Twenty five years cancer-free

A grateful patient reflects on a remarkable journey to adulthood thanks in part to her experience at the Children’s

Twenty five years ago, I was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 6 years old. In those days, technology and medicine didn’t compare to what’s available today. My parents had to make a quick decision and choose between the available medicine or a new treatment that had just come out. I ended up being part of a research trial.

I almost died 3 times.

On the day that my parents brought me to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, the nurses initially didn’t know what was wrong with me. I don’t think I would be alive today if it wasn’t for a particular doctor who just happened to walk past my room and decided to come inside to take a closer look. She noticed the blood cells were visible on my arms. She knew right away it was serious, and told everyone to leave the room. A few days later, I was diagnosed with leukemia. Talk about being at the right place at the right time! I am forever grateful to that doctor. 

Battling cancer for 3 years of my life as a child was tough, not only on me, but on my entire family. My mother, father and older sister stood by me throughout the entire journey. My grandparents would visit me every week to bring me my favorite food (because I wouldn’t eat any of the hospital food). My uncle would send me a cartoon that he drew every day in the mail to cheer me up. The support I received from them was what pushed me to get through it all, and I don’t think I could have fought it any other way. 

I went through a large number of bone marrow tests, lumbar punctures, platelet transfusions, chemotherapy and blood transfusions. It was the worst. The medicine was strong and made me feel really weird. I remember being told I was going to lose my hair from the chemo. My mom sat me down to explain what was going to happen, and described it like the change of seasons: in autumn, the leaves fall from the trees and then grow back in the springtime. The same thing would happen to my hair. I also had a port installed in my chest so that the nurses could more easily take blood samples because I would kick and scream when they would come to poke me with needles in the middle of the night. 

Because I was in and out of the hospital very often, I missed a lot of school, but even my peers and teachers would come to visit me and make videos wishing me good health. Nurses from the hospital would even talk to the other kids at my school to explain what was happening to me. The nurses were amazing and did a lot to take care of us around the clock. My mom was very involved in bringing music therapy to our playroom and we did a lot of arts and crafts and played games together. I met my best friend Dianna in the hospital, who I am still friends with to this day.  I consider her my second sister and I’m so lucky to have a friendship with someone who can relate to these experiences.

Another great memory I have is when the Children’s Wish Foundation granted me a wish and organized fun events for us around the holidays. One year, we boarded a plane and were told that we were going to the North Pole to visit Santa. The flight took off and we were in the air when we heard big thumps and rattling on the roof, Santa and his Reindeers landed on top of our plane and he walked through the front curtain! We couldn’t believe it and I swear it was the most magical moment as a child. I never forgot it. 

Today I am 25 years cancer-free, life is amazing. I hadn’t considered beating cancer as an accomplishment, but as something that you just don’t talk about because people would get awkward. Even though I have a scar on my chest, I would brush it off when people asked about it. One day a few years back, it literally hit me while talking to a complete stranger: I beat cancer. I got a second chance at life and I shouldn’t take it for granted, it is truly a blessing.