Stephanie is a 38 year old who shares a lively home full of love in Belle River with her stepson and her husband, and their two boys. Stephanie comes from a large family of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and grew up in Leamington with her parents, older sister, and younger brother. Of her sons, Stephanie says “My boys are absolutely everything to me! They are very special and sweet boys and they definitely keep me motivated and they also remind me about what’s important… Spending time with your loved ones.” Stephanie is also an HR Professional at Vista in Lakeshore. She says everyone at the organization has been incredibly supportive of her family as they navigate her cancer journey, and she is forever grateful to be a part of their team.
The first day Stephanie met Dr. Schneider in the Cancer Clinic, he sent her for a CAT scan to get a closer look at a lesion on her back. That lesion was a result of Melanoma cancer, that had already spread to her liver with many tumours. She was in surgery one week after diagnosis. The pathologist results came back: Metastatic Melanoma. While her body did not respond to initial immunotherapy as doctors had hoped, she has been on a targeted therapy treatment since September 2021 and is responding well.
On the topic of beginning her cancer journey, Stephanie recalls, “Your whole world is flipped upside down and before you have the opportunity to process that, you can be in surgery or the chemo chair for the fight of your life. There was a period of my treatment where I didn’t recognize who I was anymore. I avoided mirrors at any cost. When all you want to be is healthy and normal and your physical self is telling you and the world how sick you are is really hard on you and your family and friends.”
Stephanie talks about local treatment, and treatment through the pandemic, “The Windsor Regional Cancer Centre has been a place of hope and comfort in the most challenging and scariest times I have experienced. Being ill during a pandemic and having to have treatment without someone with you, I found myself leaning on the nurses to help me through. They are all the most caring and amazing individuals. I can’t say enough about all of the nurses and support staff there.”
Stephanie said her story wouldn’t be complete unless she took a moment here to acknowledge the support from her friends and family, especially her mom and dad, and to tell her boys how proud she is to be their mom.
Read more to learn about the wisdom she’s gained, and what she’s learned about herself through this journey. You can also make a donation in honour of Stephanie. We thank her for her courage as a 2022 Lock Out Cancer Ambassador.
Learn More in Our Interview with Stephanie
When did you first discover something “wasn’t right”?
In 2020, I started to not feel well at the same time there was a growth/lesion on my back. I went to my family doctor who worked quickly to get me into the Cancer Clinic to see Dr. Schneider for further testing. Dr. Schneider scheduled me in for a Cat Scan that same day. I was called back into the cancer clinic and was told the news that I will need surgery on my back in Hamilton at the Juravinski Cancer Center (Hospital) and that I have cancer in my liver. I was in surgery a week after my diagnosis. The pathology results concluded that I have Metastatic Melanoma. I met with Dr. Mathews and his team and I started immunotherapy in November 2020. In September 2021, we found out that I didn’t respond as we hoped with the immunotherapy treatment and the cancer progressed. It was decided that chemotherapy would be the next option to help slow down the progression. After one session of chemotherapy, I was approved for a targeted therapy treatment. I have been on the targeted therapy treatment since late September 2021 and I am responding well!
What surprised you about local cancer care here in Windsor?
Prior to my diagnosis, I wasn’t aware of any treatment other than chemotherapy and radiation to treat cancer. I have seen and experienced first hand now that there are options, and the Oncologists and their teams are so knowledgeable, and it gives me comfort to know that. There are many resources to help you and your family manage through your diagnosis as well. When looking into ways to give back to the Windsor Cancer Foundation, I found the Patient Assistance Fund, where patients can apply for support to cope with being unable to work or cover expenses. I think there are amazing resources and support to help members of our community.
Many have little exposure to the world of cancer treatment until they’re thrust in it. Can you impart some words of wisdom?
Cancer treatment not only takes a toll on you physically but emotionally and mentally. Your whole world is flipped upside down and before you have the opportunity to process that, you can be in surgery or the chemo chair for the fight of your life. There was a period of my treatment where I didn’t recognize who I was anymore. I avoided mirrors at any cost. When all you want to be is healthy and normal, and your physical self is telling you-and the world-how sick you are, is really hard on you and your family and friends. For myself, I just needed and still need normalcy in everyday life. As a cancer patient, or anyone who is ill, I think we are always worried about how everyone is coping and try to protect others from our pain and worries. It is a lot to carry when you are sick and I don’t know if that ever will go away. If you meet someone in cancer treatment, a kind word and a simple smile go a long way.
What aspect have you been able to view as a positive from this experience?
I think that in my darkest times, there is always a light and you just have to choose to look to that. I have been able to meet the most incredibly kind and supportive people throughout this process. The Windsor Regional Cancer Centre has been a place of hope and comfort in the most challenging and scariest times I have experienced. Being ill during a pandemic and having to have treatment without someone with you, I found myself leaning on the nurses to help me through. They are all the most caring and amazing individuals. I can’t say enough about all of the nurses and support staff there. My appreciation for all them is beyond words. Another positive from this experience is learning that we decide how to cope. Giving back and helping others is my way of coping and in hopes that I can be a support to someone else in ways that I myself received support.
What have you learned about yourself? About your support network?
I feel that I have learned to not take things for granted, and how time is a gift. I think I have learned to really be mindful and appreciate everyday and to tell the people in my life how much they all mean to me. I don’t know if I am always strong because hard days and moments are there, but they pass! I am determined to not give up and not to give in. I want my boys to know that when life gets hard, when you don’t know how it will end, you just have to keep going and to lean on your faith and your family and friends.
We sincerely thank Stephanie for sharing her story. Click Here if you would like to donate to the Windsor Cancer Centre Foundation in her honour.