Gold Medal Award Recipient - Christine Tulloch
Christine Tulloch's Story
I could never have imagined the journey that life would take me on in the years to follow high school graduation. Like most teenagers, my plans for the future included traveling, getting a degree, and starting a career. What I did not plan for me was to be fighting for my life at the age of nineteen. I hadn’t been sick for very long before the pain became unbearable. After routine blood tests a doctor informed me that I had tested positive for Leukemia and I should go to Vancouver General Hospital as soon as possible.
On May 9th 2007, I was officially diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (A.L.L.), which is a childhood blood cancer. Being nineteen at the time and I had no knowledge of Leukemia except what I had seen in movies, and all of them ended badly. In an instant my life as I knew it was ripped away from me.
Despite being older than the age limit allowed, I was transferred from VGH to BC Children’s Hospital because new studies at the time showed that a young adult between the ages of 18-25 should be able to handle the same chemotherapy protocol as a 10 year old. The best thing about being diagnosed with this cancer was that my doctors told me that it was curable and if anything it would be the chemotherapy that would be the danger to me.
During this time I received numerous blood transfusions, extensive blood tests, bone marrow biopsies, lumbar punctures, and surgeries to implant devices such as a Hickman line and a Port, which would aid in the administration of chemotherapy. I had severe reactions to the chemo and had to adjust my medications regularly. Due to the chemo, I not only lost my long blonde hair but also lost all muscle mass. It got to a point where I no longer had to share what was happening to me because the scars on my body told my story for me. When I looked in the mirror I no longer recognized the person I saw, but despite this I found the strength to stay positive to keep fighting.
I was so blessed to have an incredible support system made up of my family, friends, doctors, and nurses. They all made it their personal mission to never let me lose hope, and fought alongside me every step of the way. I went into remission within the first month of my treatments on June 4th. However, I still had to endure two years of chemotherapy treatments to ensure that the cancer would not return. It was in my second year of treatments that I was encouraged to start going back to school and get back to having a normal life.
This suggestion was problematic for me for two reasons, one being that I did not have the money to pay for tuition and two, because I could not return to my part-time job as a lifeguard due to my current physical limitations. However, I decided that this wasn’t enough to stop me from getting my life back so I took out a loan, went back to school and found a part-time job at a front desk of a community centre. I was ready to get on with my degree, but I just didn’t realize how hard going back to school would actually be. In the last five years, I have not had a semester where I did not have to go to the hospital for tests, take medications, or endure severe headaches on a daily basis, which are a permanent side effect from my experience. Apart from the physical side effects, I found myself struggling daily with anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, and problems with memory and loss of a sense of belonging. But despite all of these challenges, I chose not to give up and persevered because of them.
Since finishing treatments in August 2009, I have now made it to my fourth year of University. In the past few years, I have volunteered with numerous organizations, such as Balding for Dollars, BC Childhood Cancer Parent’s Association, SFU Club for the Cure, Camp GoodTimes – each one contributing to fight cancer.
I have decided that after I finish my undergraduate degree, I plan to pursue a Master’s in Clinical Counseling with the hope that I can make a difference in the lives of those affected by cancer. I am going to become a Counselor, to help other cancer survivors realize their own strength and courage. More specifically, to help other young women, who like me, went through a challenging experience in their young adult years. I want to help them realize that they are special, amazing and incredibly courageous women, with so much to offer the world and their experience enhances that uniqueness. This past year, I organized a Girls Glamour Night event for teens from BC Children’s Hospital Oncology group that took place at the Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver. At this event the girls had their makeup done, hair/wig styled, they had individual photo shoots, and the opportunity to build relationships with other survivors. It was an amazing, life-changing experience for all involved and plans for a bigger and better event next year is already in the works.
It is such an honour to be chosen for this award as Terry’s journey holds such personal significance to me. Having been diagnosed with cancer at the same age and at the beginning of our University degrees, I have a small sense of what it must have been for him to receive such news and how he chose to respond it.
Like Terry, I believe that a world free from cancer is possible and I promise to continue to fight for this dream, just as my hero Terry Fox did, until this dream is a reality.