To this day I will always be forever grateful that I received my cancer diagnosis in November. Out of any number of dates that my first 30 cycles of chemotherapy could have commenced on, I can honestly say that I lucked out by receiving my first dose of Vincristine on December 1, beginning an eight-month phase of the Dana Farber protocol — a standard regiment for patients of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) — that would end in in September. Just in time for the school year to begin.
I was diagnosed with ALL at 20-years-old in the midst of my third year of university. At the time, my number one priority (even above my health, it would seem) was academics. In my mind, being diagnosed with cancer would only delay my studies, and as a result, my graduation. How would I find a decent job, or begin my career? A skewed set of priorities when you consider my health was at stake, am I right? Well, I’m not so sure.
You see, throughout the first phase of my treatment — induction — I was reduced to a hospital room for just under a month. I didn’t have much to focus on outside of my well-being. The second phase — central nervous system — lasted three weeks. A blip on the radar in cancer years. But the third phase of intensification were a seven-month doozy.
How on earth are you supposed to remain positive, balance your mental and physical health, and grit your teeth and grind while only leaving your house once every three weeks, having just enough energy to shuffle your way to the bathroom and back? The answer was knowing that against all odds, I was going back to school that same September.
The simple idea of having something to look forward to in the future — no matter how distant or far-fetched the idea may seem — kept me as motivated as possible in such a trying time.
I’m grateful to have met and become close with so many incredible cancer thrivers throughout the past five years in the community. One thing that has become so abundantly clear through engaging with these individuals is that cancer has this nasty way of taking what’s not theirs, as if it’s some untrained toddler who has not yet been introduced to the ever popular “sharing is caring” policy. This lack of control causes anguish, uncertainty, and frustration — sound familiar?
The really eerie thing about this observation is that it similar to our current state of world affairs. Many of us are stuck at home, have lost a job, are extremely unsettled because of a weakened immune system. Some of our community is going through all of this in the midst of cancer treatment. I felt all of these emotions when I was at home undergoing chemotherapy, watching the world function when I couldn’t even properly chew food, and it ate at me. Finding something to look forward to, or a goal to set once I was cleared to re-enter this hustle and bustle of everyday society, was the surge of energy I needed.
My hopes in the next few paragraphs is to provide some everlasting thoughts, ideas, or goals that can be set when we are eventually all given the medical go ahead to re-integrate into the world we left a few months prior.
One caveat I would like to include before I continue: by no means am I a medical expert or would ever suggest anything against the advice of universally trained doctors and nurses who are providing us a timeline that is the most safe for all of our well-being. My aim is to open up the floodgates to what we can all visualize for the future, and hopefully give us some hope and pleasure for the time being.
Here are some examples of goals to set after our COVID-19 quarantine period has officially ended:
Enrol back in school or take a new course
This is already a popular use of free time these days as many individuals are trying to keep their minds active by signing up for career or skill-building courses. One of my best friends is an assistant manager at a high-end restaurant chain, and he is about to start a five-week course that dives into wine culture and how to decipher what pairs with certain meals. I have heard a number of stories of friends completing the Smart Serve Training Program for serving alcohol in Ontario. I have actually been meaning to take a few Google Skillshop courses — a set of online courses to get Google product certified — and learn things like Google Ads or Youtube monetization techniques.
Indeed, these examples can all be completed from the comfort of your own home, but what about that culinary program at the college you’ve been meaning to enrol in? What about the passion you may have for social work because of this new cancer experience you’ve been thrust into? I am dangerously close to enrolling into a Journalism or English program, as I’ve found that I adore writing so much that I just might have to capitalize on the opportunity to turn it into more than a hobby. This transitional period in our lives may be exactly what we need to pursue a passion and turn it into a reality.
Try and talk to one new person a day
Now let me just say that despite what many of my close friends and family may say, I consider myself an introvert. I enjoy spending time alone with my thoughts, and I’ll admit that quite sometime spending time in big groups can be anxiety inducing. So when I made it a New Year’s resolution at the beginning of 2019 to talk to one new person a day for the whole year, I was taking a major leap.
I’ll be honest, I lasted two weeks. It’s hard to find someone new to talk to, and trying to organically begin a conversation with a stranger proved challenging! However, I made some adjustments to this resolution. If I didn’t talk to someone new, I would reach out to someone old, and by old I mean someone from my past just to check in on them. An old friend, classmate, camp buddy, it could even be a cousin you don’t see as often as you might like.
