By Joyce Wijnhorst
I first started treatment at BC Children’s after getting my diagnosis in fall 2020, after months of misdiagnosis and extreme pain in my left leg. In a way it came as a relief, because I finally had a name for my monster: Ewing’s sarcoma.
“Cancer journey” is a term often given to treatment, and as a cancer muggle, I wouldn’t have seen anything wrong with that – but from this side of the looking glass, “journey” evokes too many images of strolls through sunny meadows with fuzzy bunnies and rainbows. A friend of mine — who I met through WCK — calls it her cancer hustle, which I much prefer; and darn if we didn’t have a long cancer hustle.
I ended up staying at the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) with my mum for nine months straight, without any breaks to make the five hour trip back home. My dad did his best to drive down and see us on weekends, but sometimes the Coquihalla and COVID restrictions had other plans. I received seventeen chemo cycles, twenty-five rounds of radiation in Seattle, and a massive surgery that took out the entire left side of my pelvis without implanting any prosthetics (the surgeon had to cut so close to the spine that there was nowhere to anchor a replacement. I’ll be using a cane or crutches for the rest of my life, but I have a fibrous joint made of muscle and scar tissue that looks pretty badass on X-rays).
This is where the butter chicken comes in. WCK had just started their freezer meal program in the clinic, and let me tell you, my mum was obsessed. When I was staying on the inpatient side, she’d walk over to the clinic side of the oncology department and get meals from there. When we were in the clinic for blood counts, she’d take some back to RMH and squirrel it away in our freezer for those days where we just couldn’t be bothered to cook — and those days happened quite often.
For a mother-daughter team taking life one day, sometimes one hour, at a time, taking care of ourselves was something easily overlooked. Especially on the days where I slept all day, or couldn’t keep down more than a few saltines because of my nausea, it was easy for my mum to forget meals; which is why I’m so thankful for WCK’s well-stocked freezer and RMH deliveries.
Since that cancer hustle, I’ve started another one after relapsing with more Ewing’s in my shoulder. This time, however, I’ve been able to receive both chemo and radiation close to home, which has made a huge difference in being able to continue living my life without letting the hustle define me. I just graduated high school as valedictorian, and finished off the last of my treatment!
Being home does mean one other thing… you guessed it: no access to WCK’s butter chicken. Instead, the most important thing WCK has to offer has become connections.
I’m part of a teen girls hangout; we’re not large in numbers, but we’re large in laughs. Twice per month, we get together over Zoom to check in with each other and have some fun. We’ve done virtual paint nights, game nights, and kahoot competition nights, and we’re always looking for new people to geek out about books with. When we’re not on Zoom, we have a Slack channel group chat where we stay connected, and an Instagram group chat to share our dark humour in.
My favourite part about our group is how effortlessly we strike a balance in goofing off and keeping it real. It’s the one place where I know I can drop a complaint about chemo side effects to people who get it, and then crack a joke the next minute without it being weird. We’re even brainstorming a book. Notable chapters include ‘Take The Perks Where You Can,’ and ‘Oncology ‘Rules’ Everyone Breaks’ (guilty: I still eat pre-cut melon like there’s no tomorrow).
I seriously have so much respect for these ladies, and our group has helped me find a place for cancer in my life that acknowledges my reality without drowning me in it.
Not only that, but WCK has connected me to other groups, too, like the newly-founded She Can collab between WCK and ShEvalesco.
Ultimately, whether you’re in treatment or past it, WCK has resources to offer that might make a huge difference in a simple way – you won’t know unless you try them (that includes the butter chicken)!