This is Jason’s story. Hoping as Gryphons we can all find a little to help out one of our own.
If at the beginning of 2019 you had asked me to describe myself, and the plans I had for the year I would have told you I was a healthy 41 year old man, happily married with two awesome boys. I would have said that hockey was in my veins and that I was an athlete at my core. My plan was to be a dad, I was excited about the upcoming hockey season and coaching my youngest. I’m a son, a husband, a painter, a real estate agent, and that I had plans to finish some home renovations and walk my dog.
At the beginning of 2020, I am now a cancer survivor, happily married with two awesome boys, legally blind in my left eye and waiting for a surgery date to reverse my ileostomy. In the past five months I had two major surgeries and I haven’t been cleared to lift more than 10lbs, blow my nose, tie my shoes or return to work. I wasn’t allowed to drive for 6 months and was completely reliant on others.
It was April when I thought I had water in my eye from a shower, or had maybe scratched my cornea. Around the same time, I noticed blood in my stool (my apologies for the TMI). For my eye, I started by going to the eye Dr. and was told they couldn’t see anything wrong. So I was referred to a specialist, they also didn’t see anything. They referred me to a cornea expert, he told me that he couldn’t see anything, so there must be something pushing on my optic nerve and I should have a CT. At the same time, I had gone to see my family dr. about the blood, he told me that he felt it was probably just internal hemorrhoids (I didn’t even know these were a thing), and that since there was no family histor,y he wasn’t overly concerned but that I would go for a colonoscopy. I was told it would be a super simple procedure and I would be in and out, no big deal.
As I was coming out of the anesthetic and sitting on the corner of the bed, the Dr. said - well, that wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I had a really difficult time getting past a mass, which is my professional opinion is cancer. Your oncologist will be in touch.
I thought I heard him wrong.
It seemed like everything slowed down and sped up all at the same time. Suddenly I had tests and blood work, a CT, MRIs and when I ended up at Lakeridge Cancer Centre it all came crashing in. My wife Christine and I sat in the room with a really friendly Dr. that explained what the mass was, a 6.6cm cancerous tumour that due to the biopsy they felt was stage 3. His initial recommendation was 25 radiation sessions, followed by surgery to remove the tumour, followed by chemo. He then asked if anyone had told us about my brain scan. No one had. He took a deep breath and dove in.
Turns out I had a large mass pushing on my optic nerves and pituitary gland. At this time my oncologist didn’t know if this was a really rare tumour, or a cyst or how to treat it. Christine and I went to St. Mike’s two days later and sat in the office of one of the best neurosurgeons in Canada. He explained that he wouldn’t know what it was until he had a biopsy and that his plan was to perform an extremely invasive brain surgery, through my nose. I think this is when I stopped listening and the shock set in. I remember Christine continuing to talk to the Dr. , her leading me for blood work, us meeting with the ENT that would be part of my surgical team, navigating our way across the city to the opthamologist and then back to St. Michael’s where the office was now closed and we had to return home and tell my parents, our boys and the rest of the family.
The Dr.’s involved in my case were fascinated. They were surprised, because of my age, lack of family history, lack of symptoms (I didn’t get headaches), and how fast it all came on, and at the same time. I was told there was no cause for the brain cyst, that is was “just bad luck”.
It was the second week of July.
My panel of Drs and the tumour board decided it was best to treat the colo-rectal cancer first. Instead of the initial radiation plan it was changed to short course radiation, meaning I had 5 sessions of a higher intensity, was given a week for it to shrink the tumor, a week to rest and then had surgery. I was in the hospital longer than anticipated and due to the cyst in my brain they had to change the procedure from laparoscopically to a large incision and leave me with what I hope is a temporary ileostomy bag (a poo bag attached to my stomach). In November my neurosurgeon had an opening and the surgeon that removed my cancer gave the clear for me to undergo the 4.5 hour brain surgery.
Once in there the neurosurgeon worked with a camera the size of a grain of sand to drain my cyst and seal the remaining membrane. It was a very invasive high risk surgery and I am grateful we live so close to one of the leading Drs for these kinds of procedures.
Since June, my left eye has lost almost all vision. It started with my peripheral and slowly crept all the way across my eye to the point where I can only see a little from the inside corner. According to tests I was also losing the right top quarter of my eye so I was told I could not drive. Thankfully since having the cyst drained my right eye has regained vision and we are hopeful that the cells in the left eye will regenerate enough that I will regain some vision at the very least. The opthamologist has told me that I will never have full vision but that it could take a year for more improvement, he did however officially clear me to drive in December.
This whole experience has been surreal. Overwhelming, exhausting, and humbling. I am grateful to be the recipient for Help From Hol, but I had hoped that our family would never be touched again by cancer after losing Hollie. It’s hard to not be angry, and think why me, but at the same time - why not me? I am actually one of the lucky ones. The cancer was caught early and with the radiation/surgery combo my oncologist decided I don’t need chemo. I am lucky I have such a large family that lives in the same town and that they all rallied together for love, support and help. I am lucky that we have so many amazing friends - people offered to help with our boys for play dates and transportation (especially since I couldn’t drive), meals were delivered by our hockey families and Christine’s coworkers, and were both so humbled and grateful for the monetary gifts we received.
Jason Jackman Christine Jackman
- Mike Mckinnon
- Ilze Arness-Swegles
- Trevor Prior
- Shannon Erodotou
- Amy Johnson