Candace's Story: "A real rollercoaster"

Candace's Story: "A real rollercoaster"

For the past six years, Candace Graham’s life has been full of ups and downs – a “real rollercoaster,” she says. But still, this 32-year-old doesn’t let her circumstances set the tone for her life. Candace is a brain cancer survivor and this is her incredible story. 

What started in May 2009 with a numb toe on her right foot, Candace says didn’t cause her much concern at first, even chalking up the funny feeling to too-tight shoes. But when a summer getaway to the lake ended with Candace losing all feeling in one side of her body, that’s when things started taking a turn. 
From that summer weekend on, Candace began to experience facial tics, periods of numbness in different parts of her body, and finally a fainting spell at work, which caused her to be taken to her local emergency room. At the hospital, staff recommended Candace follow-up with her family doctor as is typical protocol. Taking the advice, Candace went to her physician next and he believed, that based on her presenting symptoms, Candace had multiple sclerosis. To confirm the diagnosis, Candace was sent for an MRI at the hospital, where her attending surgeon wanted to do an additional scan since he believed the original MRI wasn’t detailed enough. It was this second scan that showed the true cause behind Candace’s failing health. The young woman didn’t have MS, she had some sort of lesion near her brainstem. 
Rather than do an invasive operation, Candace’s surgeon recommended they monitor the lesion through regular MRIs. Over the next four years, Candace would move from scans every six months to a bi-annual appointment, due to, she says, the lack of changes seen in the test results. 
Candace with radiation mask onOn May 4, 2014, Candace went in for her regularly scheduled MRI, not expecting to receive any news different than what she’d been hearing the past few years, that everything looked fine and there were no changes. But what did happen was very different. “Two neurosurgeons saw me this time and they said that the mass had grown significantly, and into the back of my sinuses and into my spine,” she recalls. “I went from thinking everything was fine to being told I could die at 35.”
Doctors gave Candace, then 30, five years to live based on their analysis of the MRI results and the changes in the brain lesion. They also put a name to the mass: it was likely a chordoma, a rare and very invasive form of cancer. A biopsy later confirmed the brain cancer diagnosis but in Saskatoon – and even Canada – the form of proton radiation treatment recommended for Candace wasn’t available. “That’s when I learned I would need to go to Boston for two months,” Candace explains. Following surgery to remove the tumour, which was performed through Candace’s mouth to prevent damage to her spine, she had to prepare to leave her home and most of her family and friends behind in Canada.  
Candace preparing for treatmentFrom February 2015 until April 2015, Candace and her mom lived in Boston, Massachusetts. Looking back, Candace can now laugh at the memory of their stay. “Here I was, in my thirties, and the first trip I take outside of Canada is for cancer treatment!”
Candace ringing the bell as treatment completedIt’s been just over one year since Candace returned home to Saskatoon, having completed her treatments in the US, and she’s now officially cancer-free. Scans are still part of Candace’s life, as she’s back to having MRIs every six months again. “I’ll take it,” she says, “I know it’s this kind of close monitoring that will catch any little change so I hopefully don’t go through all this again.”
Candace and supportersToday, Candace plans to lace up her sneakers as part of the 2016 Saskatoon Brain Tumour Walk and will proudly wear a t-shirt she’s made in tribute to the many survivors and patients she’s met on her journey and through a local support group hosted by Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. “These wonderful people are like my second family, they’re my brother and sisters, too,” Candace adds. “Losing them is just so tough. If raising awareness and doing the Walk can help in any way, I’m happy to do it.” 
Thank you Candace for sharing your story and for joining the movement to end brain tumours!

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