Hi, my name is Grace McCrea, and I’m 22 years old. I’m from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I am a student at Mount Allison University studying Fine Arts with a minor in Psychology and Art History.
I was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in June of 2020. My diagnosis story is a little unusual. Two years ago, I found out that I had a rare congenital heart defect where 2 of the 4 veins from my lungs to my heart were connected on the wrong side. I had gone 20 years without any symptoms, and nothing had shown up on any previous medical tests. My doctors told me I would need to have open-heart surgery to correct it. In May of 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, I went in for my open-heart surgery. I was terrified for my life, but little did I know that it would only be the start of a 7-month long journey.
As part of the surgery, the doctors took out my thymus gland, which is relatively routine. Because the gland was removed, it had to be biopsied, and the pathologist found that I coincidentally had stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. My cardiac surgeon delivered the news, and to say I was shocked would be an understatement. I was almost completely asymptomatic, and any symptoms I might been experiencing could have easily been related to something else. As a busy student, I was frequently tired, and it didn’t seem abnormal to me. I had no visible lumps or skin rashes, and otherwise I felt healthy (minus the heart thing of course)!
About three weeks after my heart surgery, following a whirlwind of appointments and procedures, I underwent my first of 12 rounds of ABVD chemotherapy. I felt sad, scared, and confused. I didn’t know why this was happening to me. None of my friends had ever experienced anything like what I was going through. Ultimately, I felt so alone but so loved at the exact same time. Chemo was filled with nausea, pain, grief, allergic reactions, trips to the ER and many more side effects. Then came the hair loss, which was arguably one of the most traumatic side effects of all. It started with a few extra strands coming out in my brush in the morning, to massive clumps of hair that just seemed to keep coming. There were days that I felt so sad and it seemed that no one could understand the pain I was in; and there were days where all I wanted to do was cry; but I kept telling myself to take it one day at a time, and that’s what I did.
A couple of months into treatment, I decided I wanted to raise money for Light the Night and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I had previously participated in the Light the Night walk in honour of a family friend, and it was so different from all the other fundraising events that I had been to. It took place in the evening, and hundreds of people gathered with their lanterns to remember or support someone with blood cancer. I remember when we walked past the hospital in Halifax, you could see all the lanterns of patients with blood cancers in the hospital; it was powerful. But this time, I would be walking as a survivor/ patient of blood cancer, so I decided to start my own team - Gracious Hearts. The support from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society was amazing. I found a community of people who experienced some of the same things that I was going through, and the emotional support that I needed; it also gave me hope that I would one day be in remission.
Cancer brings many things, besides the treatments and the side effects - it brings people closer together, no matter how young or old. And if it weren’t for all of the experiences I have been through in the past year, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today. Cancer makes you realize what’s important in life. It definitely isn’t the 90% on that exam; it’s all the moments you can’t get back and the people and things in your life that make you feel pure happiness.
I am so thankful for everyone who helped me get through the past year - from my family and friends, to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, to the many nurses and doctors who helped get me here today. And that is why I am both so honoured and humbled to be one of this year’s honoured heroes.