Support, positive attitude pulls survivor through cancer experience

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Even when you have a family history of cancer, it can still be a shock to get a diagnosis, something Madi Novakowski discovered when she found out, at the age of 21, that she had Hodgkin Lymphoma.

“My auntie is a breast cancer survivor and my grandpa actually passed away from cancer when I was younger but it actually never really crossed my mind,” she said, of considering that she too could be affected by the disease. “I guess you never really think that it could happen to you.”

Novakowski, who was born and raised in St. Paul, had moved to the city in the summer of 2016 to start her post-secondary education.

When she developed a lump in her neck, she didn’t think much of it but still went to have it checked out. Blood work and testing showed nothing out of the ordinary.

“A few months later, another lump formed on the other side of my neck and that’s when I got pretty worried and knew something wasn’t right. After a couple biopsies and ultrasounds, it came back positive for Hodgkin Lymphoma Stage 2 in my chest, neck and under arms,” she said.

Strangely enough, she said she received the news very calmly; in fact, on the day that she found out about the cancer, she told her doctor she was going on vacation for a couple of weeks before starting her treatments.

“The hardest part was having to tell my family and people I love,” she said, adding that it remains difficult for her parents to talk about without getting choked up.

Novakowski deferred her plans to go to school as she began treatment. She underwent chemotherapy for four months, going to the Cross Cancer Institute once every two weeks. Having to spend the day in the hospital with an IV was no picnic, but for the most part, other than feeling tired and sometimes nauseated after the treatment, she said she felt she “was very fortunate throughout the whole process.”

“I had such great support, my boyfriend came with me to every treatment and stood by my side the whole time so that made it a little easier. My family would text me each morning I had treatments, giving me words of encouragement and love,” she said, adding that she was always close with her family, but her cancer diagnosis and treatment brought them even closer.

“And all the doctors and nurses and the cross are so great and compassionate to everyone they encounter. I’ve definitely had a few good laughs with all my nurses. I felt very comfortable whenever I had to walk in, which is so important because you don’t want it to have to be harder then it already is.”

Novakowski said despite the difficulties and challenges, she promised herself she would make the best of her fight with cancer, keeping a smile on her face, with the experience showing her how strong she could be.

“I had it very lucky compared to some so it just makes you realize how much worse it could’ve been and that life is just way too short to take things for granted.”

When she finished her last treatment, she rang the bell at the Cross Cancer Institute as hard as she could to signify the end, with everyone present cheering for her, making the moment an even more emotional one.

“I cried when I finished my last treatment,” she said, adding, “It was such a great feeling, just like a huge weight off your shoulders.”

As for her prognosis, Novakowski says, “I was cleared at my appointment after my last chemo treatment on Nov. 28 so now it’s just check-ups every three months.”

In the months following the end of her treatment, she says she finds herself appreciating things she overlooked before, and looks around and sees reasons to feel that life is great.

“I would also like to take this time to thank The Quilting Bees Guild in St. Paul for the beautiful blanket they made and sent to me. It definitely came in handy and I got a lot of use out of it,” she added.

Now Novakowski is looking forward, as she pursues a real estate course online and as she and her boyfriend settle into life in Edmonton, where they recently purchased a place.

“I still get really nervous when I go for my check-ups but I’ve always had positive feedback from all my check-ups, even during treatments, as I’ve never had a low blood count scare or anything like that, but yeah, it’s still nerve-wracking because you just never know. (You) just hope for the best, I guess,” she said, adding that she hopes that by sharing her story, that others who may also face a diagnosis of cancer may be able to look for and see the positives of their journey, and find their path made a little easier too.

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