Name: Charlene Charles
City: Markham, ON
What was your diagnosis?
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
My first diagnosis was in 2015; I was 37 and turning 38 in a few weeks. My second diagnosis was the next year when I was 38.
What is something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
What is a top item on your life to do list?
What are your hobbies?
Painting, art and crafts, spending time with my niece and nephew, reading, writing, poetry.
What was your life like before your diagnosis?
I felt like I finally was getting my life back in order after being diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2007. I was in school taking the Community Development work program at Centennial College and enjoying time with my niece and nephew.
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
I went to emergency do to extreme pain. They thought I had kidney stones, so they did a CT scan. The CT scan showed enlarged lymph nodes. Over the next two years, I had several visits to the ER and specialists and was receiving CT scans every six months to monitor the enlarged lymph nodes. No one was able to figure out what was going on.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
I was in shock. I was always told previously that I was too young to have cancer. I also thought, “Am I going to die?” and thought of my niece and nephew and them growing up without me.
In which hospitals were you treated?
Markham Stouffville Hospital and Princess Margret Hospital
What did your treatment consist of?
I am still in treatment have done both chemotherapy and immunotherapy. I’m currently doing immunotherapy.
Life after cancer:
How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
The past two-and-a-half years have been an emotional roller coaster. My depression and anxiety is at its worst. Treatment has changed my body. My energy level has changed. I have chemo brain so I need to write everything down and have reminders everywhere. Recently, I have been experiencing pain. My life has changed so much.
I’m really struggling emotionally right now. At the beginning I was so hopeful that everything was going to be okay and that I would get through this. It was thought that I would only need two months of chemo and then radiation. Now, two-and-a-half-years later, I’m still fighting and the hope and confidence that I once had is disappearing.
Physically I don’t have a lot of energy, so it’s harder to do things like cook, clean, etc. I have to rely a lot on my family which is hard because they are not very supportive.
Socially I’m pretty isolated. I have lost a lot of friends. A lot of my friends just didn’t get what I’m going through and expected me to be doing the same things I was doing before cancer. Being sick changed things for me and I lost people because of it.
What is the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult?
The isolation and the loneliness and lack of support. I am the only one out of my friends to have cancer and I found that very isolating.
What really helps you to keep going?
My niece and nephew they are my world. Seeing how excited they get and the huge smiles on their face every time they see me means so much. Knowing how much I mean to them is what keeps me going.
What keeps you busy during treatment?
Painting, card making, and other arts and crafts.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada? How did it happen?
When I was first diagnosed, I saw a Social Worker at PMH and she told me about YACC. I connected right away. I went to Retreat Yourself 2016 and I went to Survivor Conference last year and I’m going again this year.
Do you feel isolated from your peers since your diagnosis?
Yes, I feel very isolated from my peers. It affects me a lot. I’m the only one out of my friends that has cancer so none of them get it. I have lost a few friends because they just don’t get it.
Did anyone talk to you about fertility options before treatment? If so, how did that affect your decisions? If not, what do you wish you had known?
Yes, someone did talk to me about fertility. Freezing my eggs wasn’t an option for me. It was too expensive even with the discount because I have cancer.
How has your cancer experience affected your body image, and your relationship to your body?
I have always had issues with body image, but having cancer has made it so much worse. I have lost my hair and my skin has changed and I have gained a whole bunch of weight. The change in my appearance is something that I find very hard to accept.
What are some lifestyle changes you’ve made since your diagnosis?
I do a lot more self-care.
Stay in touch:
What would you like to say to other young adults dealing with cancer who are reading this profile?
You are not alone.
Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges?
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to get in touch with Charlene and we will pass along your message.]