Name: Elise Bonder
Hometown: Ottawa, ON
What was your diagnosis? Colon Cancer
What school did/do you attend? University of Ottawa
What is your career goal? To be fulfilled and to help others enjoy the most of their life.
What is/was your occupation? Aquatic Manager
Your cancer experience:
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
For months, I saw my fitness level decline. It got so bad, it was hard to go for a walk without my heart rate going into the 150s. A flight of stairs would get me in the 200s and it would stay high for an hour! I complained to my doctor that I was tired all the time. She did some tests and bloodwork and called me back a few days later. I was sitting in a hotel room in Las Vegas waiting to pick up a puppy and fly back home and she tells me I’m so anemic I’m at risk of having a heart attack.
My first thought was “I hope my travel insurance is good!” Fast forward three flights home with a new puppy, “Ride,” an overnight emergency stay for a blood transfusion, a month of waiting for a scope, colonoscopy prep, upper endoscopy and colonoscopy and BAM, YOU HAVE CANCER. And yet, it didn’t feel like that. The surgeon said, “There is a very large 10 cm mass; it’s most certainly cancer. I took lots of biopsies of it and we’ll call you with results soon.”
By the time I heard it was officially cancer, I’d come to terms with it. The journey began.
What year was it? What was your age at the time? January 2012; I was 30.
In which hospital were you treated? Ottawa General
At what level of education were you at diagnosis? I had finished university.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
Somehow, I was not stunned. I thought “Why wouldn’t it be me? What makes me so special that I can’t get cancer?”
How did your family react?
My mother was devastated. My husband: devastated. My brother: in utter shock. My dad passed in 2010; I’m thankful he wasn’t here because the diagnosis would have crushed him. Instead, he was sitting with me, knowing it would be ok.
How did your friends react?
My friends were simply amazing. They reached out to make every aspect of my journey easier. I can’t imagine life without them.
What did your treatment consist of?
I had a right hemicolectomy (remove right side of colon) with reattachment right away (no colostomy). Then eight rounds of chemo (Xeloda) including grueling hand and foot syndrome.
I won’t lie and say that any of it was any fun, but I learned a lot about myself. I’m tougher than I ever thought I could be. I’m more positive than I ever imagined I would be. Surgery and chemo pushed me evaluate what is really important to me and to put those things to the forefront of my life.
What is your current medical status? NED–No Evidence of Disease
How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
During my treatment phase, I was really positive and took things pretty easy. Each day, the goal was just to walk and train in dogs, take a shower and eat healthy meals. Most days, most of those things happened! Some days, none of those things happened!
Once I finished active treatment, cancer forced me to look at every aspect of my life to decide “Is this good enough?” I scrutinized every aspect of my life and wanted to make it perfect. Eating well wasn’t good enough anymore; I wanted to eat “perfect.” Being fit wasn’t good enough; I wanted to be super-fit. Paying off my mortgage wasn’t good enough; I wanted it gone now. I had to take a big step back and relax! Now, 14 months out of chemo, I am still finding balance in all these things. I don’t want to feel as though I wasted my second chance at life.
What is the toughest part of your challenge?
Living everyday and not being afraid of tomorrow. Being out of active treatment but not having reached five years is scary. I know what the odds are of still being alive in five years; they’re good, but they’re not great. The challenge is living life to its fullest despite the fear, the uncertainty, the tests, the scans.
What was the best lesson you took away from your challenge?
Life is undeniably beautiful when you open your eyes and look. A single snowflake; the smile of the stranger who poured your coffee; and my favourite, the sky. Sunrises, bright sun, rain, cold air, sunsets, and STARS!
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
My young puppy who came home the day I was sick and was with me every single day. He deserved a walk and a training session every day.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? Have they changed since before your diagnosis?
I can’t say I’d ever really thought of colon cancer before. Cancer hadn’t touched me personally before I was diagnosed. I have no friends or family with it. I’m the first.
What are some preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?
My experience was good overall. My surgery was successful and healed nicely. I managed chemo ok despite some hiccups. I consider myself lucky.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
I used the Colon Club’s cancer forum at lot to connect with others. It was a place where having colon cancer was normal! After I was done chemo, I connected with YACC and found home in so many ways. YACC is a place where the people who don’t have cancer are a minority, where everyone has dealt with the same load of crap as you. Home XOX
Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges?