September is national blood cancer awareness month, the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in the country.
Melissa Bouvier, born and raised in Lac La Biche, was diagnosed with nodular sclerosing Hodgkin lymphoma, the most common type of blood cancer when she was just 22 years old.
In May of 2019, she was noticed sore and enlarged lymph nodes in her lower neck, extreme exhaustion, weight loss, and night sweats.
When she realized that getting a diagnosis would take months, she decided to find a faster way to get results.
“I was previously going for appointments like ultrasounds and I was referred to a walk-in doctor but everything was just going so slowly, and it was like months before I was going to get a biopsy,” said Bouvier.
“So I ended up going to the emergency room in Leduc, and that’s when I found out. It was honestly really, really scary. I went alone because I kind of just wanted to get it over with and figure it out.”
Once diagnosed, she was immediately emitted into the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton where they found a tumor restricting her throat. The next week she began what would be 12 treatments of chemotherapy over the span of 24 weeks.
“It was difficult, the side effects of chemo were beyond uncomfortable and there are things that you don’t really expect. Whether it be mouth sores, or just your entire digestive system is a mess, your skin is super sensitive, you’re bloated, you can get brittle nails,” said Bouvier.
“I still have chemo brain, your memory is never the same as it was before. Your thought process isn’t always there, and it still bothers me to this day.”
Although she is still dealing with the physical impact of chemotherapy, it’s the mental aspect of having cancer at such a young age that she says was the hardest part. Having to put her life on hold as she watched her friends continue on with school and social events took a toll on her mental health.
“I think the toughest part for me was not being able to do anything. I couldn’t re-enroll for the upcoming school year, and so I had to put everything on hold. I was also financially dependent on my parents again, which was difficult,” said Bouvier.
Appreciate the support you have
Fortunately, going through the battle and hardships a cancer diagnosis brings was worth it.
In January of 2020, Bouvier found out that she was in remission.
“I felt immense relief. So much weight was lifted off of my shoulders when I found out. There is a lot of anxiety that really leads up to that appointment because I wasn’t sure if what I just went through was a waste. Chemo was absolute hell, to be quite honest, so knowing that I was in remission, I can’t even put words to how that felt,” said Bouvier.
Bouvier says that having her friends, family, and significant other by her side helped her get through her darkest days.
Something as simple as having a friend clean her house or a family member cook her meals, while she was exhausted from her chemo treatments was invaluable.
“Those are things that are tough to do when you’re really struggling. So if someone is there to lend a helping hand it makes all the difference,” said Bouvier.
For those currently struggling with cancer, Bouvier lends her words of encouragement.
“Just keep fighting. It’s a really tough one because there is honestly no true words that really make it better, but appreciate the support you have, keep fighting and you’ll get through it.”