What school did you attend? Lord Beaverbrook High School
Do you work? Yes, Full-Time
How did you find out you were sick? What event(s) led to the diagnosis?
Well to be perfectly honest, I didn’t take very good care of myself to begin with, I was super young and lived the carefree life that most people in their early 20s live. I didn’t even know I was sick (especially with cancer). I awoke in the morning on a Friday at 7 am with a horrible cough and felt as sick as I had ever been. When I awoke I started coughing some serious phlegm up and had started to choke on it. After many attempts, I finally dislodged the chunk and noticed it was a big blood clot. Panic arose and I didn’t know what to do. I called my boss at work and then headed to the hospital. The hospital staff admitted me in under the pretenses that I was only coughing up blood. They did an X-Ray asked me a million questions and noticed a dark cloud above my heart. They decided from that point to do a CT-Scan, which had shown them tissue above my heart.
The doctor that was diagnosing me had told me that they may need to perform a three hole heart punch surgery (I’m not sure if that’s the correct spelling). I had been told that I had pneumonia too, which made things a little difficult. I was then transferred to a better hospital. After multiple negotiations on my end not to do the intrusive surgery they managed to diagnose through multiple biopsies.
What year was it? What was your age at the time? It was 2008, I was 23 one month and 13 days away from my 24th birthday
What was your diagnosis? Well two weeks after being admitted to the hospital I was finally diagnosed. I am not sure what stage my cancer was at, but l was diagnosed with Large Diffuse B-Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. But the Large Diffuse B-Cell was a rare type apparently (A medistinal Thymic-Subset).
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed? The only real thing going through my mind was “OMG! Wow. cancer. Ok so now what? Let’s do something! Why are we waiting?” I was initially upset but I didn’t feel devastated. To this day I still feel ok with it.
How did your family react?
My family was torn; my mother was devastated and heartbroken and felt helpless. But she was and is the best and ultimate supporter. My sister who is four years younger than me was sad but didn’t know how to handle it, so she kept her distance without intentionally trying to hurt me but still did. My grandparents (who I am extremely close with) were praying harder than I have ever (EVER) seen them pray. Actually now that I think about it, I had never seen worry on my grandmother’s face until she came into my hospital room. My grandfather was ultimately worried (he is practically my father since he was the only stable male figure in my life). My uncles and aunts didn’t really understand or know what to do so they kept their distance but still showed support.
How did your friends react? Were you treated any different?
My friends — I don’t really know how they all initially reacted. The ones I was extremely close with showed up and were there for me but they were distant. I think it was because they never really asked too many questions, and when they did asked some, I answered without hesitation and a super confidence, which I think confused them or even scared them. There were some who treated me differently. I was actually hurt by a lot of them though I had wished that some of them would have actually helped me with things that I really needed help with. Rides to treatment, help around the house, grocery shopping. The little things that I had previously taken for granted. I have never told anyone this actually.
What did your treatment consist of?
I had to do six sessions of a Chop-R chemotherapy cocktail. My very first treatment was done while I was admitted in the hospital. Which was a rough one, I was still super sick with pneumonia and the cancer. And then the rest was done as an outpatient at the hospital. I couldn’t believe how hard it was. (Oh and BTW BENADRYL you and I have some unfinished business, I tried multiple times to stay awake when they gave me that stuff and the score now is still Benadryl 6-Samantha 0.)
It was done within a four month span. After that the doctors did a PET-Scan and determined that radiation of my throat and chest was needed to eliminate the remaining cancer cells. I had 20 doses of radiation therapy for four weeks straight. The last day of radiation treatment my doctor told me would be my remission date.
The physical part of the whole thing was weird to me and felt very foreign and unnatural. But I refused to let it run my life. The steroids they gave me allowed me to have “false energy” but the treatment itself definitely weighed me down. The side effects I underestimated for sure. I was told my chemotherapy (with one of my drugs the Vincristine) would make me feel numbness and tingling in my fingers and toes and did I EVER! It was horrible, I burned myself numerous times without realizing it. After I told my doctor, she removed that drug from the long list of medication in my chemo.
I was also told I wasn’t going to eat very much after and during chemo, but if anyone knows me, I eat when I want to eat! Sick or not I will always eat. The day after my first session of chemo I was at home eating bacon ‘n’ eggs just like every day. After chemo, I lost my hair which unfortunately most of us do but if you are like me and you look for the good in everything, I didn’t have to shave for eight or nine months! BEST TIME OF MY LIFE EVER!!!! Oh and I loved how every time I tell that part to my girlfriends they shake their heads.
