Name: Courtney Fleming
City: Peterborough, ON
What was/is your diagnosis? Grade II Ependymoma
What year was it? I was told I had a brain tumour in 2016; a surgery on February 6, 2017 removed approximately 95 per cent of it, and I was given my official diagnosis in March 2017.
What is something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
I would say I am most proud of being a mom to four beautiful children.
What is a top item on your life to do list?
To survive this and continue to be there for my husband and children.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy walking, swimming, sewing, volleyball, and travelling.
What was your life like before your diagnosis?
Very fast-paced environment with two school-aged children and two toddlers. I was/am a stay at home mom who had plans to return to work in January 2017 until I was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
I had suffered from many migraines over the previous two years, and after trying every medication to help alleviate symptoms, I started noticing a change in the migraine headache. It would be so severe at times with any form of strain such as bending over, going up/down stairs, running, lifting, etc. I also experienced vomiting at all times of the day. My family doctor was quick to get me in for an MRI and we thought it would be something to do with blood pressure. Unfortunately, we were wrong.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
When I was first diagnosed, my initial thought was “Am I going to live through this to see my children grow up and reach all of the milestones I did?”
In which hospital were you treated?
I was treated at Kingston General Hospital in Kingston, ON.
What did your treatment consist of?
My treatment was to go in for surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible. This took over seven hours and was a success with 95 per cent removed; the other 5 per cent was too risky as it had attached itself to my brain stem.
Side effects from surgery caused me to have double vision, weakness/constant tingling in my left arm and right leg, some difficulties swallowing, and occasional loss of balance (all of these still exist). Right after surgery, I was unable to walk unassisted and used a walker for the first couple of weeks. I gradually improved enough to slowly get around on my own.
What is your current medical status?
I am currently still living with the other five per cent of the tumour and I will be going for routine MRIs. My first one post op to be in July 2017, after then we will see if it has progressed, in which case I would then be referred to start radiation treatment as chemotherapy is not effective for this type of tumour.
Life after cancer:
How is life different for you now post diagnosis
My life has changed because I have had to get used to my “new normal” with regards to my vision and weakness. Emotionally, I have held up fairly well, but I do have my down days where I ask “Why did this have to happen?” As I am sure most of us do.
Socially, I have lost connection with a fair amount of people, but also gained quite a few new friends going through different struggles who can relate to how I am feeling.
What is the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult?
The toughest part is the unknown and anxiety waiting for the next scans results. Questioning how much time I will have with my loved ones.
What really helped you to keep going while you were sick?
My husband and children helped to keep me motivated to push through the struggles of my diagnosis and deficits.
What kept you busy during treatment?
To be honest, it was quite “boring” post-op in the sense that my vision prevented me from doing much of anything. I am a part of a virtual support group through the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada in which I looked forward to being able to listen in and talk to others during that time of recovery. I now have prisms to rid me of the double vision while I have them on.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?
One of the first things I did when I was diagnosed with a brain tumour was research support groups and organizations to talk to. I did a Google search and was fortunate to come across YACC and called in right away. The support I received was amazing and the online group really helps for just talking to others, venting frustrations, and, most importantly, knowing I’m not alone.
Did you feel isolated from your peers since your diagnosis? How did that affect you?
Yes, I did for quite some time as many people who were there before were no longer around. It really upset me at first, but then I realized I have many other people who are in my life and they have been a great support to me.
If you have children, how has your diagnosis affected the way you parent? Do you have any tips for other parents on talking to their children?
To be honest it was difficult trying to talk to my children, but I explained it the best way I could with the ages they are. I don’t think my diagnosis has changed my parenting abilities in a bad way. I appreciate the days more; I used to find little things frustrating at times, but now I say, “I am so thankful I am here to experience this.”
The best advice I can give is to be open and honest with your children, explain to them in terms they will understand, and let them know that you and many others are there to support them, too, if they need to talk. Always be open to talking with your children when they have questions about what is going on.
How has your cancer experience affected your body image and your relationship to your body?
It has changed my body in ways I don’t like. I have gained a significant amount of weight over the last several months and developed acne that I thought I had finally gotten rid of from my teen years. I think I am too hard on myself sometimes based on my appearance, and I need to accept the fact that I didn’t do anything purposely to have the diagnosis I do.
What are some lifestyle changes you’ve made since your diagnosis?
I have tried to live a healthier lifestyle by quitting smoking (one month before surgery as I was told recovery would be that much harder if I smoked). Since I have been able to, I try to get out and walk more than I did before to take in the beautiful country sites, fresh air, and improve my general health that much more.
Resources and recommendations:
What would you add to a treatment-day playlist?
I listen to a variety of genres so it would be hard to list a bunch. Mainly inspirational, uplifting music. Really depends on the mood I guess.
Have you participated in any other retreats, conferences, programs, or support groups you’d like your cancer peers to know about?
I am a part of the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s virtual support group, along with YACC’s groups online where I can talk to others who are going through similar walks in life.
Stay in touch:
What would you like to say to other young adults dealing with cancer who are reading this profile?
I would like you to know that no matter what you may be facing today, please know that you are never alone and YACC definitely has your back!
Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges? If so please let us know how you can be contacted.
I would definitely be interested in helping others in any way I possibly can.
If you would like to get in touch with Courtney, please send a message to [email protected] and we’ll pass it along.