A little bit about you:
Name: Kayla Tremblett
City: Mississauga, ON
What was/is your diagnosis?
Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, grey zone lymphoma
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
I was re-diagnosed after a relapse in 2015; I was 22-years-old.
What is something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
In March 2019, I returned to another Retreat Yourself as a peer supporter. I helped lead and facilitate the same program that changed my life by providing support to a new group of 22 cancer thrivers. I was able to connect with these people by having the chance to share my story and let them know they are not alone, their emotions are valid, and it’s okay to not be okay.
The YACC peer supporter experience was very humbling and gratifying. I was able to deeply empower and connect with some of the people there by having relatable experiences and sharing my holistic outlook on life after cancer.
What is a top item on your life to do list?
Live in another country for a few years and to experience the culture and lifestyle.
What are your hobbies?
I love to read and to photograph the world around me. I’m pretty adventurous so I love exploring new towns or going on weekend road trips around the province. Fitness is also important to me and I practice yoga alongside swimming, weightlifting, and dancing. Writing for my blog and
filming for my YouTube channel are also some of my current hobbies.
What was your life like before your diagnosis?
I like to tell people that before I was diagnosed with cancer at age 21, I was in my prime. My life before cancer was pretty normal. I was in university studying fine art, I planned to go to grad school, and I lead a healthy lifestyle. I had struggled with eating anxiety and fibromyalgia, but was learning how to cope with the help of a naturopathic doctor. I worked at an art gallery. But I have always been the type of person who wants more in life and is never satisfied, and I found myself looking for that special something.
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
It’s strange because before I found out I had cancer, I would call myself a perfectly healthy and normal young adult. I had no symptoms, no lumps or bumps, and nothing to point me in the direction of cancer.
One day I came home from school, and something fell off one of the shelves in my home. I got out the vacuum and instantly felt a “ripping” sensation in my chest. I wasn’t too worried at first; I thought it was a pulled muscle. Over the next two weeks, this “rip” got worse. I started to have a hard time breathing. I couldn’t carry anything or exercise with weights. It got so bad one night after Halloween that when I breathed, it sounded like a water bottle was being crushed.
My mom took me to the hospital for an X-ray and the doctors didn’t see anything alarming. The ER doctor also showed me the X-rays I did a year before for a chest infection. Everything seemed normal to me, and the doctor said it looked like nothing was wrong with my chest where the pain was. He said he would send the scans to the head radiologist and sent me home with no answers, but also no real concerns.
Three days later I got a call to come in for a CT scan. A few days later, I found out that I probably had cancer.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
My initial reaction was actually very calm, like somehow I felt something like this was going to happen. Then the secondary thoughts kicked in: How could I have cancer? I’m only 21! I had no symptoms, I was fit and healthy, I didn’t do drugs or drink excessively — are you sure it’s cancer? Will I live?
I never wanted to admit I had cancer, or talk about it, or give the disease any power. But instead of feeling in control, I started to suppress my emotions sunk into depression.
In which hospitals were you treated?
When I was first diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I was treated at The Queensway Medical Center in Etobicoke, Ontario. I also went to Princess Margaret Cancer Center in Toronto for radiation. When I relapsed with grey zone lymphoma, I was treated exclusively at Princess Margaret Cancer Center in Toronto. I continue to go for follow-ups every six months with two different oncologists.
What did your treatment consist of?
During my first year of cancer, I was treated for stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma with ABVD chemotherapy and radiation to my chest. My treatment lasted eight months. I was treated as an outpatient, but I felt like I lived at the hospital since I was there so often.
Somehow I managed to stay in school and work at my part-time job at my university. This was my escape from cancer. I was studying fine art and creative writing, and I poured all of my emotions into my work.
After my treatment finished, I went back to the hospital a few months later for a follow up and found out I had relapsed. I was then diagnosed with grey zone lymphoma, which is a rare mutated blood cancer. I went through another year of high intensity chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem cell transplant using my own stem cells.
I really couldn’t deal with the fact that I had cancer, I just accepted it and tried to move on, like cancer was just a cold that I had to deal with. My family and I dealt with the practically of cancer (appointments, medication, food), but never the emotional trauma of it. I felt alone and isolated all the time. At the time, I was the only 21-year-old I knew who had cancer, and even though I had an amazing support system, I still felt like no one really got it. I felt alone and isolated all of the time.