The only time I was unable to do what I wanted was when I received the radiation therapy. That was the worst for sure. I had to have my wisdom teeth removed before the therapy which was awful for two reasons:
1) I dislike dentists. 2) I wasn’t able to eat.
Then after starting radiation I was again unable to eat. I didn’t believe them when they told me radiation would make eating nearly impossible, but it did. Being around Christmas time when all the best goodies come out made things very hard. All I wanted to do was indulge, and all I could do was have Ensure.
Emotionally I tried my best to keep it together, but I did have my days were I nearly lost all hope and was depressed and felt like giving up. After a while, I realized I was only fighting a battle with myself and the only way to conquer my sickness was to keep myself together and attack this thing 100 per cent. Which I did, I received a journal from one of my mom’s friends and started to write everything I felt in there. That helped me a lot.
I think that most people forgot how stubborn I was and am, which I thank GOD for everyday. It gave me a power that made me feel like I could defeat anything.
The last thing I would like to add, is I had a really hard time with this whole cancer thing financially. I was one month shy from receiving benefits from my employer and the Canadian government did everything they could not to help me out financially. I received a total of $1200.00 for three months. THREE MONTHS! At 23/24, living on your own, with a family that is unable to help financially, $1200 for three months is completely UNACCEPTABLE. My medication alone AFTER coverage was more than $350/month. It really disappointed me with our government. It made me think about those people who don’t have anyone to help them financially. How are they supposed to live and get better? Due to this financial situation, I had to go back to work before my doctor recommended. Thankfully my employer was kind enough to work with me and for that I am completely and utterly grateful. Always and forever.
In which Hospital(s) were you treated? I was treated in the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in the Foothills Hospital in Calgary, AB
What is your current medical status? I am in total remission. Doctors say that in three years they will be able to discharge me as a patient from the cancer centre — YAY!
How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually)?
Physically, I am drained more than ever. It takes a lot out of me to do anything. As a young women who is sexually active with my boyfriend, I suffer from some side effects (dryness) still, which now I know is something normal with younger girls after chemo.
Emotionally I still struggle; it’s hard still hard to be “normal” and people judge me (even some of my family) because now that I am in remission and better I shouldn’t be suffering from anything emotionally, financially, and physically.
I find that a lot of people act as if I suffered from a cold and that I am okay now. They forget that I was once very sick and that the sickness stopped and changed my life forever (I remember). I think that part of it is because I was very strong throughout the experience and they expect me to act the same with everything I face after my cancer.
What was the toughest part of your challenge?
Toughest part — I don’t really know if I can say there was one specific part that was tough. Maybe if I had to choose anything it would be the fact that I had to see people for who they really were. Many of them were scared and didn’t want to learn about my sickness and really understand how it was for me.
What was the best part about having your challenge? I got to learn who I am as a person. I proved to myself that I can accomplish anything I want. I often say: “It takes a lot more than cancer to keep me down and out of this world, YOU DON’T GET OFF THAT EASY!”
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
My mother! I really hated seeing her feeling helpless. Every time I would wake up in the middle of my treatment for chemo, she would be pacing around nervously and praying. I could see the pain in her eyes when she thought I wasn’t looking. I could see how much it scared her that she couldn’t do anything for me. I kept telling myself I had to get better so I wouldn’t see her hurt anymore. My sickness stopped not just my life but hers too and that killed me more than anything.
What lessons or messages have you taken away from your experience? Positive thinking and self determination are your two best weapons to deal with anything in life. Always!
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis? I don’t think my thoughts have changed too much, neither with my feelings about it. I think now I have a bit more knowledge about cancer and how it affects more than just yourself.
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? Unfortunately with my type of cancer, most of the symptoms I experienced were like anything related to stress. I wish I had a way of warning or preventing.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge? No
If you did not attend a support group, why? I didn’ feel comfortable going out to a group. And I was nervous that I would have been the only one my age or around my age.
Would you if one had been available? If I had known that a younger group was around I probably would have gone.
Do you think attending one would have helped you? I don’t know. I think I did ok on my own.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada? How did it happen? I was introduced by a nurse through one of my checkups with my radiation doctor.
What are your thoughts/feelings on Young Adult Cancer Canada? WHY DIDN’T I KNOW ABOUT YOU SOONER!!!!
Seriously, it should be mandatory that younger people are told about your group. I think it would have helped me not feel so alone.