A little bit about you:
Name: Jason Abramovitch
City: South Mountain, ON
What was/is your diagnosis? Stage 3 colon cancer
What year was it? What was your age at the time? 2020 at age 36
What is something you’ve done that you’re really proud of? Receiving a promotion to Captain within my Fire Service.
What is a top item on your life to do list? Go on an African safari, Visit Base Camp of Mt. Everest.
What are your hobbies? Yoga, meditation, horses, kayaking, spending time with family, reading, and bonfires.
What was your life like before your diagnosis?
Prior to diagnosis I was always very healthy and active, and for the most part, always involved in activities to help others such as volunteering with Victim Services, teaching Yoga to the public (but specifically first responders and front-line workers to build resilience to avoid/ recover from mental health injuries), and of course, always looking out for those close to me!
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
Like many of us younger folks, I had very minor symptoms, but as I used Dr. Google (not recommended) my intuition was telling me something wasn’t right. After a few months, I decided to go see my family doctor. She was extremely supportive was not overly concerned as I was “young,” but offered to book me in for a colonoscopy which I accepted.
The procedure was still two months away as it was not urgent, however in late November 2020, my symptoms increased and I decided to go to the ER on a Sunday evening to get checked. The ER doc was pretty convinced it was due to inflammation in my colon and ordered a CT to confirm. The next morning, I had my CT and waited in ER waiting room for my results. In all honesty, I was not nervous or scared as the doc seemed confident it would be a fix with some meds and change of diet, etc. My name got called and as soon as I saw the doc I knew something was up.
He escorted me to a private little room with my test results. He let me know they saw a mass in my sigmoid colon and some lymph nodes that were considered possibly malignant. Later that day I had an emergency endoscopy to do biopsies and several more scans.
The next week waiting for the biopsy results were the most agonizing. Even though I knew deep down it was cancer, waiting for that phone call was the worst! Friday afternoon my doc called with the news I was so fearful of that it was in fact cancerous.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
At first I was completely shocked, angry, scared, furious, confused, and most of all, I thought, “How did this happen?” “Why me?”
In which hospital were you treated?
I have been under the amazing care of the docs and nurses at the Ottawa Hospitals Cancer Center.
What did your treatment consist of?
In February 2021, I underwent a successful major abdominal surgery to remove part of my sigmoid colon. After eight weeks of recovery, I started chemotherapy biweekly for a 12 cycle protocol over six months.
I have both physical and emotional side effects. Prior to my diagnosis, I had anxiety and PTSD so I had become pretty in tune and familiar with the effects of stress on the body and mind. Once diagnosed, some old more intense symptoms such as panic, fear, tension, and confusion were most prominent along with physical symptoms like headaches, muscle tension, and skin rashes.
Post-surgery was both physically and emotionally challenging for me! I literally was fighting a fire three days pre-surgery at work, and post-surgery, I was hardly mobile and needed all kinds of help for simple daily tasks. This was a huge confidence and self-esteem blow for me as I have always been the “helper” and now needing to accept help was really tough.
Mentally, as the days passed during recovery, I slowly became frustrated with my fatigue and lower strength and endurance and had to quickly adjust my expectations and be realistic of my current temporary limitations.
What is your current medical status?
I am currently on cycle 2 of chemotherapy and side effects have mainly been fatigue, cold sensitivity, and neuropathy.
Life after cancer
How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
Physically, I have had to readjust goals and expectations depending on how chemo is affecting me, as well as the all-around physical stress of going through a journey like this.
Emotionally, I have had a new outlook on life and where my priorities, time, and efforts are spent.
My diagnosis and treatment have not really affected my social life due to COVID, but I have been keeping my regular communications to select family, friends, and coworkers.
Spirituality has been a part of my life for some time now, and my cancer experience has increased it dramatically. I have always believed that there was more out there than we see, and I can honestly say I have experienced some incredible things spiritually since my diagnosis!
What is/was the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult?
By far, the toughest part for me has been going to the cancer centre for appointments and treatments and being the only young person in the room surrounded by older folks who stare at you like you do not belong. People’s reactions when I tell them about my diagnosis are tough as well. The usual response of, “You’re so young and healthy; that makes no sense!” got old very quickly!
