Staying strong when facing a blood cancer diagnosis

Our story

There are over 100 different types of blood cancers and related disorders, and no two diagnoses are the same. But for Alain and William, they agree that a positive attitude and a great medical team played a pivotal role in achieving remission.

Alain, diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in May of 2020

“When I was diagnosed, we were in the middle of a pandemic. I was in the hospital, I was alone. When I got the diagnosis, I didn't start to cry. I did not curl up in my bed then crawl into my bubble. No. I told the doctor go, go, go. You know your stuff; it’s your job, do what needs to be done. We're not in 1921 anymore, we're in 2021. There is so much that has changed in cancer research. I trusted the knowledge of the doctors who were treating me, and I remained positive.

I had to travel to Alma for my treatments which is over an hour away from my house. But my partner and I made the drive fun with our nice little convertible. We drove it with the top down when the sun was shining. The distance was the downside but, apart from that, I was very well treated by the oncology team there. And my treatment went very well.

The negative aspect of the diagnosis is the word "cancer" itself. It’s a big terrifying word, that hurts so much when you hear it. But I believe that one day, it will become a trivial word.

I'm 62, I'm not ready to go to the other side yet, it’s way too early, I’m way too fit for that. I have too much to do. I take pictures, I make music, we walk, we cycle a little.

To other people going through this, I just want to say keep your focus, it's going to be fine, put that in your head. Continue with this mindset and stay hopeful. Hold on to hope, hold your head up high, and then look ahead to the rest of your life.”

William, diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in November 19

“My journey started in the Spring of 2015. A routine blood test – thanks to my lovely wife – revealed that I had myelofibrosis. But I didn’t feel sick. In fact, I’d never been sick in my life, apart from the odd sports injury. I’ve always been very active. I have three children with whom I ski. I was at the time a high school principal. And I take every opportunity to be outdoors and be involved in sporting activities year-round.

Luckily, I was immediately put on medication. And the next few years, I never had symptoms. I continued to live my life, work (until I retired in June of 2016) and be active. And I didn’t miss a check up. But in the Fall of 2019, my blood counts were off the charts. Within two weeks, my hematologist at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) diagnosed me with AML.

We discussed options, which were limited. But I understood that left untreated the prognosis is not good. I had to fight. We had to fight. So, my wife turned to me and said, “We got this!” We opted for the most invasive option, which involved a stem cell transplant but first I needed to complete a few rounds of immunotherapy, which started in December 2019. And on February 22, 2020, I was admitted to PMH for the final steps in preparation for the transplant.

After my transplant, as I stood in my hospital room, I could only focus on the white board that showed me my discharge day. All I had to do was patiently wait 30 days. What’s interesting is that halfway through my hospital stay COVID hit. As I looked out from the window of my 14th floor hospital room, the view of Toronto changed. No more bustling cars. The quietness settled. The world came to a standstill.

When I finally came home, we were in lockdown. To get through the waiting period, I told myself that I needed to be the world’s best patient. And my wife had to be the world’s best scientific researcher. I didn’t have the mental mindset to read all about survival rates, medication, and graft host disease, but she did it for me.

I just focused on what I needed to do to get better and have a positive attitude. I had a good exercise routine and took up healthy eating habits. Little by little I was weaning off my medication and when I hit the one-year mark of remission (in March 2021), I was off all medication. It’s been over 18 months since my transplant, and I am doing terrific.

My son Peter told me upon my arrival back home, “Dad the reason you made it is because you have too many things to do, you are too busy and there was no other possible outcome.”

I am truly appreciative to everyone involved: all the patients that went before me, the hospital staff, the researchers, and my family. AML wasn’t a death sentence for me, but I understand that everyone’s journey is different. determined approach helped me achieve my outcome.

Now, I am looking forward to being with my family, my wife. Skiing. Getting back to living my life.”

[May not be representative of general population.]