The most important thing to know is that you are not alone! We all have different experiences & stories. Keep checking this part of our site to read stories (scroll down). If you wish to share your own story, please send us an email at Thank You!

Special thank you to Ashley Paquette for writing these stories as well as the courageous individuals who told them. Together we can make a difference! Thank you North Bay Nugget! Thank you Bay Today!


Dr. Sheryl Riley M.D.,
breast cancer survivor.

I thought at my age, I was going to recover quickly; they said it takes six weeks to recover from radiation, so I thought, 'Okay, good, I’ll just be back to work at the end of those six weeks.

So I went back to work and, you know what?

You get sliced, diced, and radiated... you don’t bounce back as quickly. It doesn’t matter which age you are.

I felt just as lost as everybody else.
There’s a lot of literature being handed out, and it’s possible I could have missed something. But I was not in the position to do it - I mean, I have a medical background that makes it easier for me to read - but I’m stressed out, I’m over tired, I have a dozen decisions to make, and then I’m in chemo and my brain is poached - and when my brain isn't poached, I want my time to be with my family and doing activities that will make my life valuable. That in itself says something.

So how do you figure out what you’ll need to support yourself? I think that’s the element we’re missing.

And that’s where the idea of the Cancer Wellness Day and website came from.

Dr. Sheryl Riley M.D., breast cancer survivor.


Amanda Bellefeuille,
breast cancer survivor.


The chemo doses caused a lot of nausea, hair loss, and my feet always felt like they were burning from the inside.

There was weight gain; I always thought that when you had cancer and when you go through chemo you lose weight, but it was the opposite. It turns out it is quite common with breast cancer. They also encourage you not to lose or gain too much weight because they want to keep your meds on the same dose, but it’s kind of hard when you can’t control what’s happening. And it’s not like I was eating more, because of the intense nausea that I had.

I probably didn’t start to feel better until about a year after chemo had stopped, because I had surgery six weeks after my last dose. I also did radiation for a month.

The radiation itself wasn’t too bad – but I do know a lot of people going through the same thing who ended up getting second or third degree burns.

Everyone’s trip through cancer diagnosis and treatment is going to be different - I know people who had it worse than I did, and I know people who were going through something similar, but who did activities right after chemo, like going shopping.

I was laid out in bed all afternoon.

It’s hard to find someone who is going through similar experiences because it’s such a broad variety of symptoms that you can have.

I think the schooling program that I went through at the time was helpful, because it brought me back to my culture, our teachings, and a lot of our ceremonies.

I relied a lot on learning our language – it was kind of like a distraction, but something that was worthwhile. It was a useful distraction.

Doing a lot of sewing and beadwork, and our traditional arts – that was my main focus."

Amanda Bellefeuille, breast cancer survivor.

#SilverLiningsPhotoSeries #CancerWellnessDay

Tara Blake,
breast cancer survivor.
"I think generally, I have a pretty good outlook; I choose to sit in the power of my position. 

I think my biggest struggle was just mourning the loss of my own mortality.

We all thankfully kind of walk around like nothing is going to happen - that we're going to live, that we're going to live to this ripe old age....

But cancer changes that for you.

So I think that's where my discomfort and sadness sit, I don't have that security. My prognosis is very good, thankfully, but I don't have the security that I once had, that everything is just fine.

For me, it was a little bit harder with the after-effects of treatment. I'm thrilled it's done, I don't want to repeat it, but you're kind of in that stage of limbo - learning to trust your body again, learning new ways to think about things and process what's happened... so I found I needed a little more support afterwards, and I felt it helped to chat with a social worker about some of those things.

I think the community is really North Bay's strength, and I think people are really going to latch on to this idea. What we need to do is give people ideas of how they can help.

The discrepancy lies in the management of cancer resources, so just not having them right at your fingertips is one thing, and it would be nice if we had that here. For example, once you get diagnosed, here are the options; you know there are going to be changes after surgery, you should probably see a therapist; there may be changes with dietary matters, so here's a list of dieticians that you can see to help you through that.

