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 click here.
I lost my father, my sister and my aunt to cancer. My niece underwent treatment for leukemia at the age of 15 and my sister-in-law is in treatment. Don’s brother died of it, and his two sisters went through the brutality of cancer treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. One of Don’s sisters has since had a recurrence and is in palliative care and his Dad was recently diagnosed. Of 18 immediate family members, we have had to watch six experience the horrors of cancer, along with others. We have mourned the deaths of four of them, and prepare for the loss of another loved one.
Since 1988, Don and I have supported cancer research. In recent years, though, we have tired of the search for a cure. We don’t want to cure cancer anymore. We want to prevent it.
As a young kinesiology graduate 30 years ago, I felt strongly that health promotion and disease prevention were the answer, but no one was very interested in prevention – then or now!
Thank you for starting Prevent Cancer Now. What can we do to help?
Story by Mary-Martha Hale and Don Desnoyers
Tell us your story
As a supporter of cancer prevention, you likely have a personal link to the disease. Cancer statistics are mind-numbing, but behind all of those ‘numbers’ is a human being with amazing talents, cherished hopes and dreams, and families and friends who love them dearly.
The book, Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic was dedicated to many people who died from cancer, including Canadian environmental journalist Bob Hunter (one of the founders of Greenpeace); 7-year-old Danny Cunniff who died from a type of leukemia linked to overexposure to radioactive CAT scans; Heather Crowe, a 58-year old Ottawa waitress exposed for 40 years to second-hand smoke; and machinist Bud Jimmerfield, who worked for 31 years with carcinogenic metalworking fluids at a car parts plant near Windsor Ontario. Now, we’re asking for your stories – either about someone you know who died from cancer, or about your own cancer experience….”
What is your story? Why do you believe prevention is the answer?
Please share your thoughts. We would like to profile peoples’ reasons for focusing on prevention on our website. You can email your story to: firstname.lastname@example.org