Michael Walsh

Age: 24

Hometown: Sydney, Nova Scotia

Click here to view Melanie’s Profile.

Your Cancer experience

Who did you support with cancer?

My girlfriend Melanie.

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

After being in South Korea to teach English for only two weeks, Melanie noticed a lump in her breast while showering. We immediately contacted a physician who did a core biopsy and then we waited one week (the longest week of Mel’s life) before we received the news that our worst fear had come true.

What year was it? How old were you?

September 2006. I was 23 years old.

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

Mel was diagnosed with Level II Breast Cancer.

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

I was numb Shock and disbelief. When we first noticed the lumps we both remained positive despite the first doctor being noticeably worried. Stats on the internet stated only 5% of breast cancer victims are under the age of 30 and Mel is incredibly healthy and fit with no family history of cancer. After calling family and friends we heard numerous stories of benign lumps (including Mel’s grandmother) so we were assured that this lump was most likely a non-cancerous cist. After confirmation of the diagnosis my thoughts were put on the backburner to figure out what to do about our situation (location, job, etc.) and how to comfort Mel.

How did your family react?

My family was in obvious shock but they were supportive. They tried to help me remain positive and assured me that most breast cancer patients live long healthy lives.

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

My friends were initially shocked as well but they did not treat me any differently. They were in a state of disbelief.

How did you support him/her with cancer?

After the diagnosis Mel felt it would be best to go home. I initially did not want to leave because I did not know the extent of the disease (Korean culture does not seem to treat cancer like the Western culture) and because of the financial burden. However, I could not let Mel travel home on her own. I felt like it was too much for her to handle mentally, physically and emotionally. That being said, we flew home immediately so she could be around her family in this time of need.

What resources would you have liked to avail of personally since his/her diagnosis?

I would like to have had access to a cancer hotline. Something which could help explain the physical aspects of cancer (i.e. hair loss, nausea, reactions) and mental aspects (i.e. mood swings, emotional state). Having a tool like this at your finger tips would be very useful and reassuring for both the cancer patient and the support system.

Do you know what the treatment consisted/consists of?

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

For a more concise explanation see Melanie Roach’s Profile. I can tell you her treatment consisted of 4 chemo sessions. Stemotil for nausea (a medication which she took an allergic reaction too and should not be recommended for patients under 30) and Tamoxifen for a period of 5 years following chemotherapy.

Describe the non-medical side (how you felt emotionally, physical side-effects, exhaustion for example)

I was very confused. During Chemo treatments Mel handled her sessions really well. There were a couple of isolated incidents (i.e. Stemotil reaction) and sickness for approximately five days after the treatment, but otherwise she seemed really strong. This caused me to be kind of ignorant toward her diagnosis and her cancer battle. I was guilty of forgetting that she was a cancer patient. I often felt I was unprepared and I did not know how to handle certain situations. You will find there is a lot of support for cancer patients and a lot of educational programs and material which can help cancer patients battle their disease. I think that it is great that this information is out there, however there is very little information given to cancer supporters. At 23 years old I was put in a situation where I did not know how to handle some of the situations that I was faced with because I had not been faced with anything like it before.

In which Hospital(s) was he/she treated?

Melanie was originally treated at a women’s hospital in South Korea before coming home and being treated at Cape Breton Regional Cancer Centre [Nova Scotia].

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

Life is much different now because we do not live such a carefree life. Traveling to South Korea was like a feeling of excitement like the world was at our fingertips. Now it seems that cancer has taken centre stage for the time being. It is our hope that this will eventually change once Mel gets some clean check-ups and begins to work again and move on with life.

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

The best part of about having a cancer challenge is that your eyes are opened. You are not nave anymore to think that nothing bad can happen to you or your family. Mel and I have struggled at times but we live much healthier lifestyles. We still party of course, but we eat well, exercise regularly and are knowledgeable about cancer which is good because we both feel we can pass this knowledge along to other cancer patients and supporters.

Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?

No. I did not attend a support groups, nor did Melanie. There were support groups out there for her, but most of them were middle-aged women who, in a lot of cases, may be nearing the end. At the time of diagnosis it was hard to say whether this would be beneficial. I’m sure a lot of these patients were extremely brave, but it may have been scary to see firsthand the actual effects cancer does have. The biggest support for Melanie was writing in her blog everyday. This allowed her to vent her feelings and to reflect back upon her cancer battle. Feel free to check it out  www.thepinkdiaries.blogspot.com

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?

I got connected with Young Adult Cancer through Melanie. She had posted a profile during her treatment and found out about a retreat offered to young cancer patients offering them a chance to meet other cancer survivors who are in the same boat and going through many of the same challenges. We were both extremely excited about this opportunity and we wanted to be a part of this and the Young Adult Cancer family.