I was initially diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and a mass in my chest on June 18, 2008. I was admitted to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary that night. For the next six months I received chemotherapy, transfusions, full body radiation and, ultimately, an umbilical cord blood transplant to replace my immune system. Given my condition, I moved back in with my parents who are helping to care for me and my young daughter.
I knew in my heart this was not my time and this was definitely just a bump in my life journey. My main inspiration has been Jessica. It was my dream to be a mom and she was a long-awaited arrival in my life. I took on the philosophy of taking things one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time and not overwhelming myself with the possibilities ahead. Each day I’d open my eyes and take a mental survey of how I was feeling—no pain, nothing unusual, no nausea—this defined a good day.
I am fiercely independent and I have challenges asking for help when I need it. I was forced to seek help to manage my life as I sought treatment. Being absent for the better part of Jessica’s first year has also created guilt for me. I know she’s received all of the love and care from my family and friends I could have given her myself, but there’s a sadness that I missed some of her “firsts”.
That I am stronger than I thought. You never know quite what your reaction will be when facing such a diagnosis. Cancer is not who I am and I do not allow it to define the person I am. I have purposefully not said I have cancer when speaking with people. I consider that this bend in my path has been presented to me to overcome and learn several life lessons: it is OK to ask for help, I can’t do it all on my own; don’t take feeling well for granted—having my health creates the foundation for all else; and recognize what I do or do not have control over and only take responsibility and agonize for that which I do own.
I have been overwhelmed by friends, family and strangers’ generosity, kindness and support. I’ve learned that people have a strong desire to help if allowed. It is a gift for a person to be needed by another and for that other person to accept the help offered. I’m fortunate to have the best family and friends. In the past months they have all stepped up to hold my life together when I could not. And my team of doctors, nurses and staff on Unit 57 were remarkable, compassionate individuals paramount to my healing.
I had a responsibility to my daughter to do everything in my power to stay in this life, to be a part of her life and to ensure as I went through treatment she was being cared for without compromise. At several stages during treatment I was able to come home for a few hours or days at a time. Being a mom allowed me to switch gears and be a parent and care for someone instead of being a patient and being cared for. She provided a relief from my reality. Being a mom to Jessica constantly reminded me what I was fighting for when all else seemed insurmountable.
Andrea is currently an outpatient at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. She has achieved the first 100-day post-transplant milestone and feels strong, hopeful and confident.
— Shauna Coffyne