Age at Diagnosis: 25
Current Age (at time of profile): 28
Grew up in Saskatchewan, currently live in Alberta
How did you find out you were sick? What events led to the diagnosis?
In January 2005 I asked my family doctor to remove a birthmark/mole where the surrounding skin was red. He said it was nothing to worry about and that it would not be necessary to have it removed. Out of concern of the mark being irritated by the sun and extremely itchy, I wanted it removed. A few weeks later I did have it removed. Seven days later I received my results, and it was more than nothing.
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
February 17, 2005 (was the date I found out), I was 25.
Do you work? Yes, currently at a daycare.
What was your diagnosis?
Malignant Melanoma (Skin Cancer); level 2.
What are your career goals?
Currently, I am taking distant learning to receive my Education Assistant Certificate. However, I have always wanted to become an elementary teacher so I would like to go back to school when the time comes, as well as the finances.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
My first thoughts were of my parents and my siblings; how and when to tell them.
How did your family react?
This was the hardest part because my family has had enough traumas in the past (my grandmother passed away a week and a year to the date of my diagnosis). I did not know how to tell them, and I even waited a day. When I told them, their faces just dropped; my mother and sister started to cry, my father’s face looked blank, and when I was able to tell my brother he wasn’t sure how to take it. But they were very supportive and were there to help me out.
How did your friends react?
Some of my friends were supportive of the cancer, however a couple of others did not want anything to do with it and have not talked with me since.
What did your treatment consist of?
Medical Side: This type of cancer requires surgery as a first treatment. When I met my surgeon for pre-op, he walked into the room and first thing he said to me was “HMMMM”. So I replied “HMMM, what is that supposed to mean?” He said that he did not picture me with pale skin, blond hair and only 25 due to the type of cancer I had. He then explained that at my age, with this type of cancer I was supposed to be someone who had a tan and either used the tanning bed or was out in the sun all the time. I have never used a tanning bed before and I have always been sensitive to the sun; so tanning was always out of the question.
On March 4, 2005, I went in for surgery at 9:30 in the morning. I was awake for the whole surgery, so I was able to listen to their impossible-to-understand medical language. When they were done, I was told that the scar was three inches long (which is what I was told before hand) with a 3/4 inch of an indent, basically as my sister put it, it looked like I had taken a bite out of my arm. Still to this day the indent has only puffed out some. I was glad that they were able to contain it.
Non-Medical Side: Physically and emotionally I was tired and drained. I continued to work full time, but knowing what I know now I should have taken a leave of absence. My stress levels were very high, having to deal with everything. At home I would have small breakdowns when I couldn’t accomplish even the smallest things.
In which hospital(s) were you treated?
I was treated at the Medicine Hat Hospital.
What is your current medical status?
My current status is good.
How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually)?
Physically, still to this day my arm gives me quite a challenge, as they had to cut through my major muscles and sensory nerve which gives me limitations in fine and gross motor skills. This makes it a challenge both physically and mentally to work at a daycare, in a profession I enjoy, as well as to do things I enjoy at home.
Emotionally, it is a long healing process and you have to keep the faith and be strong. I had hidden my emotions for so long after I found out that it took RealTime Cancer’s Retreat Yourself 2006 to help me deal with what had happened and to help me build up from that emotion to become the stronger person I am today. THANK YOU SO MUCH!
Socially, I stick to being around family and loyal friends that stuck to me like glue even after they found out I had cancer.
Spiritually, I believe in God. In 2004, I was so mad with God when my grandmother passed away, that I actually stopped going to church, except for holidays. I had decided to go back about a year after she passed away and soon after I found out that I had cancer. It makes you wonder if it was a test of faith. I decided to keep going and later joined the choir; music is where I also find my strength.
What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?
The toughest challenge has been my physical strength, or shall I say, lack of lifting ability at home and at work. This does cause stressful challenges in both places.
What is/was the best part of your challenge?
The best part of my challenge is that I am still strong mentally, and I believe that my arm will get stronger (more than 22 per cent strength), so that I can start doing the things I miss the most.
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
My motivational goal is that there are too many damn things in life that need to be accomplished, discovered, explored, and loved.
What lessons or messages have you taken away from your experience?
Venture out, make new goals and create success in accomplishing those goals; then make new ones. Dream. There is more to life. Discover, adventure, and explore everything everywhere. Relax. Take time to enjoy everything you have. Be thankful for all that life offers to you. It is a present; it is a gift Enjoy! — Theresa Perrault (July 5th, 2007);
“Keep the Faith”
“Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery and Today is a Gift” — Eleanor Roosevelt;
“Whatever life throws your way, love wins” — Reba McEntire;
“There are lots of things to think about, but nothing to worry about” — Matt Koepke
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?
I now live a full life, I take on new challenges, and I am a better person. No matter what challenges are thrown at you, take them on. Live life!
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?
Be sun aware and have sun sense. Be aware of your body and take control of your own health.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
There are no support groups around here that I am aware of. I was able to get connected with CancerConnect. It was helpful, but I would rather talk face-to-face.
If you did not attend a support group, why?
I would have attended a face-to-face support group if it had been available.
I think it would have helped if it related to the young adult gap
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?
Young Adult Cancer’s Retreat Yourself 2006.
I spotted a small poster in the waiting room at the cancer clinic. I took the number and website and got connected.
Best Program ever offered. Thank You So Much; with your help I am a better person.
Current Age: 30
Hometown: Grew up in Ponteix, Saskatchewan. Currently live in Medicine Hat, Alberta
How long has it been since your last treatment? I see my oncologist every six months for checkups. I also see my dermatologist as well in between.
How are you today? How have you changed since your last update? I am slowly gain strength back in my right arm. It has been a long process but with a positive outcome. I try to enjoy life to its fullest. Sometimes, yes, fear tends to slip its way in. To enjoy life, you have to live life. You have to believe in yourself, dream and set many goals. Since 2005, I have joined my church’s choir. Singing is a stress reliever for me. Sometimes, singing is my way of expressing how I feel. I am a childcare provider and enjoy what I do, but sometimes this is proven difficult when staff question why I still have some difficulty lifting. I have had staff tell me, that if I cannot fulfill the full position then I should not be in childcare. It is funny how they look at little interferences, instead of the whole picture. Yes, I have some lifting issues, but I can still accomplish everything else required in the field. Some people just don’t get it!
What are you doing today? (school, work, recovery, etc) Currently, I am doing career charting to enhance what other positions I can qualify for. Working with people who understand the situation and Get It!
What are you goals for the future? To do things I enjoy, whether it be a work or volunteer environment or even traveling to see as much as possible.
When you see yourself 10 years down the road, how does the picture look? What’s in it, what do you like, what do you not like? Enjoying life! As I am starting to figure out my long-term goals, I hope to see those goals being accomplished.
Do you have any advice for other survivors who may be where you once were? Don’t give up, be strong and be sure to attend the YACC Retreat! Before the retreat, I started shutting down; I hid (covered up) how I actually felt to everyone. I kept myself way too busy so that I would not think about cancer in general. I was like that for just over a year, a year of missing out on life and thanks to the wonderful people at the retreat, it opened my eyes that there was others out there who understand and are there to help you deal with what life throws your way. Also, listen to kids if they see your scars. They have a huge positive outlook on life. A five-year-old once said to me that it looks like I have a three legged lizard crawling up my arm. Since then, I have learned to like the scar.