Trying to build even small connections in a world that has now been forced to physically distance ourselves is one way to feel whole again. Asking someone at Starbucks how they’re doing, thanking the person for holding the door for you, waving hello to the security in your apartment or place of work — these connections are small, but build a sense of community that will last throughout your day. We all need to unite now, and well after we’re all back together.
Set a target to complete a project
I’m going to leave this one completely ambiguous, but it could be the most practical. Have you been meaning to redecorate one of the rooms in your house that you’ve dubbed “the office” for lack of a better term? What about running or walking on the elliptical for a full hour at your gym? Right now is a great time to begin brainstorming ideas for personal projects that might require materials you aren’t able to obtain right now, or involve places you need to visit but have to postpone.
My dad has been mentioning for years that he wants to purchase a worn out muscle car and go to town on the refurbishing and repairs to completely transform it into his own work of art. My mom has begun designing phrases and patterns on her Cricut machine to begin putting together outlines for her woodworking creations. She wants to slowly start building enough materials to start her own business! Most cancer thrivers I have met have been so damn inspiring because of their vision and motivation, so think about the next exciting project and get to brainstorming!
Embrace your friends
Like physically, embrace your friends. I don’t care how tough you think you are, get to hugging! Technology has provided us the desperately needed tools to drive connection through screens, phones, games, and the like, but nothing compares to face-to-face interaction. One thing is for sure — when social interaction is once again permitted, I’ll be seen running slow motion, Baywatch-style, right into my friends’ arms.
I think being diagnosed with cancer creates an immense appreciation for the support system around you — friends, family, co-workers, all of those incredible individuals who stick by you and provide you with anything you need. There’s an acceptance unlike any other. I hope these recent circumstances instil more gratitude for the special people in our lives. As clichéd as it sounds, we need to show our love and appreciation for all of those around us now more than ever.
Hosting family dinners/potluck
You know that new baked chicken cordon bleu dish you just whipped up? Or that veggie tofu stir-fry your friend recommended that you JUST learned how to master? Or maybe, more accurately for someone like myself, the new vegetable you tried in your omelette this morning that made that sucker POP? Well, share the wealth! Why not invite over your extended family or your closest friends over and host a potluck dinner?
A very popular trend right now is building your recipe book and putting your imaginative culinary muscles to work. I have to be more aware to scroll through my Instagram timeline after I eat, because the amount of savoury dishes I bypass everyday is painstaking. Some of these meals look delicious! Come together as a group and share the mouth-watering recipes and meals with those around you.
Plan a roadtrip
This might have to be something to look forward to long after our period of social distancing is complete. Travel may still be a very delicate industry and we may need to wait for economies to rebuild before we allow for too many trips to take place. With that said, I think it’s no secret that many of us have counted more tiles on the ceiling in our own homes than ever before, and it never hurts to plan your next getaway.
As I grow older I realize how little of Canada I have really seen. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to visit St. Johns, NL through YACC’s Survivor Conference a number of times. If you don’t leave there with a larger sense of community and warmth than when you entered, I can’t help you! It left me itching to explore more of the Atlantic coast, and make my way all the way to the shores of Vancouver Island. Let’s manifest those exciting butterflies inside of us when we plan our next destination.
P.S. for those scheduled to complete their treatment soon, a vacation is an outstanding reward to yourself for the journey.
Enrol in a sports or recreation class
Maintaining active physical health throughout a cancer journey can be extremely difficult, mainly for lack of energy and strength. This is something that is often combatted with physical therapy, stretches, or personal trainers who adapt a workout to meet the needs of their trainee. I was able to utilize Wellspring Chingaucousy to slowly regain muscle and endurance for a year and a half throughout my chemotherapy treatment.
These services may not be available right now, but it’s good to research and prepare for the options available for your own personal fitness plan. When the time is right, check out your local Wellspring location and programs, sign up for a beach volleyball or soccer league, or join a spin or yoga class to engage in activity and social interactions! I signed up for a yoga class last September at my local recreation centre, and although I was the youngest of my age by far, I looked forward to the mental focus and physical relief I was going to feel every Monday night.
Let me finish off by saying that a lot of our heads are flooded with thoughts in the now, and that is totally okay. I experience tough days, the deep pit that is laziness, and sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But if we set a plan ahead, and just think about a few exciting tasks that we’re going to tackle when we are back in business, that light gets a whole lot brighter.