It started when I was on a youth adventure trip in Hawaii. Three weeks in, I got sick on a 12-mile hike to our camping destination. When I was still sick a week later, the doctors in Toronto tested for infectious diseases and the mono virus. I also had a chest x-ray to test for pneumonia. That is when they discovered it: a mass in my esophagus right near my trachea.
There are all kinds of terrifying things about getting a childhood cancer diagnosis. I had never even spent time in a hospital before and I had to have surgery right away. Chemotherapy was the worst experience of my life. They put me on steroids which caused my face to get fat and I felt angry all of the time. And when they told me that I would have to meet with a fertility specialist, that definitely freaked me out.
But there are also the trials and tribulations that come with being 14 years old. I was worried about my social life and missing out on my high school experience. As a teenage girl, the thought of losing my hair was obviously a huge concern for me. In fact, I did lose all of my hair… and my eyebrows and eyelashes. My leg hair completely fell out. I felt naked and unprotected. My wig became, and still is, part of my ability to feel somewhat normal, but probably the biggest contributor to my emotional well-being was how supported I was by my friends and family.
Both my parents and my younger brother and sister were around me all of the time. My aunts, uncles and cousins visited often and they became “my posse.” And at least one of my friends from school was with me during every chemotherapy treatment. I never felt alone and I realize how lucky I was. Many families need to travel for treatment—to Toronto, Ottawa or one of the five big cities with a major children’s hospital. I saw lots of kids in treatment with just one parent sitting beside them while the other was far away. Young kids and teenagers separated from their friends and siblings. I’m sure it was a very isolating experience for them.
That is why I agreed to be the keynote speaker at the upcoming POGO gala to benefit kids with cancer. Funds raised will support POGO’s mission to ensure all children with cancer, and their families, have equal access to the best care—no matter where in Ontario they live.
I hope to meet you all at the event on May 7th, taking place at the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex in Toronto (you can find out more here: www.pogo.ca/gala). If you cannot make it, I hope you will consider showing your support by making a donation to my campaign to support families.
Thank you so much!