Win the Day: The story of a 25 year-old, 3x cancer survivor
My name is Marc Normandeau, I am 25 years old and I have been intermittently receiving treatments for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), since the age of four.
My story starts when I was first hit with the illness as a young boy; where I did not understand the reality of what I was going through. It was a time where I felt as though I was being forced into treatments that made me lose my hair, feel sick and go through other side effects that no person, let alone a child should experience. After two and a half years of chemotherapy, most of which I can’t even remember, I had completed my protocol which allowed me to stay in remission for several years, returning to a normal childhood…until March of 2008 during a family vacation.
Vacationing in Florida and going to Disney World is usually something people come back from with a smile on their face. Unfortunately, that was not the case for my family and I. After 9 years of remission, I had been re-diagnosed with ALL.
Everything happened so fast; from the diagnosis of the relapse at the Florida Children’s Hospital, to the emergency flights my father ordered to fly us back to Montreal; to the confirmation of the diagnosis.
This second experience with the disease was much harder than the first. I was given high-dose chemotherapy that caused many more intense complications including strokes, hematomas, and fevers of 107 Celsius, among others. This time, I had a psychological advantage, which was my age. I understood more, which allowed me to accept the treatments more so than when I was younger and after another two and a half years, I was once again considered in full remission. My family, doctors, friends and I all thought that I was in the clear from this awful disease.
I returned to a normal teenage life, getting back to my favorite sports, school, and social life. I was happy with the progress that I had made and up until the age of 18, I had been lucky enough to avoid any major tragedies that would involve my family or my friends. I was happy, and I felt blessed to be able to live the life I was living. Unfortunately, this feeling soon faded in September of 2013, when my father was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), turning my family and I’s lives upside down for the third time.
My father fought his battle with courage, strength, and determination, like most of us patients do, and he was an inspiration to so many people, including myself. Throughout his battle, he adopted a motto that he carried with him until the day he passed away, in August of 2014.
This motto read “Win The Day” (WTD), which means to go out and appreciate your everyday life; to win each and every day. To be happy, to be thankful for your health, and to love your surroundings. Why was this so important to him? Because as he was there beside me through my own health struggles, and now with his own wellness deteriorating, he realized that life is unpredictable. You never know what will happen tomorrow.
His motto resonated with me, and I used it as inspiration everyday. What I didn’t know was just how significant it would become in the upcoming year.
Four months after my father’s death, I was diagnosed with the same leukemia for the third time. It felt as though I was caught up in a nightmare. This time it was different once again, in the sense that I was more aware of the effects that it had on the people who cared about me. In other words, I was more concerned with how my family was taking the diagnosis in comparison to how I was taking it. We had barely had time to grieve over my father’s passing before my second relapse, and much like the first relapse, our lives became chaotic.
Going through several years of chemotherapy treatments was no longer an option, and my bone marrow transplant was the only chance for survival. My protocol consisted of five months of chemotherapy, which brought on some expected side effects such as nausea, fatigue, suppression of the immune system, and others. I was isolated in my hospital room for weeks at a time, which was not only physically draining, but psychologically draining as well. Each of the two times that I was admitted to the hospital, I lost 30 pounds due to the lack of inactivity and my pulse racing because of my suppressed immune system. On top of the chemo, I was introduced to radiation, which I had never experienced before. I went through ten brain radiation treatments, along with six treatments of total body radiation. These toxic remedies were administered right before my transplant with the goal of destroying most of my bone marrow so that the donor’s cells could successfully engraft and take control of my body. On April 16, 2015, I received my transplant and after one month of complete isolation, I was released from the hospital and began the long recovery process, which I am still undergoing today.
I am writing this to you, one week short of the 5-year anniversary of my bone marrow transplant, the day where I was given a second chance at life. My donor, who was a 29-year-old at the time of his donation, actively saved my life by selflessly choosing to donate his bone marrow to a complete stranger. Living in Germany, he had no vision of who would be the recipient of his life-saving decision, but that didn’t stop him from going through with the process. In 2018, my donor and I connected for the first time and the experience was indescribable. Since then, we’ve stayed in touch and have both gained a brother for life.
Today, I am relatively healthy and am fully integrated back into the normal swing of things; working full-time and having recently graduated from university in December. I am still under post-transplant, Immuno-suppressant therapy to treat the Graft versus Host disease (GVHd) that I have, but this pales in comparison to the rest of my path that I went through and I am grateful to be where I am today.
In Canada, there is a significant need for bone marrow donations and patients who need these critical procedures need your help! If you healthy, and aged between 18-35 years old, I can’t encourage you enough to donate today by clicking on Become A Donor at the top of this website’s Home Page!
Don't let your illness define who you are! Win the Day!
3-time Cancer Survivor