Name: Samantha Patricia McDowell
Age: I am 24 years old (d.o.b. Aug 3, 1986)
What school did you attend? I graduated from high school (Sir Winston Churchill)
Where do you work? I work in the insurance industry
What is your career goal? My career goal would be to eventually go to school and get accepted into nursing
How did you find out you were sick?
I would consider myself in good health for my age and since I turned 18 I have always had my yearly checkups. I had started to notice random bleeding after intercourse but didn’t think anything of it. I booked a physical with my doctor for a pap. It came back irregular (cells) and my doctor recommended I get a colposcopy to look into it a bit further but she reassured me I should not be concerned about it. The results came back early. I will never forget this day and forever hope I’ll never experience this kind of pain ever again. The doctor that had taken my tissue sample called me at work and all he said was, “Are you alone? You have cancer.” I felt my entire world stop and the room started to spin. Is this the end? And I just broke down.
What year were you diagnosed? How old were you at the time?
I was diagnosed in 2010 and I was 23 years old.
What was your diagnosis?
I was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer stage 1B
What were your thoughts when you were diagnosed?
I instantly thought “this is a bad dream and I will wake up anytime now.” I just could barely grasp the concept that I—at the age of 23—had cervical cancer. Seriously, how does one my age cope with this deadly disease—I am yet to experience life and what it has to offer. Was I being punished for things that happened in the past? Or does God have another plan for me once my lifetime is over. All I could do was cry and cry until I cried myself to sleep night after night. Pure denial. Depression started to grow on me.
How did your family react?
I had called my mother of who was living in Lethbridge at the time (two hours away from me). She did not believe me and demanded that she called the doctor to get the clear story; she just told me I was being dramatic and I didn’t listen to what the doctor said. Soon enough she faced the hard facts and put on a smile and told me we’d get through this together. She’s my hero. My father and siblings where my strongest support. My dad is as tough as nails and he didn’t even fret, or at least he didn’t in front of me. I’d talk to him everyday and he’d cheer me up by giving me positive feedback and just by giving me the boost I needed to hear. I developed a better relationship with my sister and at the time one of my brothers finally reached out and supported me.
How did your friends react?
Most of my friend where there for me and a lot of my co-workers helped out a lot with cards, emails, and calls. I found a few close friends grew rather distant and also my boyfriend had given up on me in the midst of healing. You definitely find out who you want in your life when you get diagnosed and deal with cancer—it’s unfortunate that people walk out of your life but I understand sometimes it’s a lot to handle especially when we are young.
What did your treatment consist of?
Finding out what treatment would work best for me was probably the hardest part because this is the biggest decision I’d ever make in my life. I couldn’t do this on my own so I had the support of my parents, my (ex) boyfriend’s mother, myself, and my doctor. We had eventually decided that chemotherapy for three months (once every three weeks) and the major surgery, radical trachelectomy. The chemo was to try to clear out my cells of the bad cancer and the surgery is not common but it would allow me to have children later in life.
How did you feel?
Chemo seriously knocks the s*** out of you. I had no energy, and I lost all my hair, so I felt I lost my identity. That, by far, was the hardest part. Chemo also takes away your strength. I know for a fact I got extremely bad anxiety and very depressed. It was exactly one week after my first dose of chemotherapy that my hair started to fall out; I couldn’t believe this was all happening. As for the surgery, I was not prepared for this kind of pain. It was the kind of pain that was unbearable and my poor father had to watch me in that amount of pain, and yet he was my personal nurse helping me and encouraging me to move.
What hospital were you treated at?
I was treated at the Tom Baker Hospital in Calgary, AB
What is your current health status?
I am currently six months cancer free!
How life is different?
After dealing with the fight of your life you change drastically. I am still the same person I was before, but I’m A LOT stronger. I try not to fret on the little things in life and embrace each day at a time. I feel like I want/need to give back to the community so I joined the Cancer Society as peer support. I now have a lot more patience and feel I treat others with more care and compassion.
What was the toughest part of your challenge?
The toughest part was loosing my identity. Cancer stripped me of who I was. I hated how not only did I have cancer, but my family also had to deal with it. I could always feel the worry in my mother’s voice and I remember her coming to my first dose of chemo. All we could do was cry, cry in fear of the unknown. I always told myself, “I have cancer, it will NEVER have me.”
What was the best part of your challenge?
The best part of being diagnosed with cancer was the new outlook I have in life. I have met so many beautiful survivors, nurses, and doctors. Most people were so humble and kind to me because they could see the pain and fear I was in. Cancer forever has changed my life, and I feel it’s for the best.
What motivated you to keep going?
I was motivated by my friends & family. My family was my #1 support system and was there for me when I was down and would always cheer me up. I had a blog that they all read every single day and commented on issues I was struggling with. I have the most amazing family and feel so blessed.
What are some preventative measures people can take to avoid an experience like yours?
I was one of the few women that had HPV and for whatever reason this formed into cancer. I truly wish they had more education about this virus.
Did you attend any support groups?
I attended a lot of support groups at the Wellness Center in Calgary. My favorite part was the beauty class where we all were taught how to apply makeup when we had no hair and eyelashes, etc. The smile on these women’s faces after the makeup was applied was priceless. I felt normal with all these women for the first time in months.
How did you learn about Young Adult Cancer Canada?
I found YACC by a friend on facebook that is fighting this disease.