I was diagnosed on March 18, 2016, the day before our son’s birthday. My family doctor called me while I was with my two children and ask if I could come to her office. Although I had a cough and a few fevers, I really didn’t feel like anything was wrong. In fact, I had the kids beside me when she told me what was found in my blood work and that I needed to head to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. I was certain there had been a mistake, but my husband Daniel and I, dropped off our kids at my sisters and met the Hematologist at the Tom Baker. I was told that I had leukemia and started steroids and chemotherapy immediately. The diagnosis was devastating for me and my family, who were thrown into a new routine of treatments, side effects and fear.
I had some complications during treatment, including blood clots and a stroke, due to the chemotherapy that was both saving my life and causing separate issues. I underwent a transplant in July of 2016, thanks to my brother who flew to Calgary from Australia to be my stem cell donor. I'm unbelievably grateful for my family, we were barely ever alone in the room. Post-transplant, I’ve had some minor Graft Versus Host (GVH) which has caused chronic issues with my eyes, along with fatigue and sleep issues, but overall, I just feel so lucky to still be alive. It took me about 2 years to gain some weight and muscle and start feeling like myself again. I keep active with my family and constantly try to keep my muscle mass and strength that depleted during treatment. Even five years later, there are still setbacks to my progress. For most people, a cold is pretty minor, but for me, it can take 3-5 weeks to get through it. Before cancer, I used to think 'if I could just lose that last 5-10lbs.' After going through what we went through, feeling so weak and not being able to put on weight or muscle, I have a new appreciation for the body that I have.
I will never forget how stoic Daniel was during those long hospital stays. I’ll never forget when he walked into my hospital room with a cot from Canadian Tire so he could spend every night by my side. He always treated me the same as before my diagnosis and didn’t mind telling me to move over so he would crawl into my tiny hospital bed with me. After he and our kids shaved my head and I was sitting there in shock, he came up behind me and said “It’s just easier access to your neck, you’re still so sexy.” Our family always found something to laugh about in all of the darkness. Our two kids, Grace and Charlie, my parents, my sister and brother and their amazing families and dear friends were there to support us relentlessly, relentlessly. My mom and dad moved in and helped us with the kids and took care of me. My sister and her husband made themselves available for anything I needed. We became a team, and now we all do Light The Night together. We all reach into our bubbles of contacts to fundraise to support the LLSC. Daniel: I walk in Light The Night for Jenna. It's cool to see all the people. It's emotional for Jenna.
Jenna: Yeah, it’s really emotional and therapeutic for me. I see myself in all the different stages. I also see all the people holding red lanterns that remind me of how amazing and selfless our supports are. The gold lanterns break my heart. It’s a reminder that my family could be holding gold lanterns for me. It’s a really special day, where I can reflect and feel grateful for how far I’ve come. When I see all the people at the walk, I feel really inspired to do our best to fundraise. For us fundraising success has come from corporate donations, small fundraisers in our neighborhoods and reaching out on social media. Light the Light has been a valuable part of our journey and healing. I’m reminded every year that we were not alone in what we went through and being a part of the blood cancer community could mean making a difference for more families facing the same diagnosis.