Debra’s story: The trip that saved my life

Debra: I grew up in a small town called Pangnirtung, Nunavut with a population less than 2,000 people. I'm the second-oldest of my 4 sisters, and my whole family lives in the town. We are very close with each other, so it was really difficult for us when we lost my younger sister, Samantha, 5 years ago to a brain tumour and my older sister, Julia, to a colon cancer 3 months before my high school graduation.

Samantha was in treatments for a long time in Ottawa, but Julia found out that she had cancer late and passed away 2 months after her diagnosis. Three months after Julia passed away on May 31, I was on my way to Ottawa with my 8 classmates for our graduation celebration trip. Our plan was to go to Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City.

During our second flight to Ottawa, I started vomiting. It was strange for me, as I felt normal at that time. I continued to vomit everything I ate for the first 4 days of the trip until the teacher made the decision to take me to the hospital in Quebec City. My aunt from Ottawa travelled to meet me while my classmates continued on with the rest of their trip.

I remember sitting in an emergency room with people speaking French all around me, and both my aunt and I had no idea what they were saying. I was scared. My aunt told him we didn't understand, and he came back with a translator who told us that I had a brain tumour the size of a lemon and 3 polyps. Me and my aunt just looked at each other in shock.

Thankfully the surgeons were able to remove it all. And a few weeks later, I was transferred to a hospital in Ottawa where I did radiation for 6 weeks. I didn't get back home until 4 and 1/2 months after I left.

Today, 3 years later, I have a full-time job as an office clerk and still have to travel back down to Ottawa for tests every 3 months. I bring one family member on each trip, because I can have a seizure at any time and my doctor doesn't want me to travel alone. Sometimes I look forward to the trip and sometimes I don't, but I am glad that I am still here to help my mom take care of my older sister's daughter, Faith. Her singing brightens my day.