Emotional healing and management is huge, so for me I think just keeping my head in the game was huge. They all processed it in different ways. My 14 year old, he knew that it was potentially not good, and sort of understood the impact of surgery and chemo. He was fabulous through it all, and several times a day he would say things like, 'Mom, can I get you anything? How are you doing? You're tired, how about I just take over with the little kids.'

My 12 year old at the time, he had the biggest ...outward reaction initially. But I felt like he was pretty well supported, because he had a few friends with mothers who had gone through with it at the same time. I think he was able to see it from a slightly different perspective.

I think my 10 year old struggled the most, my daughter. She's very stoic to your face, but I would hear her crying at night in her bedroom. She was sad.

My three year old at the time? She didn't get it (laughter).

As a mom, you just want your kids to be happy. And you want to protect them, and let them have that childhood for as long as they can.

And I felt like this kind of ripped them of that. That innocence and that security, that their parents will be there and they are going to be able to support them... it just brought a sense of insecurity into that piece for them.

My six year old at the time, I ...remember him saying the night before my surgery - my husband was working and I was alone with the kids and I was feeling edgy because of this surgery - we were just chatting over dinner and he said, "I am just so excited!!"

All of our jaws dropped, like all of the older kids.

"What do you mean Graeme?" - Like how can you get excited?

He said, "well, everyone keeps talking about this."

"So you're excited-happy? Excited-nervous?"

"Well, I think a bit of both. But everyone just keeps talking about it."

And it's true. You don't see it through their eyes, but it just became all-consuming."

Tara Blake, breast cancer survivor.

#SilverliningsPhotoSeries #CancerWellnessDay 


Bill Walton,
breast cancer survivor.
"They did the studies afterwards – all the studies of the remaining cancer of the breast, and everything was cleared, except for one little spot - and there was one spot in the middle, but they were very certain they got it all .

They decided I didn’t need radiation or chemotherapy, so I’m on Tamoxifen – which is what women usually take when they get standard old breast cancer, if they don’t hav...e radiation or chemo.

There were a lot of side effects to expect – and one of them is hot flashes. I had two or three! So now I know what the girls are going through, but other than that I feel fine. So far everything is good.

Because of my association with The Warriors, I knew a lot of those girls, and lot of them passed away – I heard a lot about their treatments and of course I knew about my wife’s – when they said “yeah, you’re going to have an operation,” the delay seemed unusually long. And that was the concern of all the survivors – they were saying “man, you gotta push them, you gotta push them.”
And my wife did! She got on the phone and my local physician was amazing. He phoned the hospital and got these things moving.

I don’t know if they system is overburden. But I think there is a feeling out there that if you have breast cancer, you’ve had it for a long time. And I’m not sure that’s true. I think of mine – I found out the middle of June, and two weeks later, it grew noticeably. We need a better understanding of what the person is going through.

To me, one of the big things about surviving cancer is your attitude. But it’s also the attitude of your partner, your spouse, your family – because once you’ve had cancer, you’re always thinking, “gee I wonder, did they get it all? Or is it going to come back?” And it’s a big stress factor on relationships.

Some relationships fail because one of the partners has a potentially fatal disease. I think we need more talk about that, about the support that we need and that we can give.

I mean, that’s not a part of the health care system per se, but it could be."
Bill Walton, breast cancer survivor.

#SilverLiningsPhotoSeries #CancerWellnessDay

Jamie Barkwell,
glioblastoma (brain) cancer. 
"I have glioblastoma, brain cancer. There were no symptoms. Instead it was a 22 minute Grand Mal seizure. 

I was at work in Halliburton on November the 5th 2015. I came down off of a roof - I work at Heights - and I took my work boots off, headed to my car and then seized up, fell over. I did not breathe for close to two minutes. 22 minutes later I woke up, didn't know what happened.

Halliburton... didn't have the facilities to diagnose what happened, so it was either epilepsy, an aneurism or a brain bleed. I came home quick that night, here to North Bay, and my family doctor got everything going instantly. Within two months, from the day I had surgery, they found a tumour, and that's how it all started.

My plan was 36 weeks of chemo. It's fairly harsh, but I did change my diet, and I had one sick day. I worked through the whole thing, I even returned to work the first day I started chemo.

But not by choice, really. Because chemo is extremely expensive. I ended up paying for it - in the neighborhood of $30,000 plus.

