South Okanagan community rallies around 24-year-old mom diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer
Emma Alcott, 24, of Willowbrook, B.C., was studying psychology, working part-time and raising her young family when her life was turned upside down.
The mother of two was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma last May.
“I couldn’t believe it at first and then I was like, ‘I have two kids and I’m so young and how could this happen?’” she told Global Okanagan on Monday.
Alcott suffered from daily migraines for a year and a half prior to her diagnosis, but three physicians told her they thought it was related to stress or depression.
It wasn’t until Alcott complained of chest pain that a CT scan revealed the crushing truth.
“It kind of felt like something was moving in my chest when I would take deep breaths. They thought that maybe it was a blood clot so they did a CT scan and found a huge tumour instead,” she said.
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“It was taking up my whole chest cavity. My oncologist said that it was huge, and by the time I got to see the oncologist, you could kind of see it coming out,” Alcott said.
What followed was a flurry of chemotherapy sessions, but last fall, a PET scan determined that the cancer had either quickly relapsed or was refractory, which means it was non-responsive to chemotherapy.
Now, Alcott is undergoing another round of chemo and is preparing for a stem cell transplant at Vancouver General Hospital in mid-April.
The stem cell transplant will rebuild her bone marrow, which has been wiped out by a high dose of chemotherapy, and the procedure will require up to three months of hospitalization.
Alcott is encouraging other young people to listen to their bodies and advocate for themselves if they believe something is wrong.
She said the late-stage diagnosis may be related to why the treatments haven’t been successful. She now has a 30 to 40 per cent chance of survival.
“The symptoms are so non-specific that I think that they get missed a lot, not only by people but by doctors as well,” she said.
“It’s itching, rashes and being tired when you lift your hands above your arms. It’s things that people brush off like it’s nothing, and if it’s caught earlier, it has such high cure rates if it’s caught early.”
Alcott also discovered that she doesn’t qualify for any government assistance because she was a full-time student at the time of diagnosis.
“There is really nothing for the university-age group. There is a big gap there, and I never realized it before,” she said.
“I always thought if people get sick, there is something that they are going to be able to qualify for but there is nothing.”
Alcott’s fiancé, Devon, is doing everything he can to support his family, but he works in seasonal construction and was recently laid off.
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“I don’t like seeing her sick and ill. I want to be there and take care of her, and you kind of feel helpless because you can’t really do anything,” he said.
Now, the young couple’s family and friends are rallying to fundraise for the additional expenses related to the treatment of Alcott’s disease.
A fundraiser dinner will be held at the Barley Mill Brew Pub in Penticton, B.C., on April 6 at 6 p.m.
“The tickets are $20, and after we will be having a silent auction as well as a raffle to raise money to help Emma with her stem cell transplant,” said Alcott’s sister, LeAnne Alcott.
Her mother, Hally Calverley, also wants to raise awareness about the lack of financial assistance for university students facing a major health crisis.
“There’s that gap with students — the kids we want to get educated and be our future ← there is a gap in support when something like this happens,” she said.
Alcott said she is overwhelmed by the community’s support.
“The amount of community support and support from my family and my friends and Devon’s family has been amazing. Without it, I don’t know what I would have done,” she said.
A GoFundMe campaign has also raised more than $4,000 to support the family.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, an estimated 990 Canadians were diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2017, and 140 Canadians died from the disease that same year.
It is a cancer that involves part of a person’s immune system and is most often seen in people aged 20 to 40.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.