When I was fifteen months old, I was diagnosed with Wilm’s Tumour, a type of cancer. I had my kidney removed and was treated with chemotherapy. It relapsed in my liver, and I had that resected. Again I was treated with chemotherapy and radiation. I was in remission by the age of four and lived the next ten years of my life (almost) carefree. But I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy as a result of one of the chemotherapy drugs that I received. My mother and cardiologist always discussed the possibility of needing a transplant one day, but the reality of one day didn’t exist in my mind – I would never need a transplant. But then I had a clot, a stroke and my heart problem became congestive heart failure.
I was constantly tired, short of breath and depressed. I could barely walk up stairs without needing to take a break. I couldn’t keep up with my friends and had to move back home within months of moving away for my first year of university. This was when the possibility of needing a transplant became a reality. Even though I didn’t receive my transplant for another three years, I always knew that it would be the only way for me to feel well again and return to being me.
At 21 years old, I was put on the waiting list for a heart transplant. Ten days after I was listed, I got the call. This was the most exhilarating and frightening moment of my life. But it was also the best thing that had ever happened to me. I recovered from surgery and began taking the longest walks (around the hospital) that I had taken in a while. I returned home to finish recovering. For me this meant getting my life started again, and pursuing everything that I had wanted to do when I was sick.
Within two months of my surgery I was able to start public outreach education on environmental issues. I took a summer school course, and returned as a full time student in the fall so that I could get back on track with finishing my undergraduate degree. In December 2011, I saw an advertisement for Heart and Stroke’s Ride for Heart. I thought, what better way to celebrate my second chance at life than to raise money for a cause that affected me directly and to really use what I had needed for so long – my heart. I started cycling. Indoors at the gym first, for maybe ten minutes at a time. I slowly built up my endurance and was able to do training rides outside. In June 2012, I biked 25 km, less than a year and a half after my heart transplant.
Now, together with my parents, I am training for the Ride to Conquer Cancer – a 200 km ride over two days – in order to celebrate my twentieth year in remission and my second year with my new heart. I am physically able to significantly increase my cycling goals from last year. This year I am also going to complete my Bachelor of Environmental Studies. I am able to volunteer as a health promoter on campus and hold a part time job. And best of all, I can live and move and breathe in a healthy way!