A little bit about Sammi:
City: Lewisporte, NL
What was your diagnosis?
My cancer diagnosis was Stage III High-Risk Neuroblastoma (Ganglioneuroblastoma).
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
The first time I was diagnosed was January 18, 2012 and I was 19 years old. The second time I was diagnosed was November 14, 2013 and I was 21 years old.
What is something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
Something that I’ve done that I am really proud of is beating cancer — though the odds were against me, going back to college after my treatments were over, and writing a Young Adult fantasy novel!
What is a top item on your life to do list?
There are many things I’d like to do in my life now that I am cancer free, but the top item on my life to do list would be inspire and help others that are going through a cancer diagnosis. I love to help people who have been down/are going down the same road I have been on, and continue on daily.
The next big thing would be to become a published author!
What are your hobbies?
My number one hobby is writing! I can’t explain how much I love writing. I also enjoy painting, going on the ski-doo, going fishing and out in boat, and of course, sleeping.
What was your life like before your diagnosis?
Before my diagnosis, my life was pretty typical for a 19 year old. I was attending Memorial University of Newfoundland to become an English and French teacher. I was extremely active in the gym and I was the healthiest (or so I thought) I’d ever been in my life. Little did I know, life had other plans for me.
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
The first time I found out I was sick, I was having a lot of pain in my right ribs, shoulders, and back. I was passed from doctor to doctor with all of them saying the same thing — it was gall bladder attacks. My family doctor ordered an ultrasound to see how many gallstones I had and to see if my gallbladder would need to be removed. When I was getting the test done, the ultrasound-tech called the doctor in and that’s when I knew something was wrong. The next day, I found out it was a cancerous tumor. I knew my life would be forever changed.
The second time I found out I was sick, I had just moved home to Newfoundland from living in Halifax with my boyfriend at the time. I wasn’t sick at all! I didn’t have pains like before but when my routine MRI results came back, my oncologist called to say there were three tumors in the same spot, in my abdomen just about my adrenal gland. That’s when I had my second surgery, and I finally discovered the world of more surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and stem cell transplants.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
My first thoughts when diagnosed were, “I can’t quit university…I have midterms next week…” Strange, I know, but in the moment, that was oddly my first concern.
In which hospitals were you treated?
I was treated at the Health Sciences Center in St. John’s, NL and the Grand Falls-Windsor hospital.
What did your treatment consist of?
My treatment consisted of two laparotomy surgeries to remove all the tumors from my abdomen, multiple day surgeries to insert a port-a-cath and Hickman lines, seven rounds of chemotherapy — some being weeks at a time — around the clock in-patient, which consisted of cyclophosphamide, topetecan, cisplatin, melphalan, busulfan, vincristine, etoposide, and doxorubicin, twelve rounds of radiation, stem cell transplant, and countless blood and platelet transfusions. On top of all that, I had Neupogen almost every.single.day >_<
My treatment on the non-medical side affected me more than I thought it would. I was nauseated more times than I can count, vomiting every day, lost my hair within the first week, had bone pain from Neupogen, lost so much weight, put up with mouth sores, gained weight and lost it again, diagnosed with tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears), hearing loss from cisplatin, and the list goes on and on. I suffered with, and continue to suffer with, depression and PTSD from my treatments. I’m stronger now than when I first came out of the “cancer tunnel,” but it still haunts me every single day.
What is your current medical status?
I am currently in remission since June 20, 2014! 😀
Life after cancer:
How is life different for you now post-diagnosis?
Post-diagnosis, my life is extremely different. Physically, I can’t do as much as I could before cancer treatments. I was so active in sports and in the gym before my diagnosis and now I’m lucky if I can go for a long walk or skate in the winter for any length of time. I can notice a huge difference now compared to when I first finished treatments. I’m nowhere where I want to be, but I’m sure I will get there, one day at a time!
Emotionally, I’m so much stronger than I was before I was sick. I have lost a few friends to cancer over the course of my treatments, so it’s taught me to never take a single day for granted. Socially, I have lost some friends due to them either being scared from my life as a cancer patient (sigh), but I have also gained so many from the experiences I have went through! My friends know that there are some things I cannot participate in because of restrictions from my treatments, and the close friends that have stuck around respect that. Spiritually, God is good. Always. That will never change!
