Hometown: Pembroke, O.N.
What was/is your diagnosis?
Stage 4B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and a relapse of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
What school did you attend?
Algonquin College, Sir Sandford Fleming
What is your career goal?
To get back to work.
What was your occupation?
Operating room scrub nurse
Your cancer experience:
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
I was never an overly healthy child/young adult! If there was a cold or virus going around, I was highly likely to get it! I started having some lumps in my axilla, groin area, and neck in 2005. Most of the doctors said I had an infection and gave me antibiotics; others said I could only notice them because I was petite and not to worry about it! That went on for four years and then, finally, I had a lymph node removed in my groin.
It came back non-malignant, but I was still having drenching night sweats, I felt very lethargic, and still had multiple enlarged lymph nodes! In 2010, I got pneumonia twice in six months, so they did an X-ray and—low and behold—my X-ray was bad. They initially thought maybe lung cancer. I had a CT scan and it was everywhere it could be. Then I had a u/s guided biopsy in my neck and confirmed I had Lymphoma. I saw my hematologist in August 2010.
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
2010; I was 29.
In which hospital(s) are/were you treated?
Ottawa General Hospital (Cancer Clinic/BMT Clinic/Radiation South)
At what level of education were you at diagnosis?
I was working in the operating room at the time.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
I knew it! There had to be a reason why I felt this way! Why couldn’t the doctors been a little more thorough? How am I going to tell my family and friends? Lots of questions about life and the changes to be taken.
How did your family react?
They were shocked and angry; some were in disbelief. My close family was very supportive and my husband (we got married in October 2009) was extremely supportive and attentive. He came to almost every appointment, and slept in the hospital with me! My mother researched everything and wanted to change her lifestyle as well as mine with healthier, greener more natural things. She was at my house after every treatment to look after me.
How did your friends react? Were you treated differently, or did things remain the same?
Some of our friends were shocked, and had a lot of stories to share about someone they knew that was sick. Some avoided us like the plague! Some were great as well and always very concerned and supportive.
What did your treatment consist of?
I started chemo exactly one month before my first wedding anniversary. I had six cycles (12 treatments) of ABVD chemo, but ended up having four more treatments because my CT scan was not improving. I had a portacath inserted the first day of chemo. It’s a great little device, except I developed a blood clot in my neck and was taking Lovenox injections every day for a year! My oncologist said if there was one patient that it was going to go astray for, it is going to be me! I also had to have Neupogen injections after each chemo and was hospitalized for a week with febrile neutropenia. I had a nurse in after every chemo for a week for meds and hydration. I was pretty much in bed or the couch for the whole nine months of treatments. I have an allergy to Stemetil, which is a great anti-nausea for chemo, so we played and played with my meds!
I attended a rehab program at the Elizabeth Bryere Centre for six months to get up to par to return to work, and I did work for three months!
In April 2012, I was told I relapsed. I did two days of chemo in May (D-HAP); three days in June (ICE); had a PICC line inserted, and spent the whole month of July in hospital, and had a seven-day course of BEAM chemo, then an autologous stem cell transplant! In January 2013, I had 30 days of radiation in my chest.
What is your current medical status?
Almost one-year post-transplant, and feeling awesome!
How is life different for you now post-diagnosis?
I see life differently, and appreciate the little things; I always say “things happen for a reason,” and I think I needed to take care of myself and the important people in my life!
What was the toughest part of your challenge?
Not being able to do the things I wanted to do, and having to let others help me. I like to look after everyone else, so to step back and have someone look after me and everything else was trying!
What was the best lesson you took away from your challenge?
If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger! Only the best things in life are left for you when you go through a cancer journey! You get to find out who people really are, and the ones who you thought were great sometimes turn out to be not so!
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
The support I got from my husband, mom, family, and friends! I am too darn stubborn, and young as well!
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? Have they changed since before your diagnosis?
I try to enjoy my time with people more, take time for myself, and enjoy every minute of each day to the fullest! Do things that make us feel good! We don’t let life pass by; we jump in the driver’s seat!
What are some preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?
Be pushy! Ask for the tests and scans, second and third opinions! We know our own bodies, and we know when we don’t feel quite right. Take your life by the horns!
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
Not really; I spoke with psychosocial oncology and had some peer support over the phone. I did do the Look Good Feel Good day and it was very empowering, but I didn’t do anything age-appropriate; I felt pity from some of the people because I was young!
If you did not attend a support group, why?
There’s not much available in Pembroke, and wasn’t able to drive far for support group meetings.
I probably would have attended; I would have enjoyed speaking with people my age, and knowing that this is normal and I was not alone!
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?
I went to visit my mom in Arnprior a few weeks ago and we went shopping. We Ended up in Almonte at this tres chic shop called OOH LA LA and there was a donation bowl for the Shave for the Brave. I Spent 45 minutes talking to the owner about YACC, and once I returned back to my mom’s, I was online checking it out! Now, here I am!