It was fall of 2018 when I began to experience significant back pain. I attributed the pain to being a longtime runner and while I was not deeply worried, I still accessed medical care. My doctor agreed that running might have been the culprit and suspected I might have dislocated a spinal joint.
I was prescribed ibuprofen and referred to a chiropractor for treatment.
But over the next two years, the prescribed interventions did not work and the pain continued to get worse.
By the time I gave birth to my son Bennett on September 26, 2020, the back pain had become excruciating and began to impact my mobility. With a new baby to care for, it was not until I began to lose feeling in the lower half of my body that I came to appreciate how much physical distress I was experiencing.
By October 30, 2020, I couldn’t walk without help. I left my son's four week medical check up and went directly to the emergency department of the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital.
It was the height of COVID-19, so I was alone in the ER when I received an email with a medical test result indicating that a tumour was compressing my spinal cord. The level of devastation that I felt in that moment was unparalleled. My doctor soon confirmed that the tumour was so large that it had broken my spine.
On November 1, I went through a 10-hour surgery to remove part of the tumour constricting my spinal cord. A biopsy showed I had an aggressive form of stage 4, large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Nothing prepares you for hearing those words. I couldn’t understand how a healthy 39-year-old could be this sick without knowing. How could they have conducted all of those tests through my pregnancy and not have understood that something was wrong? How could I be a mother to my four-week-old baby and fight stage 4 cancer? How long would I get to be his mother? Would I be alive long enough for him to remember who I was? I was devastated.
For the next six months, I went through treatment for the disease. The treatment included two different regimens of chemotherapy (R-CHOP and Methotrexate). Since chemo ended in the spring of 2021, all indications have shown that I am in the remission stage of the disease. While the road ahead may continue to present challenges, having a community of blood cancer supporters will carry me and others fighting this disease through any difficulties that lie ahead.
I’m grateful to be a 2023 Honoured Hero for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society of Canada because it gives me the chance to encourage people, especially new mothers, to self-advocate if they notice early signs of blood cancer. I spent two years in terrible pain, knowing it was not normal but not wanting to challenge the health care system to find an answer. That hesitancy almost cost me my life and my child his mother. I made a promise to myself that I will watch my son graduate from high school and I am asking for your support in reaching that goal by helping to end blood cancer.