Hometown: Edmonton, Alberta
What was your diagnosis? Papillary Carcinoma (Thyroid Cancer)
What school did you attend? University of Alberta
What is your occupation? These days, I get paid to do what I love—work with preschoolers. I’m an occupational therapist and nothing warms my heart more than helping kids succeed. During school breaks, I am fortunate to work causally as an occupational therapist at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, which is a most amazing place. To be able to make a positive difference in the lives of people living with cancer is an incredible honor.
Your cancer experience:
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
I was taking nine university classes instead of the normal five per semester and feeling incredibly fatigued. I lump had been present in my neck for sometime, however, I ignored it as I had a family history of benign goiters. It became increasingly difficult to swallow food and breathe, especially when looking up in lecture halls to take notes. Coupled with odd symptoms (full body allergic reactions, multiple trips to the emergency room for losing vision in one eye), I knew a follow up to the doctor was necessary.
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
2004, I was 21.
In which hospitals were you treated?
I had surgery at the Misercordia Hospital, and treatments at the Cross Cancer Institute.
At what level of education were you at diagnosis?
I was in my fourth year of university. I had just completed my second day of practicum the day I was diagnosed.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
How am I going to tell me family? Two days before I was diagnosed, my dad received his clean bill of health from the Cross Cancer Institute.
How did your family react?
My parents and siblings were amazing. I am incredibly close with my brother and sisters, without whom I could not have gone through the experience. Extended family was not as supportive.
How did your friends react?
People come into your life for a reason, and I certainly had amazing classmates who supported me through the journey. My best friend couldn’t handle the pressure, and told me the experience was too stressful for her. I lost contact with many friends who did not seem to have the maturity to deal with illness.
What did your treatment consist of?
Total thyroidectomy and Radioactive Iodine. I was fortunate to receive only one round of RAI, as following the thyroidectomy, the doctors predicted a radical neck dissection and a minimum of 2-3 RAI treatments.
What is your current medical status?
Healthy! I’m followed at the Cross Cancer institute every two years for follow up testing, and will be until 2017.
How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
Life is just so much sweeter! I learned the hard way to lead a more balanced life. To take time for myself, exercise regularly, treat my body right and take time to smell the roses. I treasure real, authentic people. I’ve learned to live a bit more impulsively and in the moment.
Life is too short to be taken for granted!
What was the toughest part of your challenge?
That’s a tough question. Looking back, it was just something I knew I had to get through, and I took a lot more positive things out if it.
If I had to say, it would be my age. Even though I was a young adult, it was challenging relying on my parents like a child again.
What was the best lesson you took away from your challenge?
Perspective. I can honestly say that I am grateful for having gone through what I did, as it made me a better person. I (try!) not to sweat the little things, and have been fortunate to have met such amazing people through YACC.
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
My family and friends, and a lot of humour!
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now?
It took me a long time to fully accept what I had gone through. I know I can not worry about things that I have no control over, but thoughts of recurrence, a secondary cancer, and fertility do weigh on my mind.
What are some preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?
It’s difficult to say, but just try to lead as healthy a life as you can. For myself, I know I was not treating myself right mentally or physically. Look after yourself!
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
No, there were none offered in my area.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?
I was volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society in 2009 as a peer support volunteer for other young adult cancer patients. They suggested I attend Retreat Yourself and from there, I attended Survive and Thrive (now Retreat Yourself Adventure) and the Survivor Conference, both in 2010. I was fortunate enough to be a peer facilitator at Retreat Yourself West in 2012 and am super excited to be one of Edmonton’s Localife Leaders!
YACC has changed my life in a positive way. I thought I was fine post-diagnosis, and physically, I was. YACC played a big part in healing my soul and creating friendships and connections that go beyond just having had cancer.