I don't know if people are aware, but if your chemo happens in the hospital, it's covered. So part of my treatment was in the North Bay hospital. The chemo ward, and hospital in general, was phenomenal - great people, great staff. Never had a bad experience there.

But anything you do at home, like pill-form, and for me, there's no coverage. Unless you work for someone who has a health plan, it's not covered under OHIP.

I had absolutely no idea I was going to have to pay for this. There's really nothing for people who don't have an insurance plan.

I did get Trillium, but Trillium took about five months to kick in. So even with Trillium, I'm broke. I did try to do a consumer proposal, but the payments they wanted for it was just too much. If I miss one, I lose everything, right?

When I went to Sudbury with my wife, they didn't know how I was going to be able to afford this. But what choice do I have?

(Question: and what would have been the consequences, if you wouldn't have been able to pay for any of this?)

Death. Or I would have just self medicated and lived with it.

I'm 41 years old. I'm six years away from being mortgage-free. And I'm on the verge of losing absolutely everything.

For two months, I did have medical EI, but you're only allowed to be sick on medical unemployment for six weeks. I was told to get a pension, but the pension wouldn't even cover my mortgage. So I lived off of my line of credits, re-mortgaging, and credit cards to pay my bills. I don't know if you've ever been on unemployment, but it's not a lot of money.

I'm at that point where, I don't know what I'm gonna do, and I don't really care what happens.

I'm here, and that's all what matters. If they want my house, they can have it.

At first they thought it was a less severe cancer, so everything was supposed to go well. My surgeon and the surgical team in Sudbury did a fantastic job. My doctor said they got between 90%-99% of the tumour, but it's a tumour that is not a mass per se, it's more of a jelly. So far there has been no change in anything - so there's nothing to say the mass is there, and there's nothing to say that... the mass isn't there. Without dye, it's not very visible.

I'm a construction worker and I work in Heights, so the year of chemo I stayed on the ground. I instantly started taking high doses of vitamin D because I had to stay out of the sun. I still have seizures. My leg shuts off - the tumour was located at the control center of the lower right half of my body - so I still don't feel my toes very well.

I never laid down. After the surgery, I had to learn to walk again. My lower half didn't work. Some people get in the 'oh woe is me' perspective, but how many people get to say they learned how to walk again? I got to be a baby again. I had to learn to look at my toes and make my toes work.

It took me four months to learn to walk again; I started on a walker, with absolutely no control of my right leg, none. Almost to the point where I had to physically lift my right leg and bring it down. I had to exercises sitting down, and everything my physiotherapist told me to do, I did four times the amount. Then I started using a cane; I went to work with a cane in a supervisor role. And I just kept going.

For 24/7 I could not be left alone, at all. More to do with the surgery than the cancer. My sister from Alberta came and stayed for two and a half weeks, gave my wife a break, so my wife could actually breathe.

But it got to the point where my wife turned into a parent for a while. And it took a long time for her to me, you know, be normal again. Because you're in protected-mode, right? Everything worked out very well, but I think it was harder on my wife and family than it was on me.

I've been blessed to have an extremely active lifestyle. I've done more things in my life than many hundreds of people have done altogether - jumped out of airplanes, professional motor cross, a sponsored rider, a professional shooter, I'm a firearms instructor - I'm all over the place. I'm never not moving. I'm constantly going.

My oncologist said, 'this isn't good, nobody beats this.'

Well, ...someone has to be the first.

Right after surgery, my surgeon noticed that I have an obvious deficiency in my right leg, and he said it might be permanent.

Then cut it off. Give me a fake leg. If I'm not gonna feel it, take it. I don't need it.

His response? "Right attitude."

Everything has been about attitude.

I've got three silver linings; first, you're gonna find out who is not your friend. I have an ex-friend of mine, and I don't ever wanna see him again. Just completely - whether he didn't know how to handle it - he just completely shut down and left.

And then I had people that came out of the woodwork, people who were not close to me, but who did absolutely everything - helped, helped, helped.

I found out a lot about my family, family that I don't really care about anymore. The sister who I thought was going to be there the most, helped the least. And the sister that I didn't think was going to be able to help, because she lives in Alberta, was the most supportive.

