Anna was diagnosed with cancer in October 2020, at a stage where it had reached her lymph nodes, lungs, liver, and bones. She was treated by the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. Her cancer was identified as medullary thyroid cancer, which was treated with targeted therapies. Anna understood that cancer would be with her for life. In so many ways she learned how to make the best of that for herself and others. She passed away on January 6, 2022. The day of her diagnosis, Anna saw a Facebook post by a friend of a friend about Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC). She connected with the person who made that post, and by January was participating in YACC online. This included conferences, outdoor meetups, craft nights, lots of online yoga — and the purple hoodie. Anna had a talent for finding the best way of living anywhere. As the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, she moved to Edmonton to work with Parks Canada at Elk Island National Park for the summer and start a Master’s program in human geography at the University of Alberta in the fall. She had looked for a long time for an academic program that matched her interests as closely as this one. In COVID-stricken Edmonton, she found hikes, cycling paths through the ravines, trail runs, outdoor exercise classes, patios, a running group, sources of great coffee, and parks for outdoor visits.
A triathlete, biathlete, marathon runner, and trained yoga teacher, Anna was the most healthy, fit person most of us knew. She had hiked, camped, canoed, and skied enthusiastically since high school. She could be counted on to whip up healthy sustainable meals under the most challenging circumstances. Anna approached this as a seeker of fun, not as a perfectionist. She would often be there with brownies or Nanaimo bars — gluten free if necessary. Working at a history museum in Calgary (Heritage Park) in 2015, she headed out with colleagues for the appropriate cocktail: an Old Fashioned.
Once she became a patient at the Cross Cancer Institute, Anna established warm connections with her nurses and medical team. She knew she also needed other connections both for fun and for serious conversation. She didn’t hesitate to forge those social connections through YACC. As Anna and her medical team understood her cancer a little better, she began to address the challenge of living with chronic cancer. She had a rare cancer which is currently the subject of research and new treatments, and was preparing to participate in a study through UBC on young adults living with chronic cancer. She was one of the first in Canada to be treated with a promising drug. A positive response to that drug permitted activities and plans through the summer and fall.
As treatments improve, chronic cancer is becoming more common; Anna wanted to enhance the understanding of chronic cancer, and the ability to manage living in that space.
Anna’s cancer journey was much shorter than any of us expected or desired. The cancer took an unusual course in Anna, and we hope that future medical research will discover and defeat the ways cancer overtook her oncology team so quickly. However, she made her approach clear. She appreciated having an understanding community for young adults with cancer. As treatments improve, chronic cancer is becoming more common. Anna wanted to enhance the understanding of chronic cancer, and the ability to manage living in that space.
Thank you for making a donation in Anna’s honour to an organization that brought the gift of connection when she needed it most.