

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

That life isn’t always perfect and it can be taken from you at any time. To love and laugh at all times, to hold the people I love the dearest close to my heart and leave the negative people behind. I have one life and to never let someone take away what makes me happy, what I am proud of, and what I love, ever again.

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

I am at a point where I feel completely lost.  I am angry all this happened and hurt that cancer destroyed relationships that I loved. But knowing that there is an end in sight to how sick I feel at times does ease some of the frustrations.

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? Listen to your body.

Did you attend any support groups during your challenge? No I haven’t.

If you did not attend a support group, why?  Surgery wasn’t that long ago and I haven’t felt ready.

Would you if one had been available? Not sure

Do you think attending one would have helped you?  Not sure

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada? Canadian Cancer society

How did it happen?

I was talking to a lady from the Canadian Cancer Society who thought that the retreat that Young Adult Cancer Canada was having would really do me good.  So I signed up and I am so happy I did!

What are your thoughts/feelings on Young Adult Cancer Canada?

I think it is great.  What a blessing to be able to connect with other young adults that are feeling similar emotions.  It is a great way to just be ourselves and not have to defend why we feel a certain way about all the issues that arise for young people during cancer and what kinds of issues and emotions we face at a young age surviving cancer. Thank you for accepting all the different kinds of cancers no matter what stage or type, it is very hard to find that kind of support.