What really helped/helps you to keep going while you were/are sick?
I decided very shortly after my diagnosis that I would not let caner define me; it is only part of my story and not who I am. In addition, I made it a goal to help people going through this journey and provide support and motivation to help them keep going forward. Most importantly amazing family and friends support has been key! As well as support from YACC and Man Up to Cancer.
What kept you/keeps you busy during treatment?
Fortunately, my infusions only take two hours at the hospital, then I go home with a little pump for 46 hours for the rest. I spent most of my time chatting with the staff, reading, or walking around the ward.
How did you get connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?
I learned about YACC from my cancer coach at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. I joined right away and now attend chats weekly and connect with many YACCers regularly.
Did/Do you feel isolated from your peers since your diagnosis? If so, how did/does that affect you?
COVID has made this a little bit easier, but it is tough not being to have more visitors in person for support. Hopefully, the situation will allow for this as the weather gets nicer!
Did anyone talk to you about fertility options before treatment?
My oncologist asked me about fertility from my first appointment than several times after before beginning chemo. My wife and I had plans to adopt prior to my diagnosis so this is not an issue or me.
Has your cancer diagnosis affected any of the relationships in your life? If so, how, and how are you managing them?
My diagnosis has made a lot of my relationships stronger as I slowly start to feel comfortable accepting help as this is something I have always struggled with being in a professional helping role. At times it is tough not wanting to be the “ill” person, but my own perspective and mindset have helped me navigate that.
I have found the best way to navigate relationships is being honest about how I am doing and knowing I do not always have to have a strong front on when I am having a more difficult day, as well as keeping those close to me up to date on my medical status. This has helped avoid a lot of people asking questions, as they already know the info.
How has your cancer experience affected your body image, and your relationship to your body?
My body image was affected after surgery when I had scars and staples and weight loss. It was difficult to see myself like that, but also knew it needed to be done to get the cancer out and I would eventually heal.
I have also been a little bit self-conscious of my PICC line and having people stare or ask what its for. Luckily this has mainly been a mental hurdle for me as with COVID I really don’t see many folks who don’t know me.
What are some lifestyle changes you’ve made since your diagnosis?
I have always had a healthy lifestyle, but since my diagnosis, I have changed my diet to be as organic as possible in addition to increasing my water intake.
Resources and recommendations:
What would you add to a treatment-day playlist?
I am a big fan of Green Day, Blink-182, Billy Talent, Rage against the Machine, and Metallica for my treatment day music. It gets me in a mindset to go into treatment strong and upbeat as well as giving a big “F*@# You” to cancer!
Which books/movies/podcasts/TV shows/etc. would you recommend?
Books: Untethered Soul, Tuesdays With Morry, Radical Acceptance, A Call from Heaven.
TV shows: Scrubs, Superstore, Vikings, Sons of Anarchy, Downton Abbey, Weeds, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black, Wentworth.
Have you participated in any other retreats, conferences, programs, or support groups you’d like your cancer peers to know about?
I have been participating in multiple weekly YACC Web: Chats as well as the Between Two Kingdoms book club, and they have had such a positive impact on my journey! The amazing people and connection with others going through similar experiences has filled a huge void that would have otherwise been empty.
Are there any other resources you’d like to recommend?
Man Up to Cancer and ColonTown are other great communities I have found. Ottawa Integrative Cancer Center is amazing; they have Naturopaths, Acupuncturists, Massage, Reflexology etc. The best part is they work collaboratively with the docs at the Ottawa Cancer Center.
Stay in touch:
What would you like to say to other young adults dealing with cancer who are reading this profile?
I would like others to know that they are not alone. Their experiences, feelings, fears, and all the other struggles that come along with cancer are valid. Although there is unfortunately not much out there for young adults dealing with cancer, supports and organizations such a YACC do exist. Please take advantage and join these communities as you will find much comfort and relief by meeting people who you do not need to “explain things to” and who “get it.” That is a game changer!
Most importantly never give up, one step at a time, no matter how small, keep moving forward!
Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges?
Yes, I am very interested in helping others and would be happy to contacted.
[Please send a note to [email protected] and we’ll forward it to Jason!]