By Maryam Kraishi
I was diagnosed with cancer when I was just four years old, but what is surprising to most people is that I still live with a tumour in my brain stem.
Removing the tumour has never been an option because of its location. That kind of surgery could cause severe side effects or even death.
Every few years, depending on the growth of the tumour, I undergo whatever suitable treatment is available. I also have a magnetic device with a hollow tube called a shunt running from my head to my stomach. The shunt helps to relieve the pressure on my brain by draining the fluid from the cysts surrounding the solid tumour and redirecting it to my stomach, where it can be reabsorbed
I have spent most of my life in and out of SickKids. This is all I have ever known…until recently.
In February, I completed a course of radiation at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. This was my first transition from the children’s hospital into adult care. The move felt like losing my second home and all the people I have gotten to know over the rst 14 years of treatment. People like my POGO Interlink Nurse Cory, who was my rock and my comfort person. She coordinated conversations with my peers at school, helped me access accommodations, introduced me to resources, and made navigating school, life and treatments possible for my younger self.
In the adult system, I don’t have a Cory or a team of professionals working together under one roof to support me. While I am lucky because I attend a POGO AfterCare Clinic where all my health information is housed, it is not a one-stop shop. I must go to different hospitals for all the necessary monitoring, including regular MRIs, X-rays, blood work and occasional CT scans.
As you can imagine, all of this has taken its toll on my mental health.
Seeing my family suffer because of my health issues was difficult. It was as though the weight of their stress was on my shoulders. By the time I reached my late teens, I was feeling like a burden. My whole life, I was taking, taking, taking, without the capacity to give.
Eventually, I sought counselling and was formally diagnosed with anxiety and depression. My counsellor taught me other ways to cope, and I can see that my life has value.
And when I started university, my POGO Interlink Nurse introduced me to another resource: my POGO Transitions Counsellor. She helped me navigate the university’s disability services to access the accommodations I need. She also introduced me to scholarships specific to survivors of childhood cancer and continues to help me balance my ongoing health issues while going to school. All of this has been integral to my academic success and mental health.
I know part of my life’s purpose is to do something that makes a difference in the lives of kids with cancer, and it starts here by raising awareness of the challenges children and survivors face so that we can help them overcome them.
The story above is an abridged version of a speech Maryam gave (virtually) from her hospital bed to an audience at a fundraising event benefitting POGO.
In this video, Maryam Kraishi describes her cancer journey and struggle with mental health issues as a result of living with a brain tumour.