Age: 24 (soon to be 25)
Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario
What was your diagnosis? Papillary thyroid cancer
What is your occupation? Author of Would You Like Your Cancer? / Executive Assistant at ISTPCanada
Your cancer experience:
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
I went in for a sore throat and walked out with thyroid cancer. During an appointment for what was presumed to be a swollen lymph node due to a sore throat, the doctor performed an endoscopy then requested a fine needle aspiration biopsy. The results came back conclusive so I was to have a second fine needle aspiration biopsy which ended up showing cancerous cells.
What year was it? What was your age at the time? It was August 4, 2005 and I was 17 years old. I was turning 18 that September.
In which hospitals are you treated?
My surgery was at the Ottawa Hospital–Civic Campus and my treatments were at the Ottawa Hospital–General Campus.
At what level of education were you at diagnosis? I had just graduated high school a month prior.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed? This has to be a mistake.
How did your family react? Everyone was a bit shocked at first, then sad, then really positive that everything was going to be okay. I remember the emotion going in waves. It took everyone some time to come to terms with my diagnosis, especially my parents.
How did your friends react? Some friends were a bit distant, which is to be expected when something of that magnitude happens, others were very supportive and were by my side my entire journey.
What did your treatment consist of? I was treated with radioactive iodine.
What is your current medical status? I was deemed “risk-free” by my oncologist in January of 2011.
How is life different for you now post-diagnosis? I appreciate life more and I don’t take things for granted because I’ve learned life and things as you know it can change in a second. I also try to stay positive.
What was the best lesson you took away from your challenge? I learned to really appreciate the small things in life and that there’s a lesson to learn in everything that you do. I was lucky to overcome an unforgiving disease. Now that I beat cancer, I know I can accomplish anything and the publication of my memoir proves just that.
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick? Music motivated me even though it’s really cliché. My iPod was literally my savior. I just knew I had to keep going and fighting somehow, and certain songs would help me to forget everything that was going on help me to stay positive during the whole ordeal.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis? I used to think, ‘Why me?’ because I was a young naïve teenager. Now that it’s eight years behind me, I know everything happened for a reason and that my purpose is to help others through the publication of my book. It’s important to talk about your cancer diagnosis and realize know that you’re not alone, because it’s an incredibly hard thing to face alone. I never had the opportunity to meet others my age while I was in treatment, because back in 2005, childhood and teenage cancers were still rarely talked about. Now there are plenty of programs and social communities that cater to a younger generation facing cancer and all its adversities and I’m really glad to be part of the new community that helps others.
What are some preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours? Given that my cancer diagnosis was a bit of a mystery and doctors could not give me a reason as to why I had cancer, it’s difficult for me to say what exactly others should do to prevent cancer. For your best chances of having a cancer-free life, there are the obvious factors: eat healthy, refrain from smoking and excessive drinking, maintaining a healthy weight for your age/height and visiting your doctor on a regular basis.