Current Age (at time of profile): 25
Glen Margaret, NS
How did you find out you were sick? What events led to the diagnosis?
I initially discovered I had cancer just before a trip I was going to take to South America a few years ago. I was going to go to Montevideo, Uruguay to live with a host family and to study Spanish at a nearby school. I had planned for this trip over a course of many months and about two weeks before I was scheduled to leave I went to get the necessary vaccinations at a clinic in Halifax.
Around this time I also had a nagging and persistent cough from a cold I had picked up from my brother a month before that was simply not going away, and whenever I coughed I felt a slight irritation on my windpipe at the bottom of my neck. I asked the woman working at the clinic if she thought I should investigate this, and she thought maybe it would be a good idea to get a chest X-Ray at the VG hospital in Halifax just to be on the safe side. After this I booked an appointment at the hospital for the X-Ray. Only a day after the X-Ray was taken I received a call from my doctor just before I was getting ready to go to work. He told me tests had revealed that there were several large balls of tissue inside my body, around my chest and one large one at the base of my neck around the area of my windpipe. He got me to take a blood test. I went home to prepare for work and soon after that received a call from the hospital and was admitted to stay there for further testing.
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
It was the Christmas of 2004 and I was 22 years old at that time.
At what level of education were you at diagnosis?
I was halfway through my second year of university.
Do you work? Currently unemployed.
What was your diagnosis?
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (Stage 3).
What are your career goals?
To be an ESL teacher, then possibly to do overseas work for the Red Cross.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
My first thoughts were of disbelief. I was both shocked and unprepared. I honestly wasn’t sure what to think.
How did your family react?
My family was very concerned. But my mom was most affected. She worries a lot so this upset her very much.
How did your friends react?
My friends didn’t really treat me any differently, but I could tell they felt sorry for me. The sense of pity I got from them was definitely noticeable.
What did your treatment consist of?
Medical Side: My treatment consisted of six months of chemotherapy from January to June of 2005, once every two weeks. After each chemo treatment my white blood cell count dropped considerably, so they sent a nurse from the hospital to my home halfway between treatments to give me a needle injection in order to boost my white blood cell count. She gave me a supply of needles to use each night in the week leading up to my next chemo treatment. This was a constant process for those six months. I was given July off to let my body recover somewhat, then received radiation treatments in August 2005 which lasted a month.
Non-Medical Side: I felt physically tired much of the time. I recall feeling very frustrated because of this as I tend to be a very active person. So naturally these limitations imposed upon me upset me a great deal, as they would upset most people. Also I felt very anxious because of the medication I was on and depressed because of the isolation I was experiencing. These two feelings in particular were intensified by the fact that many of my chemo treatments took place during the winter.
In which hospital(s) were you treated?
The Victoria General hospital and Queen Elizabeth II hospital.
What is your current medical status?
Have been in remission since September 2005.
How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually)?
Now that I have had this disease it served as a wake up call not to take anything in my life for granted, especially the people in my life. I now have a greater appreciation for life now then I did before and am now much more determined to live it to its fullest.
What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?
The deep sense of isolation and hopelessness I felt. Being isolated is especially difficult for someone in their teenage/early adult years because, for this group in particular, having a decent social life and interaction with others is fundamental for a healthy state of mind.
What is/was the best part of your challenge?
The best part of having my challenge was the initial threat of possibly losing my life. Because of this I appreciate many aspects of my life more now and I don’t worry over many small insignificant things that I used to before my diagnosis. People never fully understand the value of their own existence until they are faced with the possibility of losing it forever.
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
What motivated me was the hope that things would improve in my life. Of course at that time I also naively believed that since I already had cancer things couldn’t possibly get any worse (when of course they always can) so therefore the only direction I had to go was up. This belief was a great asset to me. But I also looked at my disease as a challenge to be overcome, and if I overcame it then this would be a big accomplishment, which gave me the drive and incentive I needed to rough it out.
What lessons or messages have you taken away from your experience?
To not give up, even if it seems as though you have been dealt a bad hand, to appreciate life to its fullest and to not worry about silly insignificant things. But I also learned about the value of compassion and understanding towards others.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?
Looking back it seems unimaginable what I had to go through to get treated and what countless others worldwide are going through right now. Before my diagnosis I was pretty naive as I didn’t really believe cancer could have been a factor in my life at that time. But now that I have had cancer, I see the light, that it really can happen to anybody and it doesn’t discriminate between age, race or gender.
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?
As I recall at that time in my life I was under a lot of stress, between my job (I had a supervisor that was always on my case), my lack of money and a lot of other stressful issues that people have to deal with in their early adult years. Looking back I believe this immense stress I felt in my life was a major contributing factor to why I got sick in the first place. Therefore I believe if people can reduce the stress in their lives they can greatly reduce the risk of getting cancer. I believe this is also the reason why there is a much higher frequency of cancer in first world countries as opposed to third world countries.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
Yes. It was Young Adult Cancer [Retreat Yourself], it was in early September 2005, shortly after I completed my radiation treatment. It took place in a rural community close to St John’s, Newfoundland. There were cancer patients, survivors and supporters who were of varying ages, genders and backgrounds who were all there to listen and to provide support.
I found it helped a great deal, as many of the people there, including myself, had the opportunity to connect and provide support and feedback to one another. For me, especially at this particular point in my cancer challenge, it was very important to establish this connection as it provided a remedy to the isolation from which I experienced for so long prior to this retreat.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?
I participated in the retreats of 2005 and 2006, and attended the conference this past fall in Alberta in 2007.
I initially discovered Young Adult Cancer during one of my chemotherapy treatments back in early 2005. There was a poster in the area I was being treated. I inquired about the poster and the nurse gave me a brief preview on Young Adult Cancer which generated interest and encouraged me to learn more about the organization.
I think it is really great that Young Adult Cancer has focused its attention on this demographic of the population that has been afflicted with cancer. It provides support to the young adult demographic which faces unique challenges in of itself. This is why Young Adult Cancer is such a great organization in that it recognizes these challenges and attempts to ease some of the burdens of those young adults afflicted with cancer.