My name is Katarina.
For Giving Tuesday, I am sharing my story with cancer. In the spring of 2020, just as the pandemic hit, I began experiencing a number of health issues. I was diagnosed with mono, pericarditis, splenomegaly, and strep throat. For the next year, I continued to experience unexplained fevers, night sweats, fatigue, itchy skin, hair loss, and difficulty breathing/chest pain after light physical activity. In August of 2020, I noticed a lump in my neck. I went to the doctor and he reassured me that it was a chronically enlarged lymph node as a result of my previous mono.
After my doctor reassured me that everything was okay and my body was probably just recovering from the array of battles it fought in the spring of 2020, I went on with my life and got busy with school. While I still continued to experience my symptoms, I was convinced that everything was okay and was too busy with life to think much about it. In the spring of 2021, I returned to my doctor as I had now felt two lumps in my neck, and the original one had not gone away. I went for a neck CT where it was revealed that I had multiple tumours in my neck. That was the day I was referred to Cancer Care Manitoba and that was the worst day of my life.
After being referred, I was scheduled for day-surgery where they immediately biopsied my neck. Within a week or so, it was confirmed that I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At the time of my diagnosis, everything was going great in my life. Thankfully my work family was so supportive and I was able to continue working full time throughout treatment. The ability to keep working gave me purpose and kept me busy. My parents will joke about the fact that after I was diagnosed, my supervisor told me to take an early weekend and not come back the next day and to focus on myself. In true cancer fighter fashion, I was the first one in the office at 8 a.m. the next day. I was ready to prove that nothing, not even a cancer diagnosis, was going to stop me.
My surgeon then transferred me to an oncologist who would assess the stage of my cancer and determine a course of treatment. My PET scan revealed that I had Stage 4 cancer as it had spread to my neck, chest, abdomen, armpits and groin. On top of that, I had many tumours in my chest. Hearing the words “Stage 4” were terrifying. I have two grandparents who both died of blood cancer and I thought I was next. Thankfully, my oncologist reassured me that the prognosis for Hodgkins Lymphoma, even at Stage 4, was very good. I had my staging appointment on a Monday, and on Friday a new AAVD chemo-immunotherapy treatment was supposed to be approved in Manitoba. The timing was perfect as I started the new regiment on the morning it was approved in Manitoba. Within four days, I started my 6-month treatment journey. My treatment consisted of 6 cycles of chemo (or 12 treatments) which were administered every other week via IV.
As of today, I am 2 and a half weeks post chemo! I cannot wait for this journey to be over, but am thankful for the advancements in medicine and research that have allowed me to heal. Although my oncologist is certain that I am in remission, I have one more PET scan to do at the end of December to confirm. Now that I have been given a second chance at life, I intend to use it and live life to the fullest. In January, I hope to relocate to Ottawa to finally attend Carleton University in-person. Between the pandemic and cancer, this is a day I have been waiting for, for a long time. I hope to continue my studies and continue the work experience I have gained in the public service. In a couple years, my goal is to pursue law school and a legal career. I also hope that when the time is right, to take myself on a post-cancer trip.
Research in Manitoba played a huge role in my ability to access new treatments and I am so grateful that I can look to the future with hope. I know there are so many others who benefit, and will continue to benefit, from this ongoing research too.
Your support this Giving Tuesday will help ensure the dedicated professionals who work in CancerCare Manitoba’s Research Institute have the tools they need to advance crucial local research, giving patients just like Katarina the chance to continue to live out their dreams after cancer.