by Tracy Bassam
Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada
I had Hodgkin’s Disease when I was 20 years old. After being mis-diagnosed for a year (they originally told me it was all in my head), they finally found out what was wrong with me and commenced a year of chemotherapy to deal with it.
The two hardest things I had to do were to tell my boyfriend of two and a half years, and to tell my parents that it was, in fact, cancer that I had. I knew my parents would take it hard but would be very supportive, which they were. But I wasn’t sure about my boyfriend, Dave. He really wasn’t responsible for me at that point and I wasn’t sure how he would feel about taking on this kind of responsibility. I knew I would be limited in my ability to work for the next year and might even be affected in the long term — I might not be able to have children or be scarred or disfigured. So I offered to move back in with my parents. I remember how he swore and said “never say that to me again”. Then, together, we phoned my parents and gave them the bad news.
Dave took care of me that year. He called me “barfy skinhead” and would pick me up from the cancer clinic after my chemo sessions. He kept me focused on getting through it and not thinking about the downside. His wonderful sense of humour and perspective made everything seem easier to bear. He asked me to marry him on Christmas eve, two months after I was diagnosed. If you can imagine a very skinny, mostly bald, weak and sickly young woman, that was me. Apparently, my hero could see beyond all of that.
We’ve been married for eleven years now. Dave was, and always will be, my first hero. But having cancer showed me so many heroes. People of all ages and walks of life who bravely faced one of life’s most daunting experiences. One woman who I will never forget talked to me for about a half hour. In that thirty minutes, we shared our trials, me with my chemo, her with her husband’s disease. We laughed about how the prednisone (a steroid given to cancer patients) makes your face puffy and when you lose your hair, you end up looking like a baby. I never learned her name but we hugged each other when we parted.
Having cancer makes you realize how precious other people are. It also made me realize that no matter what I was going through, there is always someone who has it tougher. Having cancer made me very grateful for all of the amazing, terrific people I have in my life. After 12 years in remission, I have my health, a feeling of awe for the world around me, a deep sense of gratitude for all that I have. And most importantly, I still have my hero.