Beth shares he daugher Hilary’s story …
Hilary was diagnosed with a large Grade 3 Gliobastoma in her left temporal lobe, just 3 weeks after her 16th birthday in March of 2004. She had surgery the next day and the surgeons were able to remove most of the tumour, but not all.
She was referred to the IWK Health Centre’s Brain Tumour Clinic in Halifax where we were told that 50 % of adults with this type of tumour do not survive 5 years. They went on to say that children are often different, so we would have to wait and see. My father, her grandfather, had died 6 years earlier with a Grade 4 Glioblastoma. It was decided that she would need 7 weeks of Radiation therapy, following which she was started on a monthly course of Temozolomide. This continued for just over a year.
Throughout all of this, Hilary has maintained an amazing positive attitude, and has never stopped living her life to the fullest. When she was diagnosed, she was in the middle of rehearsals for her high school musical with a leading role. Her first words to me after surgery (besides “Don’t hug me. My head hurts.”), were “You’d better call Mr Lawrence and ask him to get me an understudy.” Optimism. That is the word that best describes Hilary’s attitude. The musical was due to be performed in less than 5 weeks. Her surgeon said that she could probably go to watch, but in true fashion, she was back to school and rehearsals in 2 weeks, first sitting in, then working her way on to the stage with her worried mother watching, and sure enough, come performance time she performed in 3 of the 6 shows. (It was only fair to let the understudy have her share after all her hard work!).
She spent that summer getting radiation treatments in Halifax, and when her Grade 11 year started in the fall, her chemo started as well. She had a lot of problems with nausea , as well as some issues with memorizing her lines due to the surgery/treatments, so she had to bow out of drama that year. It was hard as she had landed a coveted lead and it was hard to accept that she just couldn’t handle it. She kept up her studies throughout all of this, and managed a lead in the musical in her final year at high school (after her chemo ended late fall of that year), and graduate with excellent marks right on schedule.
In May of 2011, she graduated with a BA (Psychology major) from Mount Allison University. Reading and retention had been a problem since her surgery and treatment, and she struggled with processing the large amount of reading required at university. She never gave up and just reduced her course load to give her the time she needed for her reading (and still have time to have a life, something we dearly wanted for her as well).
Her last MRI showed no new tumour growth. With each passing year, we are more hopeful that it is indeed, over, but she is aware that she still has a way to go before the “cure” can be pronounced.
Hilary continues to live her life to the fullest. She has decided to do a “Gap Year” or two before continuing with post grad studies. The year she was diagnosed, she had been accepted for a student exchange to England for her Grade 11 year, which had to be cancelled. She has always wanted to live in England, so in October 2011, she moved on her own to the UK and is living and working in London on a Youth Visa for 2 years.
We are grateful for the research and support of agencies such as the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society. In June of 2005, a friend of Hilary’s from another school formed a Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life Team in Hilary’s honour made up of (for the first time), a team of students from several area high schools. The following year, Hilary formed her own team from her high school, and the tradition has continued since her graduation. Almost all of the city’s high schools now have teams to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society each year. She continued her involvement at university and was involved as an organizer of the event each year there. She has also acted as master of ceremonies at the Survivor Dinner, and as a motivational speaker at various events here and at University.
Her courage, strength, and optimism continue to amaze me. She is my hero. Thanks to God, and the faithful doctors, nurses, therapists, technicians, researchers, and fundraisers, she is living her life to the fullest.