My name is Michael Hendricks. I am 52 years old and a blood cancer survivor. I am grateful for everything I’ve experienced over the past eighteen months and I am very hopeful for everything that is yet to come. While my diagnosis impacted me in ways I never thought possible, I would not change anything about my journey. The work the LLSC does and the services the LLSC provides have been very important in getting me to this moment.
I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) on August 22, 2021. This came as a complete shock. Leading up to this point, I had cycled nearly 5000 km over the year and was in good health. Barely ten days earlier, on a family trip to Alberta, I had cycled from Banff to Lake Louise and back. Shortly after returning home to Langley, I went to my local emergency room with excruciating back pain. I thought I had slipped a disc, was going to get medication, an x-ray, and follow-up treatments. I was utterly unprepared for the ER doctor telling me I had AML and was being rushed to Vancouver General Hospital, with the decision being made whether to airlift me or send me by ambulance. I was clearly in bad shape.
Upon admission to the Leukemia Bone Marrow Transplant Program at VGH, I was given more tests. I now had kidney failure and had suffered several micro strokes. This only added to the urgency to begin treatment, and within a few hours I was on induction chemotherapy and starting a journey I never expected. In the chaos of these first few days (and in everything that happened over the next 6 months), I cannot say enough about the doctors, nurses and everyone connected to the Leukemia BMT Program. My medical team was excellent in answering questions, keeping me informed of my progress, letting me know how treatment would unfold, and listening to me and addressing my fears. Everything happened so quickly and unexpectedly that it took me a long time to fully process it all.
During my induction round and three subsequent rounds of consolidation chemotherapy, I experienced the usual side effects – hair loss, weight loss, frequent blood transfusions, a drug reaction, fatigue, brain fog – but I was fortunate to not experience more severe side effects. What became very important and helpful to me early on was setting goals for myself. These goals were always around movement. I did not want to stay in bed. I was used to cycling and being outdoors, so I set small goals – walk to the washroom, walk to the nurse’s station, walk one lap around the unit, and walk more laps more often every day. This kept me motivated and active.
When I was discharged from VHG twenty-three days later, the feeling of fresh air and light rain on my face was more amazing than I ever imagined. I was weak and had lost weight, but the first thing I did was go to Kitsilano Beach for a walk, barely managing 250 meters before I was exhausted. But this gave me a new goal – to walk every day and build back my strength. And so I walked, slowly at first, but quicker as the months wore on, even when my blood counts were low and I needed regular transfusions. The sea air of Steveston, where I lived during my outpatient treatment, was so therapeutic. My doctors were confident I would enter remission, and on January 12, 2022, I rang the brass bell.
I moved back home to Langley where I could be with my kids every day. There were also new goals to set. I wanted to start cycling again. I had my first ride on February 1, 2022. It was only a short ride, but it was a great ride. I had come so far in only six months, and so many people supported me along the way. My two kids, who managed to continue their university studies, my parents, my larger family, and a whole host of friends and strangers - all motivated me to keep getting stronger. And for the rest of 2022, I managed to cycle nearly 4000 km. I felt physically strong, and people like Max Parrot, who overcame his cancer to win a gold medal, are an inspiration to me and show what is possible despite a blood cancer diagnosis.
Upon being diagnosed with AML, I was not sure if I’d work again, but I have since returned to my career as a high school administrator. My immune system has rebounded, and while I still battle some brain fog and mental fatigue, and while some days are exhausting, I am so glad to be healthy enough to be back at work and doing what I love. There are days I wish my recovery was quicker, but I am always grateful.
I would not wish what I experienced or wish the intense treatments I received on anyone, but I would not change a single thing for myself. All of this happened for a reason. I need to now give back what I can to those around me, especially those who are starting their own battle with a blood cancer. I am still in remission, and while there are no guarantees this will last, I try not to let those thoughts grind me down. It is important to be realistic, but being hopeful is even more important … far more important. This hope continues to fuel me and sustain me. I can spend time with my kids and watch them begin to achieve their dreams. I can hike and bike and be outdoors. I can set new goals for myself. Life is good.