Current Age (at time of profile): 23
How did you find out you were sick? What events led to the diagnosis?
I started coughing one week before the end of spring semester in CEGEP and started having trouble sleeping at night. I managed to finish my last exams with only a few hours of sleep per night and went to the emergency clinic right after. The doctor checked me and did a small test to see if I had a streptococcus in my throat, which I did not, and sent me home saying to just gargle with salted water. I left a few days after for the end of semester trip to Myrtle Beach with school, thinking all I had was a bad cold or flu and that it would go away by itself. But of course it didn’t.
During the week of my trip, it got worse because of the heat, which made me cough even more, and the fact I had slept only one to three hours every night for more than a week. As soon as I got home, I went to the same clinic again and was seen by another doctor who did an X-ray of my chest. This revealed that the lymph nodes around my respiratory tract were swollen and that I had liquid in my lungs. That night, I went to the hospital’s emergency, was hospitalized and was subjected to a whole battery of tests which led to the diagnosis.
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
At what level of education were you at diagnosis?
I was half way through a CEGEP pre-university diploma in science.
What was your diagnosis?
What are your career goals?
Becoming a physiotherapist and working not too far from home.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
At first, I didn’t even know what a lymphoma was. Then I was explained that it is a type of cancer and my first question was, “Am I dying soon?” To me, just to say the word cancer meant that I was going to die. The doctor told me about the statistics and that I had to start chemotherapy treatments for two years and as soon as possible. The thought of being in the hospital all the time, losing my hair, leaving my job, postponing school and to be enclosed to an almost lethargic life for two years scared me enormously. For a few weeks, I refused to start the treatment because I didn’t like my oncologist and I was trying to find a natural cure without having to take chemotherapy. I finally found a good hospital and doctor where I felt confident to start the treatment and I had to resign myself that the diagnosis I had was too strong for natural products and cures.
How did your family react?
My parents were shocked just as I was. They tried to stay strong for me but I could see it was hard on them too. My brother seemed to understand when we explained to him what I was going through, but he was too young to really be upset.
How did your friends react?
My friends came to see me at the hospital and were very supportive, each in their own way. I don’t think they treated me differently except that they had to deal with the fact that if they wanted to see me, it had to be in my bed!
What did your treatment consist of?
Medical Side: During the first eight months, I had to go to the hospital for chemotherapy an average of twice a week. I also had ten days of radiation on my head, eight lumbar punctures (chemo injected directly in my spine) and I was an in-patient about five times for more than a week. After that period and for the rest of the two years of treatment, I had small doses of chemo once a month and pills to take everyday.
Non-Medical Side: I lost weight and my hair, I was always tired, had nausea and horrible headaches caused by the lumbar punctures. Emotionally, I had good times and bad times. Sometimes I would just cry alone in my bed wondering what I had done to deserve this and other times I was the strongest fighter.
In which hospital(s) were you treated?
I was treated at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, Quebec.
What is your current medical status?
After a month of chemotherapy, I had no more cancer cells seen with a PET scan, and I completed the two years of treatment in July 2006.
How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually)?
Physically, I listen to my body a lot more and I don’t try to be Superwomen anymore! Emotionally, I feel things with more passion. Socially, I feel closer to my family and close friends, because of all the tough situations they saw me in. Spiritually, I take life in another way. To me, everything is meant to be like it is, and all experiences (bad or good) are part of this great adventure we call life.
What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?
At first, it was of course, the innumerable side effects from the chemotherapy that were the hardest to endure. But once I got used to them and to my new life, I started feeling useless and the heaviness of my situation on my parents made me sad. I didn’t like being dependent on everybody and to have to ask for help sometimes. Also, I was really afraid to never go back to being normal after the treatments, and to have after effects for the rest of my life.
What is/was the best part of your challenge?
First, I learned how to ask for some help, even though I still have trouble with this. But the most important thing is that I don’t feel bad anymore when I’m useless or not productive. I take every day as it comes and I feel much more in the present than in the past or the future.
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
I would tell myself that God or Mother Nature has given me my load of suffering and that I cannot get any more bad luck in my life! So things can only get better!
What lessons or messages have you taken away from your experience?
No matter what happens, my family is the most precious thing I have and I can always count on them.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?
Now that I’ve finally completed the treatment and feel better, I take this experience as a life lesson that not all of the people my age can understand. I no longer think I was really unlucky like at the beginning; now I just think I wasn’t the luckiest girl!
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?
The doctors told me there wasn’t any specific cause they know of related to this type of cancer, so I don’t think you can do much except to help yourself by taking care of your body and mind the best you can!
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
During the first half of the treatment, which was the hardest, I did not attend any groups. But I went for the Look Good, Feel Better activity where women of all ages with cancer are shown how to put on a little make up and accessories to look better during the treatment. I was also twinned with a cancer survivor my age who had had a similar diagnosis and volunteered as a supporter to call and discuss with me. Then, during the second half of the treatment, I went to YACC’s 2005 retreat.
The Look Good Feel Better activity was fun but I didn’t feel very close to the other women because I was by far the youngest (of course!). But when I went to YACC’s 2005 retreat, it was so different! I was with people who could better understand me and who I could better understand!
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?
I was part of their very first retreat and I’m very glad! I was told by one of the persons in charge of Hope and Cope (a big organization at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal) that YACC was inviting young adults with cancer for a retreat in Newfoundland. I contacted Geoff and when I finally got there, I met a whole group of extraordinary people! It’s a great organization with great goals and most of all, a great founder!