What is the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult?
I think the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult is not knowing how long you have left. We are in the prime of our lives — starting families, finishing college or university, getting into new relationships, moving out on our own. All that is put into perspective when we are diagnosed at such young ages. It’s hard when there aren’t many of us and our needs aren’t put at the forefront of cancer treatments and research. Also, I believe fertility is a huge issue. I know it was for me! The thought of possibly not having a family is always in our minds.
What really helped you to keep going while you were sick?
What helped me to keep going while I was sick was my family. They stuck by me through thick and thin. I definitely have the best parents ever! Also, my future dreams kept pushing me every single day. I knew there was a bigger picture planned for my life than cancer.
What kept you busy during treatment?
During treatments, the thing that kept me busy, honestly, was Netflix. I was stuck in bed for the majority of my treatments because I was beyond sick, so I caught up on a lot of Orange is the New Black. LOL.
Did/Do you feel isolated from your peers since your diagnosis? If so, how does that affect you?
I did and still do feel isolated from my peers since my diagnosis. People just don’t completely understand until it happens to them. I felt very much alone during my treatments.
Did anyone talk to you about fertility options before treatment? If so, how did that affect your decisions? If not, what do you wish you had known?
Before my treatments, my doctor talked to me about my fertility options. It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make, but I knew that if I waited and went ahead with the hormone treatments and freezing my eggs, it was going to slow down getting rid of the cancer, which was the main goal at the time. Looking back, I wish I had more time to make a decision about what I wanted to do, but I knew my doctor was right that I needed to start chemo ASAP.
How has your cancer experience affected your body image, and your relationship to your body?
I believe body image is a huge deal for cancer survivors. My cancer experience has definitely affected my body image and my relationship to my body. Pre-diagnosis, I was the healthiest I had ever been. I was strong and ate all the right foods. During treatment, I only ate what I could handle at the time, and often, it wasn’t very much, probably a few crackers or a bowl of KD.
Being on steroids during treatment affected my metabolism and slowed it down extremely, causing me to gain 40+ pounds since my treatment. It’s easy for people to say “don’t use chemo as an excuse, if you want the weight gone, lose it!” but what they don’t understand is the war that our bodies have gone through and how hard it is for our new bodies to adjust to life without chemo or drugs. Our metabolism is shot and we can’t always physically do the things we once could, so it’s harder for us to get back in shape.
My relationship with my body isn’t ideal, but I’m working on loving the new me and accepting that this is the body that fought for my life, and I should love it for that!
Resources and recommendations:
Which books/movies/podcasts/TV shows/etc. would you recommend?
I would recommend spending your treatment days reading The Princess Bride or Jane Eyre! Classics! You’ll Get Through This by Max Lucado is a great book to boost one’s spirits! Also, binge on Netflix; Pretty Little Liars or Orange is the New Black are good places to start!
Stay in touch:
What would you like to say to other young adults dealing with cancer who are reading this profile?
I know it’s hard. It’s going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. But you will get through it. There is light at the end of the tunnel even though right now it seems like all hope is gone. There are so many other people like you, just reach out to us. It may not seem like there are many like us, but we are connected through YACC. YACC is a family. We’re all in this together!
Don’t give up when there are dark days ahead, trust your body, your mind, and your faith. You will overcome anything that comes your way. I promise. If there are days where you feel like all hope is lost, remember there are others who have walked this path before you and have gotten through. Hold on to that hope.
Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges? If so please let us know how you can be contacted.
I am definitely interested in helping others facing cancer challenges! I’m an open-book and I’ll help anyone who needs it or just needs a friend to talk to! I can be contacted through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or email (please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to connect Sammi via email).
Find Sammi on the Internet!
My blog is www.samanthamelissa.blogspot.com
My Twitter is @sammimartin80
My Instagram is @sammimartin80
My Facebook is Sammi Martin (just search my name!)