When asked what motivates me to study exercise and cancer, and to take on a project like Knight’s Cabin I can pinpoint the response to a brief phone call. I will never forget – Jane and I had plans one night and when it came time to get together I could not get a hold of her. I was frustrated and almost hurt she blew me off so I went over to my boyfriend at the time’s house.
We were sitting watching basketball when the phone rang. I was surprised it was for me. It was Jane on the other line. She was at the hospital waiting for test results she had done earlier on in the day. She felt so guilty for breaking our plans she called my house for my boyfriend’s number. She said ‘they think I have cancer, and when I heard that all I wanted to do was talk to you.’ The summer between grade 11 and senior year my best friend Jane was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
That phone call, those few seconds changed my life more than I could have ever imagined. At 17, I watched my best friend have more needles poked in her, more drugs in her and I watched her fight for her life. She lost her hair but never lost her beautiful smile. After a grueling two-year battle, she passed away. I will never forget holding her hand when she gasped for air, drugged so she could not feel the pain and I said good-bye.
Your perception on life changes when you are staring at death. Jane and I had created a ‘bucket list’ for things we wanted to accomplish before we died. It is now up to me and this list has allowed me to live life to a depth I could never have even imagined. Every day, every breath is a treasure. Although I miss her and selfishly I want her with me- I know she inspires me every day.
When Jane was alive, she said – you only get one body, and it is your temple. I realize then how much we take it for granted. I realized when I woke up I just expected my body to work properly without continuously working at it and fueling it right. This shifted my perspective on health. There are behaviours we can control to improve physical and mental health that will allow us to do everything we want in life.
During Jane’s treatment I felt so useless! I had no medical training at 17, no marketable skills, and I didn’t always know what to say. All I could try to do was be there when she needed me, bring her candy when necessary and that when we went for walks or did yoga it lifted her spirits and improved her sleep. This was something I could DO to help. I had no idea this would eventually become the basis for my masters thesis and PhD dissertation.
I have the honour and privilege to work with cancer patients and survivors everyday. They have the most incredible perspective on life. Life and health are gifts. While the survivors I worked with were exercising, we had countless conversations. The same survivorship issues kept coming up over and over again. The frustration of the lack of resources and programming care was apparent.
It was coming to the end of my PhD and I needed to decide what I wanted to pursue for my career. Inspired by Jane, the survivors I worked with and my passion for preventative medicine I came up with the concept of Knight’s Cabin: a place to heal, a place for desired health behaviour programming, creativity, a survivorship community and hope. Providing survivors the time to heal and focus on their health.