Name: Becky MacLean
Hometown: Hubbards, Nova Scotia
What was your diagnosis? Hodgkin’s lymphoma Stage 2a
What school did/do you attend? Forest Heights Community School
Your cancer experience:
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
I had a lump in my right armpit. I found it while shaving. My doctor decided to look into further. The specialist I got sent to decided to have some tests done to find out what it was.
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
I was diagnosed in 2002 at the age of 17.
In which hospital were you treated?
The Victoria General in Halifax, NS
At what level of education were you at diagnosis?
Just about to start grade 12.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
What if I die?
How did your family react?
My family seemed scared and worried, but we didn’t talk it about. We all wore happy faces and tried to stay positive. They were very supportive in that way.
How did your friends react?
My friends didn’t really treat me differently. There were times when people were afraid to ask how I was doing or what it is was like, but nobody really treated me differently.
I didn’t get invited out to do things while I was in chemo. Not because my friends didn’t want me there, but because I wouldn’t have been able to go. With my immune system compromised my parents didn’t want to risk me getting colds or flus. There were times I felt extremely left out, even though I know it was with my best interest in mind.
What did your treatment consist of?
I was scheduled to receive three months of chemotherapy, followed by three months of radiation. I would not be admitted, so I received out-patient services.
My drug regimen was ABVD by IV every two weeks. I had blood work weekly.
Blood work was always quick. I was in and then out, in less than half an hour.
Chemo was another story. The oncology ward was generally pretty busy and running late. Sometimes it would take about an hour to see my hematologist before treatment, and usually he was really brief—gone again in a couple of minutes. I had a great set of nurses; they had awesome bedside manner. They remember things about me, made jokes, and really helped me to be more comfortable while I was there.
At the end of my second month of chemo, my white count was getting considerably low, so I was prescribed a steroid injection. Towards the end of my third month I found out that I would need another three months of chemotherapy. I had no more complications and moved on to radiation when the chemotherapy was finished.
Radiation was neat, and a big relief after doing more chemo than expected. I got tattoos so they could aim the lasers, and a custom pillow so that I would be laying exactly as they needed. The wait times were shorter, and the staff was friendly.
How did you feel?
One the very first day of treatment, I was drained. I felt run-down and really tired. We got all the way home before any nausea settled in, and when it did I got ill. I definitely threw up a few times that night. As my treatments progressed the post-treatment nausea stopped happening.
Instead I would become nauseated at the anticipation of going in, and getting my IV.
Emotionally, I was up and down but mostly kept a positive outlook. I was afraid to let myself be anything than positive. I feared that harboring any negative emotion could make my illness worse. It was better to be positive than be sorry.
Between this emotional stifling, and the fact that my body had a lot to deal with physically, I was really rundown. I felt tired most of the time. I had difficulty reading for more than five minutes; I usually fell asleep. I had difficulty concentrating or maintaining focus in general. I slept a lot, and ate a lot. I was really thankful that my appetite wasn’t suppressed by the chemo. I was really surprised that I gained about 20 lbs during treatment.
I lost my hair. It started to get thin after the first treatment. So, I shaved it down, and by the end of the first month my hair was gone. My skin became pale, and because I had an appetite but no energy I gained a lot of weight.
During radiation, my hair started to come back in, a lighter brown and soft like newborn. My throat became scratchy, and it was the perfect thing for making pterodactyl impressions. I consider myself lucky that I never saw more side effects from the radiation. Though, I did acquire hypothyroidism from scar tissue damage to my thyroid glands.
I cannot remember at what point during my treatment it happened, but I recall being really sensitive to the heat produced by halogen light bulbs. I would break out into a sweat if I sat next to a lamp.
I also had an increased sensitivity to smells, both natural and artificial. I found I could detect smaller amounts of aroma; it was most notable with lingering smells— like after cooking.
What is your current medical status?
Cancer free as of March 2013.
How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
That question is a doozy. I’ll come back to answer that one later.
What is the toughest part of your challenge?
Learning to own my experience and process it.
What was the best lesson you took away from your challenge?
There have been a lot of lessons; I continue to learn from this challenge.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
No, I did not.
There were support groups available at my hospital and in that community, but I chose not to attend. I was considerably younger than most of the patients I would see, and I thought the environment there was depressing enough. I didn’t want to be there if I didn’t have to.
Going to a support group, or finding alternate sources of support probably would have been beneficial.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?
I’m connected to YACC as a survivor, program participant, and volunteer.
I initially received information as part of gift bag when I participated for Young and Fearless a coffee table book initiative by Shari Tucker. I decided to check out the Survivor Conference that year.
Can readers contact you?
Want to know more about Becky? Check out her YACCtivist blog!