Lindsay Walker

Lindsay Walker

Name: Lindsay Walker

Age: 32

Hometown: Canmore, Alberta

What was your diagnosis? Stage II Melanoma

What schools did you attend?
Wittenberg University, Springfield Ohio (Undergraduate)
Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS (Graduate)

What are your career goal(s)?
What? I was supposed to have figured out what I wanted to be by now? Oops!

What is your occupation?
I have had lots of different work experiences. Most recently I have owned my own sewing/alterations business, worked at an embroidery shop, stocked shelves at Wal-Mart, worked in a pottery studio and sold produce at a road side stand. In the past I have worked as caving guide, a backpacking guide, a personal assistant, and a geoscience programmer at a small town museum. Of course I have also filled in the gaps with restaurant and hotel work whenever necessary, especially while I was traveling. Now I am looking for a new career path and I am excited to see what the future holds.

Your cancer experience:

How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
My husband and I had just returned from a canoe trip in British Columbia. We had been in the backcountry for over a week and I was taking a shower and cleaning up when I noticed a lesion on the back of my right calf. I had never seen it before and it looked ugly. I was concerned so I made an appointment to see my family doctor, who then referred me to a dermatologist. The dermatologist performed an excisional biopsy to remove the lesion. A few weeks later we got the results: melanoma.

What year was it? What was your age at the time?
I was diagnosed on December 12, 2012. I will always remember the date because it was one of those triple number things that people try to use for special events like weddings, 12/12/12. I was 31-years-old at the time.

In which hospitals were you treated?
I was treated at the Canmore Hospital, the Foothills Medical Centre and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

At what level of education were you at diagnosis?
I had completed my Master of Science several years before I was diagnosed.

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
Absolute terror, confusion, worry for my husband and family, concern about my ability to run my business and pay the bills.

How did your family react?
They were extremely worried and concerned, and very supportive.

How did your friends react?
My friends were also completely amazing. I received so much support and love from everyone in my life. Things didn’t really change in my friendships too much, except that I suddenly appreciated everyone so much more

What did your treatment consist of?
The first step in my treatment after the diagnosis was to perform a wide local excision at the tumor site to remove any other tissue that may have been affected by the cancer. At the same time, my surgeon performed a lymph node biopsy to determine if the cancer had spread beyond the tumor site. Early on the day of my surgery, the radiology team at the Foothills mapped the sentinel lymph node, which is the lymph node draining the tumor site and the one most likely to be affected by the cancer. This was the lymph node they removed during the surgery.

The hardest part of my treatment was definitely the recovery. The incision from the lymph node biopsy was small and healed quickly, but the wide-local excision had left a huge twisted scar along my calf and behind my knee, about 12 inches long. I was an active, healthy person before my surgery and it was difficult to suddenly be immobile and unable to do many of the things that I had taken for granted. I couldn’t walk for about four weeks after my surgery and then I had several weeks of physiotherapy to regain full mobility. My right leg had lost quite a bit of strength and was noticeable smaller than my left. It took some time to build up the muscles and teach myself how to walk properly again. My knee had also gotten messed up from me holding my leg in awkward positions for so long. The physiotherapy was a big help. Because the surgery was on my leg I also couldn’t drive for several weeks. Daily tasks, such as bathing, cooking, and getting dressed took forever and I was tired all of the time from the effort of getting around. My apartment had two flights of stairs so it wasn’t the best place to be recovering. The hardest thing of all was trying to work and run my business. It was hard to focus on anything except the cancer.

It took a few weeks after the surgery for us to get the results of the lymph node biopsy. This was a very difficult and emotional time for me and my family and friends. We were all waiting anxiously to know what the next step would be. We were so relieved when we finally heard that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes. At that point I had a follow-up appointment with an oncologist at the Tom Baker. They recommended that I do a round of immunotherapy to be sure that the cancer was cleared from my body. After reviewing the statistics and side-effects of the treatment, I decided to turn it down. I am taking a bit of a risk in doing this, but it is also risky to pump poison into your body, and possibly make yourself sick for no reason. My medical team, my family, and my friends all supported my decision.

What is your current medical status?
I just had my one-year post surgery check-up at the Tom Baker and everything looks great. I still have no symptoms of disease and so far I am healthy. I was a high risk for skin cancer before my diagnosis due to my ancestry. I am fair-skinned, with reddish-blond hair and I have a lot of moles on my skin, which are basically little clusters of melanocytes, the cells that are affected by melanoma skin cancer. Now that I have had one melanoma, I am at a much higher risk of developing another. I see my dermatologist every three months for a screening. He takes a lot of biopsies whenever he sees an abnormal mole on my skin. Two of these have come back abnormal, and have required further surgery. If we had not identified these areas early, they would have had a high chance of becoming cancerous in the future. Hopefully, by careful monitoring, I will continue to stay cancer free.

How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
Things are so different for me now than they were before. I can’t believe how I used to go through life with my blinders on, keeping my head down and not paying attention to what was going on around me. I was a happy person with a good life before my diagnosis. I had a great marriage, a wonderful family and a close network of friends.

Cancer changes everything. Now, when I wake up in the morning I notice everything and everything affects me so much more deeply than it did before. Colours are brighter, the world is more beautiful, and my friends and family are more precious.

My marriage is over now, I have shut down my business and I am trying to focus on finding a life that is fulfilling in every way. Life is a beautiful journey and I am excited to see what will happen next.

What was the toughest part of your challenge?
It was terrible when I realized that my marriage was not going to survive the turmoil of everything that had happened. I loved my husband deeply and I will always be sorry that we won’t be able to walk through the rest of our lives hand in hand. But I think it is important to recognize when things are not meant for you, and to respect and love each other so much that you can walk away. It is still a struggle, but it is for the best.

What was the best lesson you took away from your challenge?
Pay attention, all of the time. Nothing is a waste. You can learn from the most devastating of situations, and find something beautiful and worthwhile.

What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
I know what it is like to be healthy and strong, and I wanted that again. Also, I had found a new appreciation and meaning for living my life and that kept me focused on the future.

What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now?
When I was diagnosed I was so confused and shocked. I just wanted to wake up and find out that it was all a bad dream. Now, I wouldn’t change what happened to me for the world. At the time, it was extremely hard to deal with, and I still have anxiety about my future health. But it taught me so much about myself and I wouldn’t give that knowledge back.

What are some preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?
I said it before and I’ll say it again, pay attention, all of the time. Don’t let your life pass you by while you sit contentedly on the sidelines. Go out and be your most awesome self every day–just put on some sunscreen and wear a hat while you are doing it.

Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
I participated in a rafting trip to the Grand Canyon with Survive and Thrive Expeditions. Their mission is to help young adult cancer survivors identify, process and apply life lessons through adventure activities. They run several trips a year to amazing outdoor destinations. This trip was so important to me and was one of the best decisions I have made. I had the opportunity to connect with an amazing group of survivors who could identify and understand my experiences. We had a great time, and we all came away from the trip with new insights about ourselves and renewed hope for the future.

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?
I heard about YACC through some of the other participants I met on my trip with Survive and Thrive. I knew that I wanted to keep in contact with other cancer survivors so I signed up to be a part of it.

Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges?
I would definitely be available to talk to anyone facing a similar situation. Cancer survivors are amazing people and I’m sure I would learn so much from talking to another person, and I may even be able to help them on their journey.