In 2019, I was working as a freelance ghostwriter and living in Hawaii. I was making the most of all the adventures life threw my way, and didn’t think twice about the fatigue, long-lasting cough or feverishness I was experiencing. After a friend noticed a lump on my neck, I visited a doctor. An X-ray revealed a big mass in my chest. I packed up my life and flew back to Canada. I was officially diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma on June 27, 2019. I was 25 years old.
Life with cancer didn’t feel like my new normal, but I wasn’t in denial. I was very much aware that cancer was my reality, but I had been feeling exhausted for so long that getting a diagnosis and treatment plan almost felt like a relief. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is known for being treatable and curable, and I had a lot of encouraging responses from my doctors. I clung to the positives, without really mentally processing the diagnosis — I focused on the firm end-date of treatment, had faith in being cured quickly and saw this as a passing season, almost like being in university again and having to power through a hard semester.
I had chemotherapy and surgery, but I didn’t really alter my life. I took on a new work project, travelled and took pride in going for jogs the day after chemo. Mentally, I approached ending treatment as getting my life back. In December 2019, we held a big party after my last chemo session. I felt like this tough season was over and I could put it behind me.
In spring 2020, when I felt the lump in my neck, my heart sank. I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time on June 26, 2020. After my first diagnosis, I went out of my way to not identify as a sick patient. But, after my second diagnosis, I reassessed and made the mental decision to let myself rest. I decided my entire focus would be on treatment — the chemotherapy was more intense this time and I had an autologous stem cell transplant. I made the choice to slow down, to take a leave from work and I started creating cancer-inspired artwork. In a weird way, cancer gave me this freedom to let myself be sick, and opportunities have come into my life from that accepting mindset. I wasn’t ashamed of where I was at in life.
In October 2020, I received the news I was cancer-free for the second time. But, after opting for a precautionary scan, I got another call in January 2022 and learned, for the third time, I had cancer.
This whole journey hasn’t played out the way I thought it would. Even though I can process it all better than I could in the past, there are still really hard days. A fresh start doesn’t just happen on New Year’s Eve for me anymore; I’m constantly pivoting and reassessing what I can do and what I value.
3 Useful Resources
Alberta Healthy Living Program
Workshops, classes and programs about specific chronic health conditions, like living with long COVID or Parkinson’s disease offered via Zoom, phone or recorded video.
Through programs including recreation opportunities and employment support, Vecova meets the lifelong and ever-changing needs of people with disabilities.
3304 33 St. N.W., 403-284-1121, vecova.ca
This charity offers free educational and self-care programs, as well as practical services, to any Albertan living with cancer or caring for someone living with cancer.
1404 Home Rd. N.W., 587-747-0260, wellspringalberta.ca