“When you’re just starting your life, cancer forces you to face the end of your life and that impacts the rest of your life.”
– My late buddy Steve Webster, YACCer
Twenty-five years ago today, I was diagnosed with cancer.
I was a regular 22 year-old kid, just out of business school and chasing his dreams, pushing my limits anywhere I could find them, and having a great time doing it.
On November 9, 1998, six months after grad, I learned I had acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Within a month I closed my business, moved back home, and my social circle was restricted to match my poor immunity.
During my first day pass before even starting chemo, my dad dropped me at my apartment because I’m deeply practical and wanted my pillow, sweats, and music to make my hospital room more comfortable.
“We will do whatever we need to do to get through this.”
My dad’s words meant a lot that fall afternoon. In a surprising way, they mean more now. We had no idea what was ahead but I knew he and my entire family had my back no matter what. And damn, that commitment was tested, many, many times.
The five-year survival for AML back then was 14 per cent, but more than 50 per cent of patients getting AML were over 65. “Five years” is a milestone tied to “remission” for a lot of cancer patients. I had no idea what to expect from my treatment, or life afterward.
For Dad, “whatever we need to do” included donating bone marrow for a transplant, which combined with chemo and radiation gave me a 70 per cent chance of getting to that five-year mark. I got just over two before I relapsed.
The stats can be demoralizing, but they can also give you fuel
There were incredible gifts accompanying my cancer rollercoaster ride, a deeper awareness of self and appreciation for everything were among them. I always wanted to know my odds, it helped with my mindset and it didn’t take long before I was thinking, “Five-year survival?! I’m 22, what’s 50-year survival!?”
Today marks the halfway point of figuring that out, and it’s a milestone I’ve been nurturing consciously all year. It happens to coincide with the launch of Young Adult Cancer Canada’s (YACC) next great research initiative, the Recover Study.
The 22-year-old me craved to see data highlighting the challenges and triumphs in the lives of young adults with cancer over time. The 47-year-old me is grateful to be here and help bring it to life. We are building a cohort of 2,000 young adults that we will follow to better understand their life and cancer for the long road (think 50 years).
Part of my commitment to YACCers today is raising $25,000 to help study life and cancer in young adults for the long road.
- A $25 gift can help cover honorariums for young adults who participate.
- A $250 gift can help build new partnerships with community organizations and health care professionals who will support recruitment and benefit from study findings.
- A $2,500 gift will keep our study leadership team of young adults connected and leading our effort during and after recruitment.
Most of the last 25 years have been immersed in a profound sense of gratitude. For being here after spending a month in ICU on life support after that first transplant with less than a two per cent chance of coming out, for beating the impossible odds of having kids (3!) without fertility preservation (let’s just say Karen and I are grateful for her fast eggs!), for ALL of those who played big and little roles in helping me get here, and for all of those who have helped YACC still be here, too.
Thank you for your continued support of YACC and for being a part of my 25-year run as a cancer survivor.
With deep gratitude for you, here’s to all of us living and loving life.
Live life. Love life.
Photo by Karine Chalifour