Dirk Noyahr was always proud of the university degree he earned but it took him a long time to come to terms with the one he didn’t. Today, at 26, Dirk is feeling better about his choices. He got there thanks to members of the healthcare team caring for him as a survivor of childhood cancer who referred him to two distinct counselling programs, enabled by POGO.
Dirk was diagnosed with brain cancer—medulloblastoma—at the age of 17.
“I was in what was supposed to be my last year in high school and, instead, I ended up undergoing treatment for cancer.”
Dirk had surgery to remove the tumour and was also treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Throughout his treatment, Dirk was home schooled and gained enough credits to graduate on time.
“I didn’t have the prerequisites I needed to get into a science program like I wanted, so I applied for psychology and spent the first year of university taking the courses I needed to switch.”
However, school wasn’t as easy as it was before.
“I struggled with memory, multi-tasking and focus. Still, in 2018 I graduated with a degree in biochemistry from York University and soon after was accepted into the radiation therapy program at the University of Toronto, a joint program with the Michener Institute of Education at University Health Network.
I picked the radiation program because, as a cancer survivor, I felt I could be supportive to other patients going through the same thing. I just wasn’t sure if it was the right choice for me. I was also processing my own and my parents’ thoughts and feelings about the time and money I had already spent obtaining a biochemistry degree.
Luckily, it was at this time when I met Barb, my POGO School and Work Transitions Counsellor.
I was at one of my annual appointments at the POGO AfterCare Clinic at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. I had been discussing some anxiety about my new career path and the POGO School and Work Transitions Program was recommended to me.
Barb helped me conclude that it was okay for me to have this newfound aspiration, and she was instrumental in helping me win a $5000 scholarship for childhood cancer survivors to pursue it.”
Then an unfortunate and unexpected situation happened during Dirk’s clinical practicum.
“I felt the trauma of treatment come back to haunt me. I was reserved and had trouble interacting with patients and other therapists. The school requested I take a break until January 2020 with the stipulation that I get support to help me manage.
Barb attended meetings with me at the university and facilitated letters to help in the adjudication process. She acted as a sounding board throughout. She also arranged for me to defer my scholarship until my return to classes.
When I returned to school, things were going well until my last year, during my placement. It was only then, doing the job, that I realized what it was truly like and I found it wasn’t right for me. There was too much loud talking, shouting out numbers and instructions, and working at a fast pace while making sure everything was accurate; this just didn’t suit me after my cancer diagnosis. As someone who likes to take his time, not make quick decisions that can literally harm patients if I get the decision wrong, I just could not see myself doing this full time until I retired.”
Dirk’s career path to radiation therapy changed around the same time that the pandemic turned everyone’s world upside down. He found new pursuits; one of them was drawing on a latent interest in technology. Through online instructional videos, he began learning about web development and programming his own web applications.
“I didn’t pursue this before because I always felt pressured to go into healthcare—maybe because of my desire to give something back based on my diagnosis and survival. Then, I was on a virtual appointment with a nurse practitioner in my POGO AfterCare Clinic. I told her about my feelings related to the change in my career path and she referred me to the Canadian Cancer Society’s (CCS) Pediatric Family Counselling Program at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.”
In keeping with POGO’s Childhood Cancer Care Plan goals to address the growing need for psychosocial services, POGO facilitated bringing the CCS pilot program to a POGO AfterCare Clinic to help survivors manage the impact of cancer on themselves or their family. The program complements the excellent personal care survivors receive in the POGO AfterCare Program by providing individual, private and confidential counselling to address ongoing needs or challenges. The program follows a brief therapy model, which is time-limited and focuses on the client’s presenting symptoms and current life circumstances. It emphasizes the strengths and resources of the client.
Through his CCS counsellor and Barb’s ongoing support, Dirk has come to realize some important things about moving on from radiation therapy.
“Before counselling I felt scared about leaving the comfort zone of a career I was pursuing for three years of my life. I feel more confident now. I know nothing in life is easy. I have to work to get to where I want to be in the tech field. I also now see that healthcare is not the only way to help other cancer survivors; maybe there’s a way to help through this growing field of tech. Thanks to the resources of my CCS counsellor and my POGO Counsellor, I feel like I can be successful. I know I’m on a good path.”
Dirk has added the title of Presenter in the POGO Survivor to Survivor (S2S) Network to his list of achievements. In 2022, he will be leading presentations for other childhood cancer survivors on self-advocacy, something he has learned through trial and error over the years. Dirk sees his S2S presentations as another way he can give back to others and share some of his knowledge and life experiences after treatment so it can help others in a similar situation.