Here are a few words that I would have loved to read at a certain time during my great adventure. Some stories have a happy ending, while others cry out for injustice. I’m writing to those whose story doesn’t end on a positive note and to those who need to know that they’re not alone. Without wanting to be discouraging, enough already with happy stories…

In 2003, I was a young adult living a life filled with hope. I had finished my engineering studies and was working hard to gain a solid and valuable experience in my field of expertise. Surrounded by young, driven and enthusiastic colleagues, I didn’t count the hours I put in at the office and the sacrifices I made for work while trying to strike a balance between my career, my various interests, and my loved ones, while leading an active and healthy lifestyle.

In fall 2003, I had just finished my training season which was to close with my participation in the Montréal marathon. Somewhat disappointed with my training that summer, which I had to interrupt on several occasions. I decided to do a half marathon instead, which I finished in more or less a good time. I told myself that there would be a next time and that I hadn’t thrown in the towel yet.

Shortly after, as I was complaining of a swollen left arm, my dad urged me not to dawdle, but to see a doctor immediately. He said a swollen arm is nothing to take lightly. I instead thought it was due to my training.

After visiting the CLSC, I was sent to the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (Notre-Dame) for further testing. A simple chest X-ray was all that was needed: A 10-centimetre mass was found nestled between my lungs. Within a few minutes, they surmised it was cancer, possibly a lymphoma. I kept telling myself it wasn’t possible since I wasn’t feeling that sick. Well, yes, I’d been feeling a bit tired, but who doesn’t? I had an appetite and no night sweats, or any symptoms that could lead me to believe that I had such a serious illness.

They then told me that I had to be hospitalized that same night. There was no time to lose. A battery of tests had to be done. They nevertheless let me go home to have supper and pick up some toiletries, a book… As soon as I left the hospital, I found a bench and collapsed in tears. There I sat for half an hour, maybe one hour, sobbing inconsolably.

Those close to me told me: “Don’t panic, your prognosis is quite good, you’ll easily pull through”. Since I was in the care of top specialists, I knew I had come to the right place. The first treatment delivered on its promise: I was in remission after only a few months. They celebrated my victory over my terrible disease. I returned to work with a somewhat new perception of things, not knowing how to explain what had just happened to me and, more importantly, why me? Happy to be given a new lease on life, I was at the same time terrified. What aspect of my life should I change? What had I done to become a bad statistic? An occasional McBurger doesn’t give you cancer!

In January 2005, less than one year later, I had a relapse. The peace treaty had been broken; the battle had once again begun. This time it was going to be tougher. Treatments were administered at a frantic pace from the most effective to the least promising, from the most trying to the more bearable: a root cell graft, high-dose chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. My youth and my good physical condition enabled me to withstand most of the treatments. They were trying to bring my disease under control, but in vain. Periods of rest were few and far between.

Today, every so often, I still hear people say that lymphomas are easy to treat and that close to 80% of patients pull through. The stories of Saku Koivu, Richard Petit, that of a friend whose mom is now doing well…Even Lance Armstrong, young and full of energy, who had generalized cancer and whose outlook was bleak, defied even the most sombre prognosis. It can lead us to believe that the patients who die suffered from a very rare form of cancer, that they may have refused treatment, that they probably didn’t love life, that they were already very old, weren’t in good health in the first place or they simply just didn’t take good care of themselves. Well no, not necessarily.