Name: Laurie Coleman (soon to be Bishop!)
Hometown: Calgary, AB
What was/is your diagnosis? Acute metabolostic leukemia
What school did/do you attend? Father Lacombe High School
What is/are your career goal(s)? At that time I wanted to work hard to become a vet as I love animals.
What is/was your occupation? I am an Accounts Payable Associate for Sysco Food Services of Calgary.
Your cancer experience:
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
It started off with flu-like symptoms and being tired all the time. Then, my foot felt numb like I couldn’t walk on it. My mom told the doctor we needed to do more tests.
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
Date was Oct 19, 1995, and I was 17-years-old.
In which hospitals were you treated?
The General Hospital and Tom Baker Cancer Centre
At what level of education were you at diagnosis? Grade 11
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
At my age, I truly didn’t really understand what that meant for me. I knew I was really sick and had to be treated in the hospital. It got really scary when a priest came into the hospital room to pray for me with my family at my side and gave me my last rights. After that, I didn’t know if I would truly make it. I was so scared that my mom stayed at the hospital with me every night and slept on a cot on the floor. I didn’t want to be alone; if it wasn’t her, it was my sisters or other family members. My grandmother even stayed.
How did your family react?
Mom was at work when she got the news; she couldn’t even think straight. She asked Dr. Emery what we were supposed to do next. He said we should go to the hospital and told her, “If you would like me to tell Laurie, and explain it to her, just stop by my office. I will get you in right away.”
Mom was unable to drive so she got a ride from her sister. When she got home, she asked me to get dressed and said, “We gotta go see Dr. Emery.”
I got my sick body out of bed. Mom was sick to her stomach at the thought of the possibility losing a child, not that she really knew much about leukemia, she only knew what she had seen it on movies.
We got to the hospital, and Mom regretted taking me to the General Hospital instead of the children’s hospital as the General is for “old people.” She said she wished it could have been her instead of me. She kept blaming herself and saying my sickness was all her fault and it was hard for her to divide her time between my sisters and me.
My sisters were young, confused, and scared. They didn’t know what leukemia was, either, but they knew it was serious and wondered what would happen next. It was also hard for them to continue to go to school and concentrate knowing I was at the hospital. They would sleep at my aunt’s house and not in their own beds. It was tough on everyone.
How did your friends react? Were you treated differently, or did things remain the same?
Friends!? What friends. I had classmates who came to the hospital just to see what I looked like; after that, they never came back to visit again. I truly got to know who my friends really were. I had people stare at me all the time. They looked at me like I was dangerous. They had no idea why I had no hair and was pale. Mom believes that the friends that I did have were scared for me and didn’t know how to react.
What did your treatment consist of?
I was an in-patient at the hospital from the day I was diagnosed (10/19/95) until a couple days before Christmas that year. I received chemotherapy through a line in my chest because my veins are so small and that with all the treatment I was about to get, it was the best thing to do.
My mom was not pleased with my doctor’s bedside manner; she said he was very cold towards things such as not warning her about the things that might happen due to type of medications I was given. She had no way to prepare herself to be the supporter I needed.
One medicine gave me a reaction, which made my body looked deformed and my speech unclear. I can remember I got platelets added to my body, and this made me so cold that I would be shivering so much, it looked like I was having a convulsion, and that scared my mom. Ten warm blankets did not even keep me warm.
The bone marrow test they had to do on me a few times hurt so bad. My mom and sisters were not a match, but my dad was. Thankfully, I never had to have a transplant.
I can’t remember how many blood transfusions I had because I had too many to count.
They also gave me Tylenol 3 with codeine for pain, but the funny thing about that was I got really giddy and funny that I grabbed my line from my chest started using it like a microphone singing up a storm. LOL
In the hospital, I had a lot of my family visiting me: grandma, aunts, uncles, friends of my dad and my mom, etc. They all had to wear masks and gowns because after chemo treatments, I had no immune system left, so I could catch anything. I couldn’t have flowers, fruits, veggies, or anything.
My auntie, Shirley, helped my sisters make my hospital stay fun. They decorated my IV pole; I named him Charlie. Charlie ended up with sunglasses, a colorful wig, mask, rubber gloves, and he was a highlight of my room. I got a lot of stuffed animals to brighten up my room.
What is your current medical status?
I have been in remission now for 16 years.
How is life different for you now post-diagnosis?
I believe that I am a stronger individual. Even now when I get sick, I worry about cancer coming back.
What was the best lesson you took away from your challenge?
Live life to the fullest as you never know what will come your way.
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
There is a song by Des’ree, “You Gotta Be.” I played this song on the CD player my mom and sisters brought into the hospital for me every day.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? Have they changed since before your diagnosis?
I feel very happy that I made it through it all, although I feel very sad that because all the chemo, there is the possibility I will never be able to have children. That hurts so much.
What are some preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?
I don’t think that this disease is preventable disease or not. To my knowledge, it is a childhood disease.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge? No.
If you did not attend a support group, why? I don’t believe there was one then. If there was one available to me at the time, yes, for sure I would have used it. I was in a hospital with all elderly people and had no one my age to even talk too. I think it could have been beneficial to me and my family.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?
I got connected with YACC because of my sister-in-law, Dawn Bishop, who works there.
Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges?
I would be more then happy to help others in anyway I can. I was actually talking to Dawn about doing a Shave for the Brave to raise funds for others, but this would have to be done after my wedding.