Holly Oxford

Age: 21

Hometown: Twillingate, Newfoundland

What school did/do you attend?

Currently working towards her honors degree in Behavioral Neuroscience at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

What is/are your career goal(s)?

She plans on heading to the University of Waterloo to get her M.Sc and Ph.D!

Your Cancer experience

Who did you support with cancer?

My mom

How did you find out about the cancer? What event(s) led to the diagnosis?

I found out when I was in my first year at MUN, second semester. For a few months mom had been having pain in her knee. She kept going to visit the doctor and she was told to keep taking Advil and other pain killers and that it must have been a torn ligament which would heal on its own, eventually. In February she finally got to see the bone specialist who suspected it was bone cancer in her hip. I found out a couple weeks later when she had to have a bone scan in Gander. I had been scared all along that maybe she would need a hip replacement. In no way was I prepared for the news that we received.

What year was it? How old were you?

It was in 2002, I was 18.

What kind of cancer was he/she first diagnosed with?

She was diagnosed with Bone Cancer

What were your first thoughts when you found out about the diagnosis?

All I could think about was why us? Of all people my mom was the person who least deserved any of what she had been given. She was the most wonderful, caring, smart, energetic, funny, compassionate person I’d ever known. I leaned on the hospital wall as a slide show of my life and the memories of all the great things with mom passing through my mind. As tears ran down my cheeks, I just felt lost. I just wanted it to go away and wanted to wake up. I wanted to be dreaming.

How did your family react?

They were very supportive. They always have been, they did everything for mom. Dad was great. When mom’s knee was too bad to sleep in the bed, she rested it on the back of the couch and dad brought the mattress into the living room and slept on the floor every night just so she wouldn’t have to be alone. I thought that was the most amazing thing Dad could have done and it showed me how much he loved mom and how great of a person he is. We all got a lot closer and tried to stay happy and positive. My sister and I became a lot closer. I spent the rest of the semester in school, so a lot of what went on, I didn’t really see, but I know everyone did everything they possibly could to help!

How did your friends react? Did your friends begin treating you different?

My friends were all as shocked as me. No one expected mom to get cancer. They all began to tell me that she was going to be ok, and that they would help me get through it. If I ever needed to talk I could always turn to them, but it still felt awkward because they still didn’t truly know how I was feeling. One of my friends says she don’t know how I ever made it through that semester. Everyone kept telling me that I was very strong, and that was a lot of what kept me going.

How did you support him/her with cancer?

I tried to do my best for mom. I tried not to get upset at her for the little things anymore. I tried to stay happy when I was around her just because she would have been upset if I was. I helped her with all the household things and took her places she wanted to go! I went with her to a chemo treatment and sat and watched as she joked around with the nurses and other patients!! She always kept a positive attitude, and so did I!

Do you know what the treatment consisted/consists of?

Describe the medical side (chemo, radiation, in-patient, out-patient)

First mom’s treatment consisted of 6 weeks worth of cobalt radiation in 10 days at the Cancer Centre at the Health Science in St. John’s. She got a little sick from it, but before she started it she was in a wheel chair and couldn’t stand on her own. Afterwards, she was standing on her own fairly strong and could manage to take a few steps. Then, she was scheduled for 9 double dose lithium chemo treatments at the Gander Hospital. All the doctors suspected this would make her very sick, but she only lost her hair and got nauseous a couple of times. Since all of her treatment was outpatient, she quickly went back to her routine life a couple days after every treatment. I was amazed that she did so well through her treatments! She stayed strong emotionally, which, I think, is 99% of the battle.

What was the outcome?

