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Alyssa Blondon – A Teenage Survivor’s Account

My life is different from that of most teenagers. You see, I was born with cancer – a kind called neuroblastoma. Shortly after my birth, my mom noticed something different about me. I had a bump on the top of my head, and when I lay flat, there was a curve on one side of my body. Doctors said nothing was wrong, but my mom knew differently. She persevered, insisting on tests. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, meaning it had spread to different parts of my body. I owe my life to my mom on two fronts!

I had my first surgery when I was six weeks old – to remove one kidney and the tumour from my brain. We caught it early and, being a baby, my cells regenerated very quickly, which certainly helped me overcome the cancer. I had four more surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation – all before the age of eight. The good news is that I have been cancer-free for over 10 years!

I spent a lot of time in hospital when I was younger, so I wasn’t the same as everybody else in school. From kindergarten on, I had doctors’ appointments every month. In Grade 2, my immune system crashed, so I had to wear a surgical mask everywhere I went. It was hard to explain to everyone what was going on. It was hard on my family, too.

I’m 19 years old now and a student at Champlain College in Longueil, Quebec. I have a part-time job and a busy life. I feel pretty healthy, but as a result of all the surgeries and treatments I’ve had, I have a weak heart and only one kidney. I can’t participate in sports and have to be careful to keep my weight down. I have asthma and get bronchitis several times a year. Sometimes it turns into pneumonia.

Often people don’t believe me when I tell them I’ve had cancer; that I was born with it. Cancer is supposed to be a disease that affects old people, but neuroblastoma is a childhood cancer.

When I think about my cancer, I know I am really lucky. I’m still here! Most of the kids I saw at the hospital are not alive now. Sometimes I talk to groups about what they can do to prevent cancer. My mom really has no idea why I was born with it, although she does worry about the maintenance garage attached to the office she worked in while she was pregnant with me. She had to walk through that garage several times a day. Could it have been the quality of the air?

Editors’ note: Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer affecting children under one year of age. It has been associated with pesticides, the insecticide chlordane and a parent working in the electronics industry, among other factors. For a scientific review of the environmental factors affecting childhood cancers, please see Childhood Cancer: Overview of Incidence Trends and Environmental Carcinogens, by Shelia Hoar Zahm and Susan S. Devesa (Environvironmental Health Perspectives. 1995 September; 103 [Suppl 6]: 177–184.)

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