And that leads to my second silver lining; you will realize that there are lot of people who do care. There's a lot of people who you can talk to.

My third silver lining, I had two 'Debbie-Downer' moments - my strong Irish strength actually broke twice:

Once right after surgery. I was in the intensive care unit. I was paralyzed, I had 12 seizures in one day, and it was expected because of the swelling and surgery.

I thought, 'I don't deserve this, this sucks.'

I don't smoke, I don't drink, I'm an athlete, I work... I do everything right.

But while thinking this, at the exact same time, the orange helicopter flew in and landed. I saw a stretcher, and an ambulance tech working on this person as they were all going into the hospital.

I said to myself, 'you know what? Shut up. You could be that person. That person is having a worse day than you.'

The second time, I was on an exercise bike that I had just purchased. I started using it before returning to work, to get my leg moving again. I was struggling; my foot kept falling off with the strap, and I had a seizure while riding the bike.

Again, I'm thinking, 'aw, this sucks. I don't deserve this!'

At the exact same time, an ambulance goes by my house, full rip, lights going. And again, I told myself, 'shut up. You can be in an ambulance right now.'

No matter how bad it is, it could be worse."
Jamie Barkwell, glioblastoma (brain) cancer. 

Amanda Maire Allard,
family caregiver.

"She pretty much raised me. My mom was really sick when my brother and I were kids. She was someone who I saw every single day, for 23 years of my life. So I think that she was probably the only person in my life who gave me the motivation to do everything that I've done, because she was such a big part of my life.

She was very funky. She loved cooking, that was her number one thing. She didn't care what anyone ever thought of her. She was very sarcastic, she would sing, and she would tell these stories, and while telling them, she had the most obnoxious laugh in the world. It was cute. She was diagnosed in 2014 with breast cancer. They had found it was in her lymph nodes, so she went down to the Princess Margaret hospital and had the surgery.

I think they started her off on a diet, but of course she didn't follow it - she loved her cheeseburgers, she didn't care, which was awesome.

A year later she was in remission, and we found out that she had lung cancer.

So in 2015 we did a full round of chemo in North Bay, and because it was at a stage four, it wasn't enough. We actually moved down to Sudbury for six weeks of chemo and radiation; my mom rented a place on the lake which was really nice. We knew that they had a hotel right beside the hospital, but my mom wanted it to be more personal and comfortable for my grandmother.

I was in school, and my mom worked during the day, so she moved her entire office to Sudbury. My step-dad would drive my grandma to radiation, and we would take care of her at night when she would go through her symptoms. There was vomiting, she couldn't swallow her pills in the morning... she had a hard time with it. She was barely eating, and she lost a lot of weight.

I knew she was struggling with self-image issues. Every morning I would draw on her eyebrows, and she loved that. That was her favourite thing to do in the morning.

It was hard, but I knew she would have done it for me. So I did everything I could for her to make sure she was happy and comfortable."

"I was going to dropout - my thoughts were, 'if I do this, I'm going to have no regrets. If I don't do this, I would probably never forgive myself.' I was already missing a lot of school because I didn't want to miss her doctor appointments and I wanted to go to her surgeries. It was affecting my education, and I knew my grandmother didn't want that.

But in my mind, she was my number one priority.

So I contacted Modern College, explained the situation, so I ended up getting transferred to the Modern College in Sudbury.

It was hard studying, because it was a condensed course. The courses were very difficult, plus I was helping out, giving my mom and stepdad a break... it was hard to focus.

The physician admitted her in the North Bay hospital because she was going to pass; they told her she had a month left. It wasn't the cancer that was killing her, it was the medication.

So my mom bought the house - that they live in now - so that she could bring my grandma home to live full time at the house. She came home for three weeks, which was awesome. We had people coming in all the time to check on her. I think our biggest accomplishment was having her home for those three weeks, to have that time with her.

But she ended up getting sick again. So they put her on A2. As her condition got worse, they kept moving her down the hall. And then she ended up in palliative.

I was always in denial of the whole situation, like there's no way she's going to die.

We were all there, she was never alone the entire time. I saw my mom go through a lot, because she had to work. She set up an office in the hospital room, and we had cots in and out. We always stayed there.