On August 8, 2002 (Mom’s 41st birthday) She had a check-up at the Health Science. In the beginning, we had been told that it was impossible to get rid of mom’s cancer and that they could on shrink it and stop the growth. My aunt called me that morning and the only four words I can remember are, “The cancer is gone.” Mom’s cancer was gone, there wasn’t a trace of it on her cat scan. The last 3 of 9 chemo treatments were cancelled. Mom had a check-up again in November, but no cat scan. During the Christmas holidays mom got sick and she was admitted into the hospital with a liver infection. I had to come back to St. John’s to go back to school, but this time I knew in my heart that something was terribly wrong. Mom was supposed to be moved to Grand Falls-Windsor if the infection worsened, but a day later Dad called me and said they had to come to St. John’s. My heart sank and I have never felt so desperate in my life. She had more tests and it was found that the cancer was back in four places. She was scheduled to come back in three weeks to begin treatments again. She went home to Twillingate on Saturday. I wanted to go with her, but her dream was for me to be in University and she begged me to stay, so I did. The following Tuesday I was called out of my morning chemistry class and told I had to call dad. I called him asking what was wrong, knowing full well what the answer would be, and he told me I had to come home. I didn’t make it home in time. My mom died as I was trying to catch a flight.

How is life different for you now that you have had a cancer experience?

When I found out that mom had cancer my life did a complete 360. My greatest worry the week before I found out was that I had a history paper due. Put history paper and mom has cancer on a balance and see which one outweighs the other. It was the first time in my life that I stopped worrying about the small things. I did everything in my power to make mom happy. I wanted to spend more time with her during the summer and didn’t care what else was going on. As I cried in the hospital I didn’t worry what the passers by thought of me. All I cared about was mom. I believe that I am a stronger person now, and that what I have already gone through has prepared me for anything in life. I have a greater passion to do well in school because mom always wanted me to excel. She told me to do whatever I wanted, as long as it would make me happy, so I’m going to do that. I also learned what a great person my mom was and how appreciated she was by our whole community. It is sad that it wasn’t until she was dead that I realized what an enormous impact she had on the people around her. I realized that everything happens for a reason, and good things can and do come from the worst experiences. The greatest thing of all though, is that I learned that I have her smile, and with that, she will always be with me.

What was the hardest thing about adjusting to life after a cancer diagnosis?

The toughest thing was obviously getting used to being a family without mom. Mom was the central part of our family and it was like she kept us together. It was hard to call home and ask for dad, after being so used to asking to speak with mom. A lot of things were challenging, even going out in public and being asked by so many people how I was doing was a daily adjustment. It was hard to come to terms that I was one of the people I always pitied growing up. I always felt sorry for people who lost their parents. I also had a hard time wondering how my sister would be and if she was going to be alright. Eventually, things began to get better and as time goes on we will heal without forgetting her spirit.

What is/was the toughest part of having a cancer experience?

The toughest part was losing mom and wondering if dad was going to be ok after wards.

What is/was the best part about having a cancer challenge?

It made me who I am today. I have matured a lot and think that I have been through more than most people my age. It has made me realize that there are more important things in life than having a full head of hair and being able to walk. I feel like my life has a lot of substance and that I found out things about myself and my family that I probably never would have. I am glad that it made me closer to my dad and my sister. The best thing is knowing how much people care for you, not only in your times of need and sorrow, but always.

What really motivated you to keep going while he/she was sick?

There was only one thing: She wanted me to be happy, so I did my best to be happy for her.

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

That you should take what life gives you and make the best of it. That you should always hope for the best and have faith! Make the best of every moment because you just don’t know when it may be the last chance you have. Most of all, let people know you love them. 🙂 Love is the greatest gift of all.

What are your thoughts and feelings about cancer now? How has your perception changed since before you were faced with a challenge?

Before to me, cancer was something that I had been interested in, but was never really affected by. Now, I want to know more. I want to know more about why it happens, the science of it all, and I also want to know more about people who have experiences with it and how they cope and deal with their challenges!

What are some (if there are any you know of) preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience?

I did not attend any support groups. I did agree to speak with a psychologist when I hit rock bottom, but I never did end up having to. I think for me, the fact of admitting that I needed to see someone, was what helped me get through it. The hardest part is admitting that you can’t do it all alone.

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?

I heard about real time cancer when I was watching tv one day when mom was sick, I got on and surfed the site and thought it was great. I had a busy semester coming up when I went back to school after mom died, and I didn’t get the chance to volunteer. It so happened that my best friend got her business work term there the next semester and that’s when I began to Volunteer!