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Courtney Turnbull

Survivor Profile

Courtney Turnbull

Age: 31

City: Calgary, AB

What was/is your diagnosis? Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

What year was it? 2019 

What was your age at the time? 29

What is a top item on your life to do list? Travel and grow my family with golden retrievers.

What are your hobbies? Running, photography, yoga, and hiking

Your diagnosis:

What was your life like before your diagnosis?

Before diagnosis life was pretty busy juggling a new home, marriage, and a full time job. I was getting ready to turn “the big 30” with lots of plans and goals for my life moving forward.

How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?  

I found a lump in my neck while driving home from my parents’ house after Christmas. At first I wasn’t taken very seriously because my sister is a childhood Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor and the chances of female same sex siblings both getting it is very rare. Thankfully the radiologist that did the ultrasound requested the biopsy because I was feeling fine and had not been sick recently.

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?

My first thought when I was diagnosed was disbelief and I even asked my doctor if they were sure. I then fell into the “why me?” stage.

In which hospital(s) are/were you treated?

Tom Baker

What did your treatment consist of?  

My treatment was ABVD Chemo. I had five cycles which is 12 infusions. They were all done as an outpatient and took about two to three hours to complete.

I had a large collection of anti-nausea meds to take the morning of the infusions as well as for the first few days after each one. I felt great after the first few infusions like nothing happened, but chemo compounds and I felt more and more effects during each cycle, so the nausea stuck around longer each time. I was tired all the time and stairs were like a workout.

My hair started falling out after the first few treatments. I decided to shave it off just because having hair constantly falling out is messy and gets everywhere.

I tried my best to stay positive all through treatment, and when I felt good, I kept busy by going shopping, doing home projects, and renos.

What is your current medical status?

I am two and a half years into remission.

Life after cancer:

How is life different for you now post diagnosis

Life is different post diagnosis and treatment in many ways. One thing I learned quickly after treatment is you can’t just jump back into your old life; you’re not that same person anymore.

I have had to learn to be gentle on myself while trying to lose the weight gained during treatment. I have also had to learn to accept that my body has physically changed over this process.

I have learned to only do things that make me happy in life and bring joy and meaning and that life goals and dreams can change and that’s ok.

What is/was the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult?

I think the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult is how much your life changes quickly and how greedy and ruthless cancer is. My husband and I wanted to start a family and were physically and financially preparing for this big life goal. Cancer, of course, sidetracked this and we quickly realized it was no longer something that could fit into our life for reasons outside of our control.

What really helped/helps you to keep going while you were/are sick?

One thing that kept me going during treatment was my family.

What kept you/keeps you busy during treatment?

I stayed busy with home renos, shopping, walks, and lots of TV and movies.

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?

I became a member of YACC when I saw an old flyer hanging in the elevator at the hospital while I was going through treatment, I attended my first inperson event with Localife Calgary in early 2020. Then, early in 2021, I became a Localife Calgary leader, and in October 2021, I became a YACCtavist.

The issues:

Did/Do you feel isolated from your peers since your diagnosis? If so, how did/does that affect you?

I felt some isolation from peers during treatment because people were often busy living their lives, working, etc., and didn’t always have time to visit or chat. I tried not to let this affect me by trying to keep busy.

Did anyone talk to you about fertility options before treatment? If so, how did that affect your decisions? If not, what do you wish you had known?

My doctor at Tom Baker was amazing and made sure I had all the info to make the best decision for me. I was able to see a fertility specialist before any treatment was started, but like most young adults caught out of the blue with cancer, we didn’t have the funds available to do anything fertility-wise and I just started treatment.

Has your cancer diagnosis affected any of the relationships in your life? If so, how, and how are you managing them?  

I lost a few friends when I was first diagnosed; I think sometimes people don’t know what to say or do, so they just keep their distance from you. I also had some lost friendships reconnected during diagnosis. After treatment and my life went back to “normal” I found some relationships just didn’t fit into the life I wanted anymore so I let a few go.

How has your cancer experience affected your body image, and your relationship to your body?

Body image has been the worst post-treatment struggle for me. Before cancer, I had lost a significant amount of weight and was almost at my goal after a few years of very hard work. During the treatment process, I unfortunately gained a bunch of the weight back. I always told myself don’t worry get better and then you will lose the weight. My body has physically changed and I struggle with aches, pains, and muscle loss, and regardless of how hard I try, the weight loss this time around is slow and impossible at times. I have had to learn to be kind to myself and that this is a process.

What are some lifestyle changes you’ve made since your diagnosis?

I still try and eat healthy most of the time, but still enjoy the good stuff in moderation. I try and stay active and work with physio to get the lost muscle strength back so I can get back to running. I try to keep stress low and just enjoy life.

Resources and recommendations:

What would you add to a treatment-day playlist?

I love a variety of music depending on the day and how I’m feeling, but sitting with my earbuds in, singling along to some Lady Gaga or Imagine Dragons always makes my day better.

Which books/movies/podcasts/TV shows/etc. would you recommend? Between Two Kindoms by Suleika Jaquad, YOU on Netflix, Clickbait, Lucifer, Just Go With It, Animal Kingdom.

Have you participated in any other retreats, conferences, programs, or support groups you’d like your cancer peers to know about?  

I was part of the Light the Night walk with the Leukemia and Lymphoma society. I took in YACC’s Primetown this year.

Stay in touch:

What would you like to say to other young adults dealing with cancer who are reading this profile?

I would tell others we all understand how scary and lonely cancer can be, but I’m so happy you found YACC. We have a great group of people and all kinds of fun activities to keep you busy.

Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges? If so please let us know how you can be contacted.

I would love to help anyone wanting to reach out to me.

[Email [email protected] and we will forward a message to Courtney!]

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