Honoured Survivor Hero for Toronto
My name is Joanne Archibald, and I was 25 years old was I was diagnosed with Stage IV Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2017. I am so grateful to report that as of March 31, 2018, I am in remission. Since then, I have been a proud volunteer with the LLSC on the Executive Leadership Committee in Toronto, and an annual fundraiser for Light the Night. I am incredibly humbled to be this year’s Honoured Hero.
I remember the exact moment I was diagnosed, on November 27, 2017, in the hallway of the Cardinal Carter wing of St. Michael’s Hospital. The radiologist on duty that day had seen my chest x-rays and came over to ask if I was Joanne. She said, right then and there, that she thought I had a lymphoma tumor in my chest. I could not believe what she was saying.
At this point in time, I had been experiencing chest and back pain intermittently for six months. To be honest, hearing this news was terrifying; but there was also a part of me that felt relief. To have an explanation for what was causing this pain, and a path towards fixing it, was the first step towards reclaiming my health.
I spent the next two days in the emergency department undergoing many medical tests and giving vials and vials of blood. I spent the next four months in and out of the hospital, enduring a complex treatment regimen called the MaGrath Protocol – an innovative chemotherapy strategy that was first used to treat Burkitts Lymphoma. I realized then the importance of research in the blood cancer community, and how vital it is to support scientists looking to find new treatment plans.
I was (and still am!) so lucky to have the best hematologist-oncologist, Dr. Martina Trinkaus, and an army of the world’s greatest nurses to help me through my treatment. They did everything possible to take care of me, and I owe them the largest debt of gratitude.
Going through cancer was immensely difficult in so many ways. The feelings many experienced during the initial wave of the pandemic, with life-changing so rapidly, is similar to the initial feelings of a cancer diagnosis. You are simply plucked out of your life and plunged into an entirely new reality. One minute you are a functioning adult, going to work, living life, and the next you are a cancer patient who relies on science, faith, and the kindness of others to get through each day.
The post-cancer world is an entirely different beast. You go back out into the world and try to put the pieces of your life back together and it is not easy. You realize that you will never have your old life back, and you must learn to navigate the world with this vastly different perspective. The fear of recurrence is always there, the changes in your physical body, the scars from surgery, and the legacy of the mental distress caused by being so sick are just some of the things I experienced.
Carving out time to speak to others who have lived through a similar journey helped me to overcome a lot of post-cancer anxiety. The Light the Night experience is one way to connect with and support others who have been impacted by blood cancer.
My hero, Terry Fox, believed in miracles. I do too. I think coming out of cancer alive and well has driven me to find my true purpose in life. Terry echoed this when he said “One of the most important things I have learned is that nothing is ever completely bad. Even cancer. It has made me a better person. It has given me the courage and a sense of purpose that I never had before” (Source). May we all follow Terry’s example in finding courage and our sense of purpose.