A little bit about you:
Name: Mitchell Ciulla
City: Oshawa, ON
What was/is your diagnosis? Acute lymphoblastic leukemia
What year was it? What was your age at the time? Diagnosis was November 24, 2017 and I was 19 at the time.
What is something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
Something I’m proud of is what I have overcome throughout my journey of fighting this disease. There were times when stuff was going on and the doctors were thinking that I may not pull through, but I did, and I am feeling better than ever! I’m also proud that I can work basically full time while still receiving chemotherapy. That’s the biggest “F you” to cancer I can think of!
What is a top item on your life to do list?
I want to be able to connect with people my age who are currently going through what I’m going through/already been through. Or even those that are just starting their journey. I want to be able to connect with them and help them see the light at the end of the tunnel and that they can beat this awful disease.
I also want to do bungee jumping and sky diving.
What are your hobbies?
My hobbies include hanging out with friends whenever I can. I also enjoy watching movies and some tv series.
What was your life like before your diagnosis?
My life before diagnosis was completely normal. I was a normal teenager/young adult in my third semester of college. I was looking towards my future and eventually starting a family. I had just bought my first car the summer prior to my diagnosis and I was really enjoying life. I would always be hanging out with friends whenever I could and working as a manager at McDonald’s. I was completely healthy before diagnosis with no medical issues at all. Never had to spend any time in hospital. I was a very physically fit and active person. I went for runs a couple times a week and hit the gym as well.
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
I fount out that I was sick when I went to my local urgent care for concussion-related symptoms. They told me I should go to my local ER for more testing. They eventually ran blood work, then more extensive blood work. Within 36 hours I had received multiple units of blood in my local hospital and was transferred to Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. All of this from being shot at while paintballing — it saved my life.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
My first thoughts at diagnosis were “why me? What had I done to deserve this? Why at this point in my life?” But then I realized that life decided to throw me this curve ball and that I was going to defeat it no matter what it took, with support from family and friends.
In which hospital(s) are/were you treated?
I have only been treated at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Ontario.
What did your treatment consist of?
My treatment was strictly chemotherapy. I was inpatient for three and a half weeks for my initial diagnosis and outpatient for the rest of it.
None of this has been a cake walk by any means. Within a week of being discharged from hospital, I found myself back in the ER with kidney stones. Then in February 2018, I was admitted for unknown causes and ended up being paralyzed for a period of time — but I walked out of the hospital by the end of it. I was readmitted for a week in July 2018 for a blood infection. Then in September 2018, I was admitted to my local hospital before being transferred to my cancer hospital where I would spend three months inpatient with severe necrotizing pancreatitis. I spent three months inpatient until I moved to a rehab hospital to get all my motor skills back up and to walk without a walker as well. Again, I walked out of hospital on my own when I was discharged from rehab.
The initial chemo in the beginning stages was not pleasant. I ended up having my hair fall out. That was going to happen on my terms, so I decided to shave it all off. The side effects of the chemo and the other drugs were not fun as well. Lots of nausea, insomnia, and weird pains in general. There was a point in one of my inpatient stays where I would think I would rather not be here anymore than go through this, but I stayed in best spirits and overcame everything that has been thrown at me.
What is your current medical status?
My current medical status is NED (no evidence of disease) and I’m currently in remission.
Life after cancer:
How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
Life is completely different than what it was prior to diagnosis. I am no longer able to go for runs and workout at the gym as of right now because of all the damage the chemo has done to my bones. Once I’m done all my treatments, I plan on rehabbing as fast as I can to regain as much strength as I can.
I am no longer able to pursue the career I was planning for prior to diagnosis.
I have not changed emotionally; I always keep my spirits as high as they can be. It is so important as the right mentality really does help you get through it.
My social circle has changed a lot. I used to think that having a lot of friends would make me happy, but its not how many friends you have but the quality of friendship that you have with the few you may have. I have lost friends along the way, but the way I see it is that them not being in my life anymore is just a positive thing. I have also gained new friends and I am so thankful for them.
What is/was the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult?
The hardest part of having cancer as a young adult is that most of the time it comes out of nowhere. You could have your whole life planned out, but them — boom — you’re hit with a cancer diagnosis and your whole life and life plans are either on hold or thrown out the window. Learning how to adapt to this change is key. Another hard part is finding the courage and willpower to reach out to people or a group where there are others who know what you’re going through. I was offered all types of people and groups — including YACC — when I was first diagnosed, and I didn’t take advantage of any of it. I really wish I had used all the avenues I was offered.
What really helped/helps you to keep going while you were/are sick?
Knowing that it will be over soon really helped me push through everything. Also knowing that I had family and friends that I could rely on helped as well. Being able to work also helps pass the time as well.
What kept you/keeps you busy during treatment?
I play some video games on the days where I feel crappy due to some of the side effects. I try to go out with friends whenever I can. That helps me stay grounded because when I hang with them, they see me as a regular person and not someone with cancer. I mean, they still ask me how I’m doing and stuff, but they know not to be overbearing when asking about stuff unless I forthcoming with it. I also work as much as I can. I work 40 hours a week on my good weeks and about 20 on my not so good weeks.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada? How did it happen?
I first found out about YACC through a social worker at my treatment centre when I was first inpatient right after diagnosis. Unfortunately, I never reached out to them and didn’t take advantage of them. I then came across them on Facebook and reached out through there. I am glad I did!
Stay in touch:
What would you like to say to other young adults dealing with cancer who are reading this profile?
I would like to say that there truly is a light at the end of the tunnel. I know it may not seem like it at the very beginning of your journey, but there is. It is so important to keep a positive attitude throughout your whole journey, it really does make an impact on your outlook on the whole situation.
Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges? If so please let us know how you can be contacted.
Yes, I would love to help others facing cancer challenges.
If you would like to get in touch with Mitchell, email [email protected] and we’ll forward your message!