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Meet Hayleigh...

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31 year olds get cancer too. Meet Hayleigh known on our community as HayleighConnell read more to learn about her journey with worry, hope, and her pal Liam.


Hello everyone!

My name is Hayleigh and I am 31 years old. I live in Kamloops, B.C. with my amazing boyfriend, Keith, and our 12 year old dog, Liam. I am a Social Worker by education and until last October was working with adults with severe substance use, and mental health, issues. I love spending time with my family and friends, reading, watching movies, playing slo-pitch, doing yard work and learning new things. Last October life took an incredibly big detour into the world of Cancer. 

 
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Symptoms and Diagnosis
At the end of last summer I noticed that I had started to gain weight quickly, and noticed a hardness in my abdomen. I was peeing frequently, which any one who knows me would tell you this is not unusual, but it was excessively frequent, and I was tired all the time. On October 3rd, 2016 I went to my family doctor and after a very basic ultrasound he sent me to the hospital that same day. I had an ultrasound, and subsequently a CT scan, and was sent to the ER where I was told I had a large mass on my left ovary and that it would need to be removed. On October 27th that large mass, who I had named "Felicia", was removed and by my follow up with my surgeon a couple weeks later I was informed that there were cancerous cells present. I was told that I was being referred to the BC Cancer Agency, as "Felicia" had been sent there for follow up with their pathologist. On November 28th I met with my oncologist who informed me that I indeed had cancer, but not just one type of cancer, I had ovarian cancer but also an even more rare version called Large Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the Ovary. I was just in the process of planning to return to work, but with this news I was told that I would not be returning to work any time soon, and that I would be starting Chemotherapy, and possibly radiation, as soon as possible. 

 
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Treatment
The next couple weeks passed with a whirlwind of worry, but also hope. Treatment can do that to a person. I started chemotherapy (Cisplatin and Etopiside) two days following my 31st birthday. Treatment was a struggle, but at the same time I was extremely lucky that I managed as well as I did. I had six cycles, 21 days long from December until April of this year. I had a PICC line, which I hated, but I can honestly say it was worth the inconvenience it brought with showering and wearing anything with sleeves. I was extremely blessed to have an amazing support system throughout my journey, and had company every day of Chemo, someone to take me to the PICC cleaning appointments, and people to lift my spirits as needed. Losing my hair was difficult, but I can honestly say it has been a bit of a blessing having short hair in the Kamloops summer heat (30-38 degrees so far this year). 


Where are things now
I completed treatment in April, and unforunately my CT scan in May came back positive for swollen lymph nodes. I had a PET scan to confirm things on July 1st and am awaiting a biopsy at the Cancer Agency in the next few weeks. I have struggled with this recurrence, particularly given that it occured so quickly after. They have told me it is incurable, but that there are still options for treatment. I have learned that there is a difference in the "cancer world" between incurable and treatable/manageable. There are still unanswered questions in my case that hopefully the biopsy will shed light on to. 

I have also been referred to the Personalized Oncogenomic Treatment (POG) trial through BC Cancer. So currently I am in the "hurry up and wait" avenue of cancer care, and doing my best to focus on the fact that I am currently healthy (no symptoms), and have so many things to be grateful for and look forward to in the near future. 

What has helped me
My background in mental health has been a huge asset to me. I have found that I have been "practicing what I preach" to my clients all the time actually does help! I have changed my diet to cut out processed foods, and sugars (getting my sugar from primarily fruit), eating organic meats, and eating more fish and I am exercising daily, particularly going for walks around my neighbourhood. Both the diet and exercise have greatly improved my sleep at night. I use guided visualizations that I found for free on Podcasts, and have been meditating on my own to help clear my mind. I diffuse oils to help create a sense of calm in my home, particularly lavendar and frankinsence. I spend time with my boyfriend, my friends, and my family doing things I enjoy, and I talk openly about what is on my mind. I have also reached out to the Social Worker at the Cancer clinic here in Kamloops, and will be seeing her regularly as well. I have connected with online communities, particularly when I have lacked hope. I have found that hearing other stories of people triumphing over cancer is uplifting and has given me hope when I felt there was none. I have also been working on praciticing mindfulness, as much as possible, to try and stay in the present and not get too drawn into the past or the future.

What has not helped
Googling. While Dr. Google was technically correct about my diagnosis (which I obsessively googled about prior to seeing the doctor), it has not helped me in managing my anxiety. I have realized through many hours of going down the "rabbit hole" of Google that I am an individual and while there may be cases similar to mine, there is no case that is mine, but mine. I am a unique individual and there is no page on Google that will give me the answers I am looking for. So far the Internet in general has only served to rob me of peace of mind. 


What I have learned
I think the biggest lesson I have learned in my journey is that hope is essential. I believe that it is so important to share our stories, and to bring attention to the reality of living with, fighting, and dying from cancer. Hope is what brings light in the darkness of the cancer experience, and without hope we would not have made the advances that we have made, and we would not have the legacies that we leave.

I do not know what the future will bring, but I have hope that whatever the outcome of my journey I will be okay. 

Wishing you all the best in your own journeys. 

Hayleigh Connell
 
 


 




Comments

WOW! Love your advice about Dr. Google. Hope... and gratitude. Thank-you for sharing your journey with us.
  • Posted Sat 26 Aug 2017 09:15 AM EDT
Nice to meet you Hayleigh.
  • Posted Tue 22 Aug 2017 12:05 PM EDT
Hi Hayleigh, my older son is going to be 31 in 2 weeks.  From my perspective, that's very young!  I was watching The Social on tv the other day, and Jessica Allen looks so like you: http://www.thesocial.ca/the-social-team/jessica-allen  
  • Posted Mon 21 Aug 2017 02:16 PM EDT
Hayleigh,I found your note to be so well written, so thoughrough, and so positive, and was so glad to read you are presently well! I would be wonderful if the cancer care team can keep you that way. So much does depend on your attitude to lifes challenges and you seem well equiped to do that in a very positive way! Liam I'm sure must give you special 'licks' when you need them! Best wishes and lots of good vibes! sent your way
  • Posted Sun 20 Aug 2017 12:08 PM EDT
Hayleigh, I love your profile. I got excited when you talked about using the internet. There is so much that I discovered after my treatments that would have been useful to me, but they were on the internet and I stopped using it once I scared myself enough times. I think having  a list of sites to go to is far better than doing a search. I describe going onto the internet and only going to one site like being able to eat only on potato chip. It's not possible. Once you start eating those chips it is game over. When you start searching on the internet you jump from site to site and soon you are on a page that you didn't want to see and may not even be accurate. Oh to have self control.  
  • Posted Tue 08 Aug 2017 11:59 PM EDT
Love the potato chip analogy! So true...I can never have just one!
  • Posted Wed 09 Aug 2017 09:35 AM EDT

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