Current Age: 22
Hometown: Nanaimo, B.C. but I much prefer the big city life.
How did you find out you were sick? What events led to the diagnosis?
When I was 19, I did martial arts and tried to throw a round kick. This resulted in what in retrospect was probably a hyperextension. It was sort of my first sports injury ever because I’m kind of immune to sports injuries. Anyways, it didn’t heal, or it would feel like it was healing and then I’d move funny and it would swell up and make me cry for three days. I went to a few different doctors, and they told me, like, three different things. I finally got an MRI which revealed “something” on the top of my shin bone about six months later and they eventually did a biopsy. By then I was having back spasms and such, so they did a full body scan and it turned out I had a 10 cm-long tumor in my tibia bone marrow and another smaller tumor in one of my vertebrae bone marrow.
I was very lucky that I got to the doctor as early as I did; had I waited longer, I may have been paralyzed by the spinal tumor.
What year was it? What was your age at the time? Diagnosis was July 2009. I was 19.
At what level of education were you at diagnosis?
I had just finished my second year of my BSc in Chemistry and was about to transfer to UBC.
Do you work?
Sometimes, but I’m pretty busy with school.
What was your diagnosis?
Agressive Large B-cell diffuse Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma with a primary preference for bone marrow rather than lymph tissue.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
Well my dad told me on the phone (the doctor told him not to, but he did) and he sort of sprung it on me when I was on a trip to Earl’s. So, I laughed at him and said, “Why would you tell me that?” kind of hysterically. Then within about 30 seconds I broke down and cried hard. So, my uncle and his friend drove us home. When I got home, I had recovered and demanded we all go to Earl’s and have a good dinner. I was being ridiculous and it was probably the most awkward dinner ever, but I had to maintain my delusion that I was going to be tough, even though I had just bawled my eyes out, so I suppose a mix of deluded stoicism and dread/shock.
How did your family react?
Not very well. They’re good people (well, they’re sort of good people). I never really saw my dad’s reaction because he couldn’t wait until I saw the doctor for me to find out. My mom was virtually identical to the mom in 50/50. The positive is that they really tried their best and tried to come as often as they could to make sure everything was okay. I just don’t think they really knew how or what to do and sometimes they took it out on me because I really don’t think they had anyone to talk to about it. I probably could’ve been less of a dick to them, oh well…
How did your friends react?
Well, I was 19, so most of them drifted away. It’s not like I really tried that hard myself, but honestly, most of them sucked, and really I don’t blame them. I don’t think I would have been much better than them. I suppose most of the time they sort of made me feel like a burden or just really not that special or important. I had a couple friends who were very supportive; I suppose that’s all you really need. Without them I probably would’ve lost it.
What did your treatment consist of?
I did six months of chemotherapy: eight cycles, five of which were CHOP-R, and another three of R-ICE. I never really decided which one I hated the most, but rutuximab is pretty sweet.
In which hospital were you treated?
What is your current medical status?
The doctor showed me stats for people recovering from my cancer and virtually everybody was fine after two years. I’ve reached two years, so I’m going to assume it’s gone. Technically, I am in remission.
How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
I generally don’t feel as happy as I did before, but I don’t feel bad; just kind of not really fulfilled. This BSc thing is just a phase I’ll say. School is harder, too. I haven’t been able to decide if my mind just isn’t as sharp, if I don’t care as much because the chemistry/biology courses just don’t mean as much to me, if I’m being affected by chemobrain, or if the depression is making school hard. I’m a little more neurotic, too.
Before treatment I could play sports virtually every day. I almost played hard three days in a row last week, but was too tired by the third day. That’s pretty good though. I’ve noticed a linear progression from the end of treatment. When I first ended treatment, a little workout would knock me out for days. On the plus side, I have never experienced anything more painful than the bone marrow tumors, so, for the most part, I find that most things I experience nowadays just do not phase me at all and I feel confident and strong in my interactions with the world.
What was the toughest part of your challenge?
I have a lot of trust issues I don’t remember having before. The physical symptoms sucked, but in my opinion, the emotional symptoms were worse. I was trying to justify my behaviour to the world, and eventually I just stopped doing it, but the steroids and chemicals and all the emotional changes were really hard to cope with. I lost a lot of friends, alienated a lot of people, and my ex left me, too. Much of it had to do with how I behaved due to the treatment and my coping with it. All in all, my biggest challenge has been with trust and that has continued after treatment.
What is the best part of your challenge?
I have kind of had fun making light of this: I created a fictional super hero alterego whose superpower is to tell women he had cancer, revealing a haunted past shrouded in mystery and pain and then like. They’ll feel all compassionate and stuff (I’m human, okay!). Oh man, I can’t even finish writing this, it’s so bad! The second superpower is the ability to make anyone feel guilty for feeling sorry for themselves. It’s pretty sweet, I suppose. With great power comes great responsibility.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?
I’m slightly bitter about the whole experience, but those feelings have subsided somewhat. Yeah it’s definitely changed. I am more realistic about things and I am much more able to just make decisions by myself and just let things be as they be. I’m more able to accept reality for what it is, and slowly, as I become more passionate about life again, I find that I am able to take it more lightly and just enjoy it without passing judgment on life or people or myself.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
I went to a support group once. That was a good experience; I don’t know why I didn’t go again. I think it’s because there are only eight young adult groups in Canada and I ran out of money to live in Vancouver and had to move home away from Vancouver to Nanaimo. That was a great experience though. I highly recommend that to anyone.