Growing up, I had a very normal life; a loving family, plenty of friends, and I was quite active in my school, and the community. However, in 2011 my life drastically changed, and ultimately affected the entire course of my future pursuits and attributed to the person I am today. At the age of 12, I quickly became very sick. I did not display the typical symptoms of a common flu or cold, as I felt completely normal, but was very fatigued. A few weeks later, I developed swollen lymph nodes, and a persisting high fever. After weeks of my symptoms progressing and my family doctor being unsure as to the cause of my illness, I took the day off school, and my parents took me to BC Children’s Hospital for further testing. I did not know at the time, but that was the last day I would attend elementary school. The doctor at BC Children’s Hospital admitted me, and the next few weeks consisted of many tests and visits from various specialities, as I grew sicker and weaker, developing anorexia, and being unable to walk or even barely stand. A few weeks later, the oncologist brought my parents and I into a family meeting room, and informed us that I had a stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a childhood cancer. My diagnosis was devastating news for my family and I for many reasons, though we were determined to stay positive, and try to overcome this obstacle together.
Throughout my grade eight year, I was treated with chemotherapy as an outpatient. Unfortunately, within one month of finishing my chemotherapy treatments the cancer had relapsed. This second time I was treated with a stem-cell transplant, requiring mega doses of chemotherapy and full body radiation. I received treatment and recovered in an isolation room for multiple months. The side effects were severe, and the isolation from my friends and family was emotionally taxing. Fortunately, I began to recover from the transplant as my immune system regenerated, and the treatment was ultimately successful.
Fast forward eight years, and I am now 22 years old and have been in remission for 8 years. I have completed my Bachelor of Science with distinction from SFU, majoring in health sciences, and just recently begun my Master of Science in pathology and laboratory medicine at UBC, where I’m completing research in the field of childhood cancer at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute. I plan to transfer to the MD/PhD program so that I may pursue a career in both the research and clinical setting related to pediatric oncology.
I am extremely grateful to be healthy, and recognize that my current state is a result of the significant amount of time, work, energy, and funds that have been donated and contributed towards cancer research, care, and support for patients, survivors, and families. Even as an adult, and eight years after my treatment, I am still being followed by an oncologist and having regular tests and scans to monitor my health through an adult cancer survivor program that not all provinces and countries offer. I am forever grateful for all of the contributions from scientists, researchers, doctors, nurses, volunteers, funding donors, and beyond that have resulted in my being able to move forward in my life, and be in a state of health that has allowed me to live out the goals I dreamed of from my hospital bed 10 years ago.
Cancer will affect all of us, whether it be a friend, a family member, or even ourselves. The greatest lesson I learned from all that I have been through, is that life is something we should not take for granted, and that each day we are in state of wellness to get up and make an impact in someone’s life, it is important that we do so. My experiences have instilled a great passion in me to make a difference and use this chance at life that I have to try and change the future of children and adults alike who are affected by cancer. However, this is not a job for single person or sector. In order to combat a disease that affects us all, we all must come together and be involved. Whether it be healthcare workers, researchers, volunteers, or caretakers, we all have an immense role to play, where we must work together until we find a cure, and reach a point where no mother, father, brother, or sister will have to experience or witness the devastating effects of this disease. That is why I am so grateful to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada, for all of their blood education, awareness, and fundraising which contribute towards improved research, care, treatments, and quality of life for cancer patients and survivors like me.