In my survivorship, I realized that by not addressing my emotions and dealing with my feelings, I was actually making myself sicker. I was constantly trying to remember how I felt or wanted to feel, but with no context anymore. I grieved for my cancer self, wishing I had embraced my emotions in the moment and was honest about how I felt with myself and those around me.
During my treatment I dealt with a lot of side-effects such as weight gain, body pain, infections and rashes, mouth sores, and constant body dryness. At one point after my stem cell transplant, my skin fell off and grew back with a few weeks.
In my survivorship, I still struggle with chronic pain, potential infertility and early menopause, hypothyroidism, hormone deficiencies, and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. I often find myself feeling sad, or unhappy with myself. I’m still trying to figure out the new me after cancer and what makes me happy in my life after cancer.
What is your current medical status?
I am currently in remission; 2019 will mark three years!
Life after cancer:
How is life different for you now post-diagnosis?
My life has been so different since cancer. On a day-to-day basis, I still deal with some cancer emotions, but I now talk about how I feel and am honest with myself. Happiness is something that is very important to me. I want to be happy in life, with my life, and with myself. I try and connect with myself every day to see what I need and how I am feeling.
Physically I notice a lot of things that are different in my day-to-day life. I have less energy than I used to and I have learned to take things more slowly. I don’t try to pack as much into my days, and I really take the time to relax and enjoy each moment. I’m still learning how to do this; I like to say yes to everything.
What is/was the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult?
Having no one to talk to and changing physically. I felt alone and isolated all of the time and never found anyone to talk to. My friends didn’t have cancer and I never felt like I could talk to them honestly. I would lay in bed during my stem cell transplant and stare at the ceiling, wishing I could talk about how I felt, but not really having anyone to listen. I wanted to be with people who understood what I was going through.
The second hardest thing was how I changed physically. When you’re 21, you care a lot about how you look, and I cared a lot. I would work out four times a week and ate really clean, and I was really happy with the way I looked. When I got cancer, all of that changed. My hair fell out, I gained 20lbs, and I didn’t have enough energy to go to the gym or be consistent with any physical activity. I was really down on myself because all I saw in the mirror was a swollen version of myself. It made me very depressed and I lost all of my confidence.
In the last two years, I have worked really hard on learning to love the new me and I do think that this is something I will need to work on for a very long time.
What really helped you to keep going while you were sick?
School was my escape from cancer. Going to school or working on assignments was a really good distraction since I could focus on something that I had control over. Heading out for walks or drives was a way to get out of my house, to get out of my head, and to relax and breathe some fresh air. The last thing that was a big help during my treatments was food. Before, during, and after cancer, I always ate a balanced and holistic diet. I am pretty adventurous with food and used that to fuel myself during treatments. I really believe that because I ate well, and would force myself to eat and drink, I healed better in my recovery.
What kept you busy during treatment?
Mostly school. I found it hard to read or watch TV most of the time so I focused on making art when I had the strength. My treatments were about five hours long so I would work on my computer doing graphic design or school assignments. When I could focus, read a few books or a magazine. I remember during my stem cell transplant, my mom and I started and finished the series 6 Feet Under. The story follows a family that runs and lives in a funeral home, surrounded by death every day. Kind of ironic.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada? How did it happen?
I connected with YACC back in 2017, a year and a half after I finished my cancer treatment. I was at the point where I realized I needed help and wanted to connect and receive support. My oncologist referred me to a psychologist through Princess Margaret Hospital and she introduced me to YACC.
Shortly after finding out about YACC, I found myself on a plane flying to Vancouver for Retreat Yourself with 24 other cancer thrivers. That weekend changed my life forever; I never knew that a group of strangers would make me feel so connected to a community that I didn’t know existed two weeks beforehand. These strangers helped me start my life again with their honesty, vulnerability, and willingness to share the deepest moments of their lives. Connecting with these people was really the start of my new life.
Do you feel isolated from your peers since your diagnosis? If so, how does that affect you?
I still feel isolated from my peers, but over the last three years, the gap has closed a little. I am sometimes envious of their more carefree lifestyles, the way they look, or the relationships they have. They haven’t gone through a disease that has altered their physical appearance, and I hate to admit it, but my jealously causes anxiety as I over analyze myself. I feel like they don’t understand my life or my cancer, and as much as I try to be honest, it doesn’t always work. This does make me sad, I feel that I can’t share everything in my life with them as much as I used to because they don’t get it, and, sometimes, it seems like they don’t want to 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?
When I was 21, before I started my first year of cancer treatment, I was told about fertility options but decided against them. I was not told about it again when I started my second year of treatment.
