Conquering cancer, one bout at a time

Shortly after arriving in Whitehorse, our son Kristian became ill. He was only five years old. He had a constant pain in his leg that made it difficult for him to walk.

Shortly after arriving in Whitehorse, our son Kristian became ill.

He was only five years old.

He had a constant pain in his leg that made it difficult for him to walk. We had no idea what to expect. We were referred to BC Children’s Hospital in October 1998 for further testing.

Kristian had a cancerous tumour growing in his lower spine.

He was diagnosed with Metastatic Ewings Sarcoma.

The tumour started in his spine and had spread to his lungs.

This is where our journey begins.

It was difficult news – cancer is not what I had wanted to hear.

We had just moved from Newfoundland in 1997, a year after I’d graduated from Memorial University. My husband Vic and I had chosen Yukon to be our new home.

Kristian had just started kindergarten and we were thousands of miles from our families.

Hearing his diagnosis was one of the scariest moments in our lives.

I remember phoning Vic at work and telling him the news. Not knowing what to expect and the constant waiting was terrible. Needless to say, Kristian received excellent treatment from the medical team in Vancouver and in Whitehorse.

He is a now a teenager who is strong and healthy.

I never thought I would need to remember or use any of the cancer information again.

I thought I would be able to put that nightmare behind me.

How could I have known that three years later I would be paddling as a breast cancer survivor myself?

Two years after Kristian was diagnosed I found a lump in my right breast.

It was May 2000.

At first I thought it would go away.

It didn’t.

I remember being ill, having flu like symptoms and having to go to Vancouver for Kristian’s checkup.

I made an appointment with my doctor several days before flying out with him.

I told my doctor I couldn’t miss my son’s appointments in Vancouver and I needed something to make me feel better.

I also remember telling my doctor I had found a lump, but not to worry, I will deal with it when I get back.

My doctor said, “No!”

And then everything happened so fast there was no time to think.

While in Vancouver, Kristian was at one end of the hospital for his checkup and I was at the other end getting a needle biopsy.

The results from the needle biopsy were inconclusive, so I had to have the lump removed at the Whitehorse General.

I thought it would be another waiting game, but the results came back quickly.

Before I could take a deep breath, I had a mastectomy.

All the knowledge I had gained from Kristian’s treatments soon flooded my brain. The different types of chemo drugs, their side effects, the blood work, the anti nausea medication … the list goes on.

Then it was off to Vancouver again, by myself, for my first chemo treatment.

Here we go again.

I received six months of chemotherapy and 16 treatments of radiation therapy.

Luckily, I had my chemotherapy here, so I could be with my family.

Plus, I am glad I didn’t have to fly while I was feeling really sick from those treatments. It was hard enough dealing with my son’s illness, but having to go through this again was extremely difficult for me and my family.

One day I saw an ad in the paper.

Paddlers Abreast were looking for survivors to paddle in the Yukon River Quest.

I didn’t think much of it.

Vic encouraged me to call the number listed and get more information about it.

I have never been in a canoe or ever paddled before and I was very hesitant about the idea.

I guess dealing with everyday life while keeping your family and yourself healthy takes up a lot of time.

Remember, we had just moved to the Yukon.

I spoke to one of the women on the team who said come on out to one of our practices. I went to one of the pool practices. I could not swim either. Well, the first River Quest trip was in June of 2003 and it was tough. Very tough!

After Lake Laberge, I wanted out of the boat.

I felt I could not go on. The other women seemed to enjoy it. There must have been something wrong with me. That year, I cried to myself most of the way. I did not want to be a burden to anyone else.

Seeing the finish line in Dawson was a blessing in disguise. After that experience, I said I would never do the race again.

Well, this is my seventh year paddling.

Each year has been different.

I get to meet new people who want to paddle (survivors and people who have been affected by cancer in one way or another).

Every paddler brings something special to the boat. Whether it’s the laughter or trying to remember the words to the same old song or someone saying, “You’re turning a little red; do you have any sunscreen on?”

It is a wonderful experience.

I’m always learning from the expert paddlers. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking from the ever-winding river that is full of life along the way.

I can’t forget the fellow canoers and kayakers that we see as well.

When we do reach the finish line, seeing family, friends and onlookers cheer us on is amazing. What an accomplishment.

In June of last year, another lump was discovered in my right breast from a routine mammogram and ultrasound.

I had a biopsy of the lump and the results showed it was benign.

Thank goodness. I had a consult with Dr. David Storey and we decided to have the right breast removed as a preventative measure. The date was set for January 2010.

I had the surgery and was feeling pretty good about it, until I received a call from the surgeon’s office.

Vic and I went for what I thought was a follow up appointment.

I walked into the doctor’s office and he said, “Great news, you’re cured!” I must have looked like a fool.

My jaw dropped.

I looked at Vic and he was looking at me.

Dr. Storey told us, “There was a tumour in my right breast that was localized (it did not spread). They got it all.”

I was speechless.

I could not believe what had just happened. We were very thankful. Thank God for that.

Life is more meaningful now than ever.

I do not take anything for granted and I live life to the fullest.

A positive attitude, good friends, family, laughter and a good cry is what I recommend for anyone facing this illness.

I am proud to say that I conquered cancer twice, and I will continue to conquer the Yukon River for as long as I am able or until it winds its way back to Newfoundland!

This is the third in a series of profiles of the Paddlers Abreast team. Watch for more in coming issues.