Life swiftly turned upside down for Willowbrook resident Emma Alcott when she was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin lymphoma last year.
The 24-year-old mother of two young boys—Daxon, 7, and Kaeson, 3—was one week into her psychology degree at the University of B.C. Okanagan when she learned of her diagnosis. Her fiancé, Devon Robinson, said she had been experiencing symptoms for about a year prior but they didn’t recognize them as things to worry about.
“She was having migraines constantly, then it just got to the point where she was having troubles breathing and what not,” said Robinson.
Alcott added, “There was just so many things that I didn’t know that were symptoms. Like I’d wake up in the middle of the night super itchy and I just assumed it was from my laundry soap. Then I couldn’t lift my hands above my head for very long and just thought it was like weak muscles. But those are both symptoms I never even thought to tell my doctor.”
In May 2018, doctors identified a mass in Alcott’s body and by the middle of June 2018, she was told it was Hodgkin lymphoma. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada, Hodgkin lymphoma affects the body’s lymphatic system and is one of the curable forms of cancer.
“I was originally given stage 2B but then they started me on treatment before they had the chance to give me a PET scan. Because of how big it was, they couldn’t wait for the scan,” said Alcott. “After they did the scan they realized I was stage four.”
Alcott proceeded to undergo six months of chemotherapy in Kelowna to treat the mass, having to give up her work and school in the process. She said it was taxing on her body, but she was thankful for the support systems around her.
“One of the chemo nurses at the hospital, when I started having a really hard time, told me to take it day by day and try to focus on each day rather than when I’ll be better,” said Alcott. “That actually helped a lot.”
Her condition turned from bad to worse, however, when Alcott and Robinson received word on Christmas Eve that chemo had not shrunken the mass and it had grown since her last scan. It was then decided that Alcott needs to undergo a stem cell transplant, wiping out her body’s immune system, to treat the cancer.
Robinson said this experience has been hard for their family especially because it’s forced Alcott, a normally active and involved parent, student and employee, to slow down.
“She’s always been go, go, go and was always the one that’s first there. And now basically she had to start learning to slow down and let people help her out,” said Robinson. “Because chemo was hard on her, she got really sick there and it wasn’t helping.”
Alcott will spend three months in Vancouver beginning mid-April to receive her stem cell transplant and a high dose of chemotherapy. Then, she’ll need a follow-up six weeks later, after she is discharged. Although she was a full-time student, because she had to stop attending to get the treatment, she can not access her insurance as a student.
To make matters worse, she does not qualify for E.I. and Robinson was recently laid off from his job. This has led to the family and community starting a GoFundMe campaign to help deal with her healthcare costs and other treatment-related expenses.
“It’s been a struggle. There has been a lot harder days recently. There’s been a lot of help—we started a bottle drive (the week of Feb. 18) and so many of the neighbours have come to help out,” said Alcott.
Robinson added, “There’s a lot of people out there who have been helping us out.”
On April 6, the Barley Mill Brew Pub is hosting a fundraiser to add to the GoFundMe campaign with a silent auction, raffle door prizes, entertainment and more. Tickets are to be purchased in advance for $20 each and include a choice of a veggie burger or ribs with a side.
While Alcott continues to fight her battle against cancer, she’s also using the opportunity to educate others and help those in similar situations. She said she hopes others will “listen to their body if they think that something is wrong.”
“There’s this age gap. There’s a lot of resources available for people under 19, and people who have been working for longer have built up E.I.,” said Alcott. “But I’m in this gap, where it’s common to be diagnosed at this age with (Hodgkin lymphoma) but I can’t access any resources. As a full-time student, you don’t have the contributions to CPP or E.I. So I’d love to start a foundation to help other students in this situation.”
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