Wanting to Raise more Awareness

Push pin

Dear Diva

A close friend of mine is very sick with cancer and it scares me to think at the age of 16, I could be attending the funeral of someone younger than me. Growing up, I saw the ads about finding a cure and thought you had to be older to get cancer. It never really hit me until this year. What can be done to raise more awareness to people in my age group? Diva, any advice will be helpful. This time last month, my friend was worried about grading and now he worries about being alive for the next holiday.


Dear Wanting to Raise more Awareness

Dear Diva Character

Dear Wanting to Raise more Awareness

My heart goes out to you, your friend and his family! I know the feelings you speak of, for my mom is a cancer survivor. I found once the word cancer enters my mind, family, and surroundings, nothing seems to bring comfort except knowledge, support and prevention. When I started to notice the promotions for finding a cure, it was almost like a switch came on because I was dealing with someone close to me. I decided to join a run for cancer. It was overwhelming to see the number of people who knew, experienced or lost someone to cancer and to speak to people who joined just because they wanted to help. I found the experience and the people there very supportive.

I also noticed a lot of youth running for a sister, brother or another family member. Like you, I will admit I never knew so many youths were being afflicted with cancer and, like you, I thought it was an old person’s disease. I quickly discovered I was one in a sea of thousands making a difference. It was inspiring to see the younger youth walking, taking a stand and raising awareness in the hopes to eradicate the disease from their generation.

Knowing this issue is huge and requires professional advice, I agree and will do everything possible to connect with the professionals to help bring awareness to you and other youth. I also asked a powerful and courageous youth by the name of Francesca Nardi, who was just diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and named one of the 2011 Honoured Heroes by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada, to share and help me with this page and answer some questions. I know you will find her words empowering and her courage inspiring…I know I did!

Francesca Nardi, 15

My name is Francesca Nardi and up until a very short time ago, I was like most 15-year-old girls. I love to dance and am into fashion, music, socializing and was busy all of the time. I love to sing, play trumpet and piano. I also love languages; I speak French, Italian and am starting Spanish lessons.

Until recently, I felt fantastic and was in the best shape of my life. My life changed suddenly when on February 1, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. My family, friends and I were shocked. How could this have happened to me?

The doctors allowed me to postpone starting chemo by a week, so that I could perform my debut performance with my group at a flamenco dance show on February 12.

On February 14, I had surgery to put a catheter into my chest and I started chemo the next day. My treatment consists of four rounds of chemo (which will take about four months to complete). My family and I have had to learn so much about the chemo and its side effects. At the beginning, it all seemed overwhelming. After going through this, I wonder if anything will ever scare me in the future!

What is Hodgkin’s lymphoma? What is the cause? What are the signs youth should be aware of or looking for?

With the help of Samantha Warshick, campaign coordinator for Light The Night with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada, and Heather Lynch, a nurse from the VG hospital in Halifax, we found some answers.

Hodgkin’s is a type of lymphoma, a blood cancer. It begins in our immune system (which is used to fight infections). When we have lymphoma, part of the white cells – called lymphocytes – grow out of control, affecting our body’s healthy way of fighting infections and diseases. Sometimes when these cancerous cells grow out of control, it causes a build-up and you can feel a tumour or mass. This type of cancer can begin anywhere in the body.

There is no known cause of this or many other cancers, but there are always risk factors that make you more susceptible. There are some known viruses, as well as some medications that would affect your immune system. Of course, family history may put you at a higher risk of getting lymphoma.

As for the signs of Hodgkin’s, youth should really get to know their body and know when something changes. Some signs would be fatigue, shortness of breath, night sweats, fever, unexplained weight loss and swollen lymph nodes. All of these symptoms could be a sign of other illnesses too, so being aware of changes to your body and being able to go to your family doctor to have further testing done is important.

There is no way to prevent Hodgkin’s. With some cancers like skin cancer, we know we need to limit our exposure to the sun, but with blood cancers, all we can do is know the risk factors. Overall, Hodgkin’s has a very good prognosis.

Questions and answers from Francesca:

How did you become, and how does it feel to be, one of the 2011 Honoured Heroes?

I was approached by one of the nurses at the IWK Health Centre, who asked me if I would be interested in getting involved and sharing my story. I am so honoured and excited to be able to give back by helping bring awareness and raising funds for a cause that is so important to me. I know firsthand how important it is to fund research to keep giving patients and their families hope and the very best care.

What key support networks are helping you?

I am so lucky to have received support from all sides. My family and friends were so supportive and have been my rocks throughout this whole process. All of my nurses, doctors and the amazing team at the IWK have been so kind as well and have given me much strength and hope.

What message do you want to give to people dealing with Hodgkin’s lymphoma or any serious illness?

Don’t treat your friend as though they are a different person than they were before the illness. Although they may be going through extraordinary circumstances, they are still the person you know and love. They are probably being treated as though they are breakable by a lot of the world and they won’t want to get treated like that by their friends. Tease them, push them around and make them laugh!

What about the friends who were there, but are now gone because you’re sick?

If your friends can’t handle it, understand that they can’t handle it. When you’re sick and going through a difficult time, it’s important to take the little energy you have and put it into the people you care about the most who want to be there and help. Don’t let your illness define your friendship; acknowledge it, but never let it define you.

What advice do you have for other youth readers going through the same thing?

Surround yourself with people and things that make you happy and let yourself feel the way you feel. There will be people and things that make you sad and those will only send your mind reeling in a negative direction. Keep the things that make you happy close by whenever you can. The people who matter don’t mind and the people who mind don’t matter.

What do you feel can be done to raise more awareness to youth?

Youth need to spread the word about events like Light The Night! Also, childhood cancers are rare, but if something feels wrong, trust yourself and keep pushing until you get the answers you need. My kind of cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma is not preventable, but some cancers are. So it’s hard to see teens smoking, knowing that smoking is such a serious risk factor for other cancers. Don’t volunteer for cancer; it’s not fun.

It’s also important to raise awareness. Although a million teenagers will deny this, we think we are invincible. The only experience most teens have with cancer is through a grandparent or someone elderly. Often times you don’t see your friends sick with cancer and the shock followed by the reality can be hard to understand. So cut your friends some slack because a lot of youth associate cancer with death or old people and it can be very scary. As we raise awareness, we also can change perceptions by what we say. For example, instead of saying “She is my sick friend,” simply say ”She’s my friend who is sick.”

~ Diva

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