Has your cancer diagnosis affected any of the relationships in your life? If so, how, and how are you managing them?
Cancer affected my relationship with my ex-boyfriend. We dated for one-and-a-half years before I was diagnosed. He stayed with me through the treatments and the recovery, but I wouldn’t even say we were in a relationship. There was no romance anymore, and I was in no shape to be in a relationship. We broke up in 2018 and went separate ways because we wanted different things. I wanted to live my life and recover on my own terms and he was not on the same page. I am much happier now.
How has your cancer experience affected your body image, and your relationship to your body?
Body image is a big issue for me. Before cancer, I dealt with a lot of food and eating anxiety and a minor eating disorder (which I quickly realized and got out of).
At the age of 21, I was very happy with my lifestyle, my routine, and with myself. Then I got cancer and all of that changed. Cancer changed the way I look, the way I feel about myself, and the way I view myself as a survivor. I often found myself feeling worthless and let down because I changed so much physically, or so I thought. I created a negative and depressive relationship with myself. I would cover up the mirrors in my home, I would only wear baggy clothing, and I would be very strict with my diet and exercise.
It’s been a few years and I have slowly begun to love myself again. My confidence is back and I am learning to accept this new me, but that self-doubt will always be there. I will always have bad days. In the last year or so, I have started to appreciate my body for what it is and how strong it is for kicking cancer’s ass twice. Healing takes time and it has taken me three years to become comfortable with the new Kayla, and I love her a lot.
What are some lifestyle changes you’ve made since your diagnosis?
I’ve slowed down a lot in life. I do what makes me happy and what I actually want to do instead of what society thinks I should do. I’ve made adjustments to my exercise routine and instead of going to a gym and being inside, I prefer yoga and being in nature. I swim, lift weights, dance, and go for walks instead of forcing myself to run on a treadmill. I want to continue to be active on my own terms.
I am also more open about how I feel. I don’t hide away my emotions anymore and I even started a social media platform where I opening talk about my cancer experience and my life after cancer. In 2018, I created a blog and YouTube channel called This Infernal Racket: My Life, After Cancer where I now discuss my life during and after cancer.
I am healing myself by talking about my cancer experience, but I’m also providing information to others about things I couldn’t find when I was sick. I found peace in sharing my story and emotions with this new young adult cancer community that I am now a part of.
Resources and recommendations:
What would you add to a treatment-day playlist?
- “Whatever It Takes” by Imagine Dragon
- “Robbers” by The 1975
- “Dance To This” by Troye Sivan & Ariana Grande
- “Madness” by Muse
- “I Dare You + We’re Taking Over” by Bea Miller
- “Dancing Queen” by ABBA
- “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen
Which books/movies/podcasts/TV shows/etc. would you recommend?
Kelley Armstrong’s Cainsville Series, Otherworld Series
The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella was hilarious. A friend gave this to me during my treatments and it made me laugh a lot.
What are your favourite blogs and websites for passing the time?
I love watching true crime, paranormal, and vlog YouTube videos. I also really love to cook and exercise, so I follow a lot of blogs for clean holistic eating and fitness.
- Buzzfeed Unsolved
- Let’s Read
- Loey Lane
- Eleanor Neal
- Allegra Shaw
- Allana Davison
- Raw Beauty Kirsty
- Oh She Glows
Have you participated in any other retreats, conferences, programs, or support groups you’d like your cancer peers to know about?
I have been to two Survivor Conferences as well as two Retreat Yourself events (once as a peer supporter). Some people aren’t sure if the retreat is right for them, but I can guarantee you that it is and you will grow so much from attending one. It is such an intimate and emotional event, but it really allows you to break down some barriers, deal with your “balls of shit,” and bond with fellow cancer thrivers. It is the best step to moving forward, in my opinion!
Stay in touch:
What would you like to say to other young adults dealing with cancer who are reading this profile?
I want you to know that you are not alone, and that your emotions and feelings are valid. You are allowed to be upset so don’t force yourself to be “positive” all the time. Being brave can be about showing vulnerability and honesty.
I also want you to know that support and connection are great ways to feel like you are not alone. I didn’t find out about YACC until a year and a half after my cancer treatment, and I wish I had known about it earlier so I could receive support.
I also want you to know that there is life after this disease and you are worth fighting for. Your life isn’t over because of cancer; cancer doesn’t define you.
Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges?
I love connecting and talking to new people. Please feel free to email me, or message me on Instagram for my fastest replies. Facebook works, too!