Marley Lafreniere

IMG_55321355412241Name: Marley Lafreniere

Age: 21

Hometown: Sudbury, Ontario

What was your diagnosis? Papillary thyroid carcinoma

What school did you attend? Cambrian College

What is your career goal? My goal is to go back to school for my ECE and work for the school board as an educator in an Early Learning Kindergarten Classroom.

What is your occupation? I work for a daycare center in an elementary school. I am an educator that works with children between the ages of six to eight, and I have a special interest in children with autism spectrum disorders.

Your cancer experience:

How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
Unfortunately my story is all too familiar with many young cancer patients. I was dismissed time and time again by my family doctor when I approached him with concerns for my health. Since I was a young teen, I have showed many signs and symptoms of thyroid disease, yet my doctor always found a way to lay the blame on me: I didn’t exercise enough therefore I was overweight, I didn’t take care of my skin and that’s why it was always so dry, etc.

After almost seven years of back and forth with him, I was able to see a nurse practitioner and brought up my concerns with her. She felt my neck — this was the first time a doctor did this — and she could feel that my thyroid was swollen to more than twice its normal size. Needless to say I am glad that someone finally took the time to listen to me!

What year was it? What was your age at the time?
It was July 19, 2013; three days after my 20th birthday.

In which hospitals were you treated?
I was treated at the Northeast Cancer Center of Health Sciences North in Sudbury, Ontario.

At what level of education were you at diagnosis?
I was not in school, I was working.

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
I was terrified, but I had to ignore it for the first few days post-diagnosis. Just three hours after receiving my diagnosis, I had to jump in a car and drive nine hours north to go to a wedding. I didn’t want to darken the mood of the wedding, so I kept the news to myself (apart from a few choice people like my immediate family, my fiancé’s mom, etc.).

When I finally got home after the weekend, it all hit me at once; I had a pretty big meltdown. Surprisingly, this has been the only real one I’ve had! I still had no idea what my treatment would hold or what kind of prognosis I was looking at, so it was a pretty rough week until my next appointment. I thought for sure I was going to die. Now I know that I had a 96 per cent survival rate, so looking back I feel rather silly for thinking that.

How did your family react?
I think disbelief is the word that best describes the way my family felt upon hearing the news. None of us saw it coming. I brought my mom and my boyfriend (now my fiancé!) with me to the appointment, so thankfully I didn’t have to break the news to them myself. My dad came home from working in Alberta when he heard the news, and we just took some time as a family to digest it all before we revealed it to everyone else.

How did your friends react?
I have to admit, this is a bit of a sore spot for me. I am sad to say that my diagnosis changed a lot of my friendships, some for the better, some for the worse. I had people that I hadn’t spoken to in years suddenly become my best friends when they heard I was sick, and then I had friends who I was really close with begin to back away. I think it scared them. Now that I am done treatment, most of those people still haven’t come back around, but I did have one friend apologize to me for not being there when I needed her.

I have also had some really solid friends who got me through this crazy journey, and made some new ones along the way! One of my best friends (she’s a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor!) was introduced to me just after my diagnosis and has acted as my sounding board whenever I needed someone to listen. She is an amazingly strong person and actually introduced me to YACC!

What did your treatment consist of?
After the nurse practitioner felt the swelling, she sent me for an ultrasound which revealed that I had several masses on the left side of my thyroid gland. A fine needle aspiration gave atypical results that showed characteristics of carcinoma, and that lead to my first surgery. I had a left lobe thyroidectomy and bilateral neck dissection (eight lymph nodes were removed and found to be cancerous) in August of 2013. Biopsies of the left lobe and lymph nodes revealed that it was in fact thyroid cancer. I had a second surgery to remove the right lobe of my thyroid six weeks later. After my last surgery I was placed on a hormone therapy drug called Synthroid Levothyroxine to replace the function of my thyroid. Four months later, I did a round of Radioactive Iodine Therapy to ablate any remaining thyroid tissues.

My biggest challenge so far has been adjusting to life without a thyroid. It has wreaked havoc on my body and the side effects of the medication are horrible. I’ve been on countless doses trying to find the right amount for me, and each new dose brings a new side effect. I’ve had tachycardia attacks, weight gain (booooo!), skin issues, mood fluctuations, lack of energy, extreme fatigue, and brain fog just to name a few.

As hard as the physical side of my treatment has been, the mental side afterwards has been way harder. I had come to terms with things after a certain point, and once my treatment was finished, I felt like I had so many questions that I hadn’t really given much thought to before. What happens now? Will it come back? How do I live my life when I constantly fear recurrence? It’s all a mess in my head and I struggle to get it out sometimes! I can make me a real grump, that’s for sure!

What is your current medical status?
I am proud to be risk-free!

How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
Life is so much sweeter! I have a greater appreciation for the little things for life, and I find gratitude in the smallest of places. I also have a much greater respect for my body, after all, it kicked cancer’s a**! I find that I challenge myself far more often because I know I can do anything I can I set my mind to. For example, I recently joined a Crossfit Training center to learn Olympic weightlifting, and I am learning how to play sledge hockey!

What is the toughest part of your challenge?
Acceptance and change. It’s been tough for me and the people around me to accept everything that has happened and everything that is yet to come. I’ve also had a hard time accepting the changes to my body: my scar, my weight, my hair, etc. It’s all changing at once and it sucks!

What was the best lesson you took away from your challenge?
Time is valuable. Show appreciation and gratitude every chance you get, and never wait for the next chance. Life can flip before you know it, and that next chance might not come.

What really motivates you to keep going?
My will to live. I am young, I have so much to live for. My fiancé, Collin was a big help because he was always there to remind me why I’m fighting. He held me when I was in pain or when I just needed to cry, and he never once shied away from what was coming.

What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? Have they changed since before your diagnosis?
I am definitely a lot more grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given. I am grateful that my cancer was easily cured and that I had access to a state of the art treatment facility with free health care (sort of). I am still very scared, but I have beaten it once, so if it does come back, I can beat it again! I am still very angry that it had to be me, but I suppose that will go away in time.

What are some preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?
Don’t back down! When your body is telling you that something is wrong, listen to it, and find someone who will take the time to hear you out.

Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
No I have not attended a support group. There were none available to me in my area. I did try to find one, though. I think it would have been a great asset to help me through my journey. Thankfully, I had a great support group of people around me!

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?
I was introduced to YACC by a close friend and fellow cancer survivor who thought it may help me with all of the challenges I was facing.

Thanks YACC for all that you do!