Sadly, Heather passed away in January 2014. Heather was an inspiration to anyone who had the chance to meet her, and she will be greatly missed.
How did you find out you were sick? What events led to the diagnosis?
I had a small painless lump in my groin, so I showed my family doctor who sent me to a vascular surgeon to have it removed and analyzed. He told me it was B-Cell Follicular Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (indolent, slow growing). I was then sent to an oncologist who arranged for me to have 20 radiation treatments.
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
1999, I was 27 years old and living in Ontario
Do you work? Yes, as a customer service manager
What was your diagnosis?
B-Cell Follicular Non Hodgekins Lymphoma.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
I was scared to death. I cried my head off when the doctor first told me. I asked the doctor to call my mother in Newfoundland so he could explain everything to her. She’s a nurse and I knew she’d have lots of questions that I could not answer.
How did your family react?
My mother, father and sister were devastated and in shock. My mother took the next plane from Newfoundland to Ontario to be with me.
How did your friends react?
Friends were very supportive. Sometimes I got the feeling that friends didn’t know what to say or do, but for the most part everyone was great.
What did your treatment consist of?
In which hospital(s) were you treated?
William Osler Health Center Brampton ON, and the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto ON
What is your current medical status?
I had an allogenic stem cell transplant in November 2004, using my dad’s stem cells, right after a high dose of chemotherapy to knock out my disease. I am recovering at home and am doing extremely well. I recently had a bone marrow test which showed that my dad’s stem cells have taken over 80-90% of my immune system, which is a good sign. I will have a CT scan in May to check the status of my disease.
How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually)?
Since my diagnosis, I take more chances. I am not as afraid to try something new or take on a new challenge. Life is not a dress rehearsal, so it’s important to “seize the moment”. I also realize the importance of being happy – for example, at work, since you spend so much of your time there!
What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?
The toughest part of my challenge was telling the folks that I work with that I had cancer, after keeping it to myself for 5 years.
What is/was the best part of your challenge?
The best part of the challenge was that it forced me to look at my life and decide what was making me happy, and what was not. Another benefit is that I eat better now, get more exercise, and overall I feel a lot better about myself.
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
My mom, dad, sister and my husband motivate me. When I am going through a tough time I think of a time in the near future when we plan to be together (at a favorite restaurant, on a vacation, etc). I dream of that moment, and how wonderful it will be to be all together again.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?
I have mastered the art of “not being nervous” about test results, biopsies, medical procedures, etc. until the moment before they occur. After all, what is the point of fretting about something that is going to happen a month down the road?
What are some (if there are any you know of) preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?
One of the doctors with whom I spoke before my transplant mentioned that in North America we pump our own gasoline for our vehicles, and that this may be linked to cancer. I have also learned that exposure to things like pesticides and mildew may lead to cancer.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
I did attend a couple of sessions in Mississauga the first year I was diagnosed. Everyone shared their stories about their disease and how they were coping. There were some really depressed and scared people in the group. There was also one woman with ovarian cancer who was very positive and inspired me. I was hoping to meet more people with lymphoma so we could compare notes.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?
My sister Jennifer told me about the website. She took business at MUN at the same time as Geoff Eaton, and she had heard about his website. I am very glad that this website exists – it’s a great resource for young people with cancer and their loved ones.