Personal experience motivates student to research connection between cancer and Canada’s colonial legacy

November 15, 2019 | Health, Society


I was 17 and still in high school in 2008 when the pain started. I was constantly going to the doctor and they would dismiss me, saying, “You’re too young for this to even be possible.” They didn’t believe me when I said how much pain I was in.

The tumor grew rapidly, to the size of my fist, and created a blockage in my large intestine. For 11 days, I kept going back to the emergency room. They wouldn’t give me an x-ray or an ultrasound. As my intestine expanded and ripped, everyone kept saying that nothing could possibly be wrong.

Thank god the doctors at the university hospital emergency room listened and rushed me into surgery. They removed the tumor and part of my intestine. I lost a lot of weight and strength. After I underwent preventative chemo, I was told there was no way I would ever get cancer.

I thought I was in the clear. Everything was great. But in May, I found out that I have Stage 4 cancer. I’m not going to lie — some days are very difficult.

I was healthy. I went to the gym, I didn’t smoke — and still got cancer. I’m not even 30 years old. How does that happen? It’s one of the hard questions I’ve been asking in my research. I’m trying to get a broader understanding of cancer and how it’s connected to the colonial legacy of Canada. A lot of people think that’s a huge stretch, but I’m living it.

This time I'm trying more than one approach. I'm doing chemo and traditional healing. If it wasn’t for ceremony and Indigenous ways of living, I probably would have given up. I would have let the doctors’ narratives be louder than my own. I would have just quit, but being able to access those spaces and those teachings has really given me strength and grounding in ways that nothing else could.

I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t reclaim those ways.

— Ashley, Bachelor of Arts (sociology) student, kihêw waciston peer advisor and president of the Indigenous Students Club

Ashley shared her story and research at Red Talks on November 13.


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