The hardest part for me was seeing her go through these attacks where she would stop breathing, cough, cough, cough. She would try and scurry out of bed just to get some air; so the nurses would bring in a morphine mask to calm her down.

Seeing her bed pan, seeing the catheter, things like that... I was never good with medical stuff.

The morning of her death, I was out of town for a course for the day. My mom had called me and she said “'he nurse said she has a couple of days.'

I drove to the hospital immediately. Her fingers started to turn blue – they kept saying it was going to be a couple of days, but something wasn’t right – and I told her, “it’s okay to go.”

Not even five minutes later, she was gone.

I was lucky enough to be there, holding her hand on one side, while my mother was on the other.

I initially took a week off work, and thought, “there has to be a way for me to help.”

I saw the reaction my grandma had when I would go in and do her eyebrows, it would put a smile on her face.

I wanted to make women and men with cancer feel good about themselves. To be a companion, someone that they can talk to, because the family is already going through enough.

So I looked online and found that there was an oncology esthetics program, and that’s the field that I’m in. I buckled down, signed up for the course, and it took about eight months to finish.

I decided that this is what I want to do, this is the career path that I want to take. Being certified to work on patients who have been diagnosed with cancer."

Amanda Maire Allard, family caregiver.

Marcus Popp,
testicular cancer survivor.

"You're at that vulnerable age, wondering what could happen to you. So naturally when you're in the shower, you just start to wash certain parts a little more carefully. And I was in the shower one day, washing the inevitable area, and I found a little bump there. It was so instantaneous - that I knew something wasn't right with me. And what's the likelihood? My brother had testicular cancer (in 2008), and I get it a year later.

Within a couple of days I found myself on the surgery table, going through the same thing as my brother. The difference was that my treatment wasn't for removal, but to go through the chemotherapy route.

I was the athlete; you take care of your body, you exercise a lot, and you're proud of the way you look - and so I feared the big surgery. But you do what you can - if the doctor tells you to drink five gallons of gasoline to get rid of this, you would probably do it. So I ended up going through what was supposed to be the four round chemotherapy route, and ended up just doing one round.

It's quite an experience to go through something like that; the list of pills you have to take; everything is disgusting, food doesn't taste good; my temperature would spike; you're itchy; you start to lose hair, your face becomes a little pale... to experience those types of physical changes every morning, it was kind of shocking at first. But I was prepared for it. I was hairless Marcus for quite a few weeks.

I did really well on my treatment, physically speaking. But the process of what it did to my ears - there was this ringing that started two days into my treatment, and it started escalating - known as tinnitus, it was getting worse. After my three weeks they did some studies and tests. The doctor said that if I carried on with chemotherapy, I'm either going to be severely hearing impaired or deaf by the end of my treatment. That's when they take alternative routes, and thank God, because that's when I had my first kid. The thought of hearing your kids laugh, hearing your kids cry, having conversations with your wife... I'm never going to hear that. And that's when it really hit me, that wow, I have something wrong with me here.

Everything stopped on the chemo front, and I started doing radiation therapy."

"I was always the one who documented my previous track and field workouts, so I did the same with this book. I noted all of my doctor appointments, what nurse I had to see that day, or anything to do with cancer. It all went into this little book. It was quite an ordeal.

This book, I really enjoyed doing it because I was fascinated with when you start at beginning of a season to as the season progresses, with burnout and fatigue, and even the positive things. This book kind of followed the same concept - it really put things into perspective, with what time frame I'm going to be looking at, people that help you along the way, how I felt. On a day to day basis, I wrote what I felt and what I did that day.

I realized how strong of a person I am, going through something like that. Having a good support group is great, but I'm also a tough a competitor.

I also labeled a file folder - all of my receipts and paperwork I ever needed is in it - and it says, "just another bump."

I tell people that. It's just another bump. I think I had a very optimistic viewpoint of it, and I think my sports have carved me to be more resilient - it's like bouncing back after a bad workout.

We all have our bad days, and while this bad day would last for a year, I knew it would pass. There's a lot more to look forward to."

- Marcus Popp, testicular cancer survivor.