Deirdre Leahy says cancer isn’t a dirty word; “it’s just what I have.”
And she isn’t afraid to tell others she has been fighting Hodgkin’s lymphoma since she was 17 years old.
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In Nova Scotia alone, 312 males and females aged 15 to 29 were diagnosed with cancer over the last five years, according to a Canadian Cancer Statistics report released Thursday. That’s about 62 young people annually.
“People have to understand that I have cancer to understand me,” Leahy, now 24, said after sharing her story with a small group gathered inside the Canadian Cancer Society’s office on South Street.
That’s why she refused to wear a wig to her prom when she graduated from the former Sir John A. Macdonald High School and has gladly let all her friends rub her head after going through chemotherapy.
Across Canada, about 2,075 young people are diagnosed with cancer annually and 326 die from the disease.
“While the increase in survival is good news, more information is needed about cancer in this age group and about the unique challenges these young patients face so more can be done,” says Louise Parker, chair of population cancer research for the society’s Nova Scotia Division.
Lymphomas are one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers for both genders in this age group, the society says.
Leahy said obstacles she has faced include taking five instead of three years to complete her German degree at Dalhousie University and not being able to work while going to school.
“It’s that weird stage in life when you’re going from child to adult,” she said. “You’re taking control of your world, and even though you have cancer, it’s still your world.”
Leahy hopes talking about cancer will help encourage other young people to stay healthy and if they have cancer, to stay strong and follow their dreams.
“I just want to be an ESL teacher and just travel the world.”