Championing Relay for Life after beating cancer twice

Turning my survival into action

Anna is a co-president of Queen's Relay for Life chapter.
Credit: 
Supplied by Anna Ploeg

I consider myself extremely lucky because prior to celebrating my 20th birthday, I’d already beaten cancer not once, but twice.

When I was three, I was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer common in children that completely ate my left adrenal gland and malformed my kidney. I don’t remember much from the time, but my family tells me stories of doctors telling them I was likely at stage 3 or 4. My chances of survival were slim, and chemo would be necessary.

After my tumour was removed and more tests were run, by some miracle my survival rate reversed and I was on track to grow up as a healthy kid.

Shortly after remission, my family and I decided to get involved in community Relay For Life events to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society and support cancer research.

Relay For Life is an organization that allows people to raise money, fight back against cancer, and honour those who’ve lost their life to the disease. After being dedicated to the cause for numerous years, I brought the event to my high school and joined the Queen’s committee in my first year.

In 2016, I attended Queen’s Relay For Life as a survivor of 15 years—only to find out, a week later, I had thyroid cancer.

In 2016, I attended Queen’s Relay For Life as a survivor of 15 years—only to find out, a week later, I had thyroid cancer.

I’d discovered a golf ball-sized lump in my throat a few months prior, but doctors kept assuring me it was a benign thyroid nodule. After performing a biopsy, the nodule tested cancer positive.

I was in disbelief.

Before receiving the news, I didn’t even know what the purpose of a thyroid was. Turns out, it’s a crucial hormone that regulates your metabolism, muscle development, heart rate, and mood, among other functions. Doctors insisted thyroid cancer’s one of the most treatable forms of the disease because it’s isolated in the neck. Although treatment involves a simple thyroidectomy to get rid of the tumour, I’d also have to take a manufactured thyroid hormone pill for the rest of my life.

This time around, relative to my first time being diagnosed, I was at an age where I understood what was going on—and I was terrified.

While most of us are aware of the physical effects of cancer, people often overlook the mental toll it takes on patients. When I went to the hospital for appointments, I often felt like the only young person sitting in the waiting room. I couldn’t help but question, “Why me?”

I assumed after beating cancer the first time, I’d be in the clear. But that’s the thing about the disease: it has no mercy and doesn’t discriminate.

Despite often feeling overwhelmed with emotion, I was lucky enough to have an amazing support system of family and friends who helped me through cancer’s mental and physical trials.

Since becoming cancer-free a second time, I’ve become increasingly passionate about naturopathic health and wellness. My experience served as an important lesson about taking advantage of life and making the most of my time, while also taking care of my physical and mental health.

My experience served as an important lesson about taking advantage of life and making the most of my time, while also taking care of my physical and mental health.

The battle also reignited my passion for Relay For life. This year, I’m honoured to be one of Relay For Life’s co-presidents ahead of our 13th annual event at Queen’s on March 8. This year presents new and exciting milestones for Queen’s Relay, as over 600 participants are attending and we expect to reach record-breaking fundraising goals.

Moving forward, I hope to keep sharing my story and inspiring others to get involved in fighting back against the disease that affects so many. After battling it first hand, all I can dream of is a day where no one has to fear the words, “You have cancer.”

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