I began writing my story of childhood cancer at age six 

     and continue adding little bits as I am moving though life ...

Maura McKernan

Canadian Survivor

 

September 1985 was when I started to show symptoms of my illness. Throwing up in the early part of the day was typical for me, and included the embarrassment of throwing up at school in front of my classmates. Headaches then followed, and I started to transform from a happy-go-lucky child to one who was sad and irritable. It took months of going to doctor’s before I was diagnosed with my real illness. 

On December 22, 1985 I was taken to the Alberta Children’s Hospital and on December 23, I was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor called Medulloblastoma. It was a large tumor, and I was very ill. At the time my family was told that I only had a 15 – 30% chance of survival.

I was able to go home for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but by that time I had developed bleary vision and dizziness. Christmas Day I fell into the cupboard that resulted in me being rushed back to the hospital to have emergency surgery at 1:00pm Christmas day. Following surgery I contracted meningitis, which added to the stress my family and I were already under.

With a total of 5 surgeries, radiation treatment, CAT scans, spinal taps, myelograms, blood transfusions, tests for HIV and hepatitis (negative results), the loss of a beautiful head of thick black hair (which never grew back in some spots and only very fine and thin in others), I survived. 

After Effects

Although it has been many years since my illness and treatment, I have life-long effects from the treatment I received that saved my life.

These mental and physical scars will stay with me for the rest of my life. My height and growth were affected greatly by the amount of radiation treatment I received. 

I have scars as well as nerve damage on my right side of my body due to the surgery I received. This affects my balance, coordination and motor skills. The surgeries I received were performed before screening for AIDS and hepatitis had begun. My thought patterns and speed are slightly delayed. The results of these limitations showed in my writing, motor and coordination skills in some activities. These as well as other side effects made school a terrifying, struggle and an atmosphere full of anxiety.

I believe that my long hospital stay deprived me of developing the majority of my social skills. Therefore, throughout all my school years I was extremely lonely, edgy, anxious, sad and at times angry. But gradually my life is branching out to a beautiful successful one. I am learning to release what I have bottled up for years. Throughout my years of remission and reaching the stage of being cured, my many life-challenges and experiences, I am learning so much about myself. I have discovered and am continuing to discover that my gifts and strengths I hold with me are the gifts of gentleness and reliability, I am also a very sensitive person, I am proud of who I am.  

Presently I am going to College in Calgary, and my goal there is to become licensed to work in the field of health and wellness. I am a passionate person who has a gift of working with people, and I am continuing to develop my skills so that I can gain the strength and knowledge to be the best person I can be, for my self, and so I can share all that I have with others. I take pride in what I do. What I do provides me with meaning, happiness and enthusiasm for living life to its fullest.  

My experience with cancer has taught me that kids who go through this torturous disease come out as much stronger people.  Although a significant proportion of their lives have been taken away from them, they always find ways to deal with their struggles and difficulties without ever giving up due to the strong will, determination, motivation and effort these kids have.  

Sometimes interaction with peers is difficult while interacting with adults is much easier, due to the amount of time spent around adults (doctors/nurses) etc, and the lack of interaction with other kids their age. Because of the amount of trauma that these children face, they are forced to grow up faster than most kids.  

If I were given the choice to go back in time and change or erase the fact that I had cancer, I WOULD NOT! I believe that I was given the challenge of battling cancer for a reason! I believe that I have and am continuously being given so many different learning opportunities, experiences and responsibilities because I was given the gift to have the will and strength to battle this disease.  I believe that I am a much stronger, and a more knowledgeable and determined person because of the challenge I was given. I believe that I have a lot to share with others, especially those who are in the midst of battling cancer and their parents, families and friends.

Finally, it is also my belief that the fullest way to live life is to include some type of spirituality. Our thoughts create our experience. The way I see it, God gives us challenges he knows we can handle no matter how difficult.  Everything happens for a reason.

I began writing my story of childhood cancer (age six) in 1996 and continued adding little bits as I have moved through my life.