Adapted from Jacob’s Speech at the 2023 POGO PJ Party
Before cancer, I was a very active high school student: I played the guitar, saxophone, piano and bass and I was involved with the Burlington Teen Tour Band. I also stage-managed my school’s theatre program and worked at Cineplex Theatres part-time.
Everything changed the moment I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (the same cancer as Terry Fox’s) in December 2018 at the age of 15. Immediately, I started to think about all the things I had planned but would have to miss due to treatments. It was a hard reality to face.
Over the next few months, I went through chemotherapy to shrink the tumour in my pelvis. Thankfully, I was able to take a break from treatment to go to France to perform with the Burlington Teen Tour Band. I was thrilled to spend time with my friends and not feel like the “sick guy.” It was one of the highlights of my cancer journey before what would eventually become the darkest time.
Shortly after coming back to Canada, I had surgery to remove the tumour. I was hopeful that the life I knew before my cancer diagnosis would be something I could get back to within a short period. I wasn’t at all prepared for what was to come post-surgery.
I stayed at the hospital for three more months to undergo additional chemotherapy. My experience was nothing short of a nightmare. I couldn’t sit up or move properly. I had blood clots, infections and blood transfusions. Every day I spent in a hospital room took a toll on my mental health. All I wanted was to be cleared to go home and to continue my treatment as an outpatient, but it got to a point where the end of treatment wasn’t even on my radar anymore.
Finally, after months of treatment, I was discharged from the hospital in August 2019. Though it was difficult for me to navigate my environment without my parents’ assistance, I was still happy to be back in the comfort of my home. It made all the difference for my mental health and gave me the space to adjust to a “new normal.”
With the support of my family, friends and incredible organizations like POGO, I went on to accomplish some amazing goals: I returned to school virtually and earned enough credits to graduate with my class; I went from using a wheelchair to crutches and started physical rehabilitation and; I started my Bachelor of Arts program in Popular Music Studies at the University of Western Ontario, where I joined the school’s marching band. I have dreams of becoming a professional music producer, and I’m excited to see where my learning takes me.
Like many childhood cancer survivors, my disease and its treatment have left a mark that has affected my cognitive function, ability to learn and retain math, and overall mobility. Only time will tell if these complications will ever improve, but I am content with where I am at in my journey.
I am grateful for the many kind and compassionate individuals at POGO who played, and will continue to play, a significant role in my transition from a childhood cancer patient to a survivor. This includes the POGO Transitions Counsellors who have helped me ensure that I’m set up for success in university, and the POGO AfterCare nurses who continue to provide me with post-treatment support at my Clinic.
It is an honour to have been given this opportunity to speak on behalf of the childhood cancer community. Though this is the first time I am sharing my story publicly, I hope that it will transcend the limits of this space and inspire children, youth, fellow survivors, and their families in some way.
By Jacob McKenzie