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              My Story

 

Back in 2008 when I was 23 years old, I was diagnosed with a blood cancer.  Looking back I can say now that it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life; at the age of 23, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life or who I wanted to be. Being diagnosed with such a devastating illness just weeks away from my 24th birthday was overwhelming, confusing and heartbreaking. My world changed in an instant, as I feel anyone who has had cancer or has known someone with cancer would agree.The many challenges I have faced while going through treatment and the challenges I continue to face are best explained I feel, if I let you know a bit of my story and start from the beginning.

I woke up one morning sicker than I have ever been in my life, I was so ill that I had an issue prompt me to go to the hospital right away. I’ll spare you most of the unpleasant details – it was a scary morning for me. I was immediately accepted into the emergency department at the Rockeyview general Hospital and within minutes I had met with 4 different doctors and they immediately ordered x-rays and ct-scans. The results came back showing a tumor in my chest the size of a grapefruit; it looked as though it was two hands cupping around my heart. The doctors originally felt I was having an issue with my heart and decided that the best option would be to transfer me to the dedicated heart ward in the Foothills Medical Centre.

After about 2 weeks, multiple biopsies, ct-scans, ultrasounds and blood tests, it was determined I had Non-Hodgkins lymphoma Stage 4 progressive to Stage 5.  Translated, it means that I shouldn’t have been alive when I was brought into the hospital. After my diagnosis, my team of oncologists and I decided the best plan of action would be to undergo 6 sessions of chemotherapy and 18 sessions of radiation therapy. On my last day of radiation December 18, 2008, I was officially in remission.

 

I was trying to think of the hardest moments I had to go through during my treatment and truly there were just so many, trying to narrow it down seemed impossible. I was told that I may never have children; I was told that I would lose my hair; I was told that the treatment would be excruciatingly painful.  I wasn’t told that I would lose friends along the way, and that I would have to watch my family suffer and grieve the reality that there was nothing any of us could do to change the outcome; that we would have to hope that the treatment available would be enough. I didn’t want to be a burden to those around me and seeing my family in pain over my diagnosis it pushed me to be stronger than I think I have ever been in my life.

I really tried to focus on the positives in my life during my treatments, I found that this allowed me to remain in good spirits which helped those around me stay positive too. It was really tough for me to relinquish my normal behaviour of doing things on my own but I also understood that I couldn’t do things on my own either. Normal things like cleaning my house were draining, grocery shopping was nice for getting out of the house but so tiresome once I started. I could do little things around the house with ease, such as laundry or dishes and even vacuuming…which unfortunately now I cannot stand to do… my poor husband.

It was really hard to ask my mother to help with cleaning my house but she always was willing to help me with no question. Asking my friends or other family members to help me grocery shop was another thing I struggled asking help with but again, no one seemed to mind taking me or taking my groceries into my apartment for me. I guess looking back on it now, the toughest part was just thinking that I was a burden for those who cared for me. Which, many were extremely eager and willing to help me when I needed it. But I wont lie; sometimes there were lonely and dark emotional nights. Where my loneliness in the situation creeped in the most. It was difficult at first to talk to people about my true feelings sometimes because unless you are going through a cancer diagnosis yourself… no one will ever truly understand the feelings. Though, I found the more I talked about it, the more I felt lighter and happier. I soon realized that talking about my cancer experience was a way of making it through mentally. It allowed me to open up and find that I like to be honest about things I feel.

Thankfully for me, I was able to have children, I did lose my hair, but it came back, and the physical pain is a memory.  I did lose friends, but I also strengthened others, and the importance of family was reinforced and remains one of my most grateful take away.

 

Being in remission, my life has changed so much. 8 months into remission, I met my wonderful husband. It was difficult to start the relationship as I had to be completely honest with who I was and how I was planning on living my life. I had a little bit of hair growing back from my treatments and right from the gates I had told him that I had wanted children and explained that he wasn’t wanting any we needed to end our relationship there. It was a new way of life for me being so completely vulnerable and open but he was wonderful and accepted me for who I was flaws and all. He attended every follow up appointment with me and was by my side through everything I had to deal with. He helped me through some difficult times in my life where I had to deal with the loss of more relationships with friends. As being in remission, some friends didn’t understand that even though I was in ok I wasn’t. They acted as if I had a cold and that I was all better.

They didn’t understand the fear that overcame me at every appointment or the limits of what I could and couldn’t physically do. It was heartbreaking and I was so lucky to have him by my side. He had been and still is so incredible with supporting me through this difficult part of my life. He took the time to research the type of cancer I had and what the treatments can do to a person and how they can be affected after treatments.  He walked beside me in the first Night the Light walk I did holding my hand the whole walk and at that moment, I realized that I wanted to always walk in support of the research and that I had wanted to as much as I could. At the end of my five years when I was finally discharged as a patient from the Tom Baker Cancer center, my husband took me on a trip to Australia with a stopover in the Cook Islands where he proposed to me on New Year’s Eve. He was so happy that I can finally take a step forward in my life without having to plan around my follow up appointments.

Fast forward to now and I am still cancer free, my husband and I had been married in Italy in 2016 and I have a daughter who is now 2 years old. She is my miracle baby, as I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to have a child. In these past ten years I have learned so much. I have learned that cancer changes so much about you as a person and not just you but those around you as well. You learn what you are capable of coping with and what you are not. I still have some underlying medical issues that I suffer from due to the treatment I went through. And some things that will never go back to the way it was before. But I am now a part of a community that I didn’t ask to join but that I am so blessed to be a part of. I learned so much about personal relationships with friends and family that I never thought would change but did. I know now that if confronted with this again I would be able to attack it head on. Actually, I know that if I am confronted with anything I can face it directly. Because nothing will be as difficult as that was.

I still have the fear that my cancer may return and sometimes I catch myself wondering and hoping my daughter will never have to experience anything like this ever in her life. Mostly it doesn’t enter my mind as often but sometimes it does. When I catch myself in those moments, I try to find ways to think of how I can help others who are experiencing what I had gone through. I am an open book with my whole cancer experience. You can ask me anything and I will always be happy to discuss it because I feel the more we talk about it, the more we know what people with cancer go through. Which I feel will help encourage people to push towards finding a way to defeat this illness and leave it as something mentioned in our history books.

I know some people are not as fortunate as I was and that drives me to want to do more so that they can share stories like mine. I want everyone touched by this horrible illness to be able to say that they beat it and grew to be better from it. I want people to feel strong to share their story so that it’s not such a taboo topic and people can understand that not every story ends in a sad way. I hope that sharing my story can do that. Even if it is just for one person. So remain positive, do things that keep you happy and remember that its ok to ask for help. It will allow you and those around you to grow and to learn things about you and themselves they never knew.

Whatever your situation right now, please know that you are not alone.

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