In April 2016 Maryam’s thoughts were typical of any grade 12 student – what am I doing next year? Where am I working this summer? What am I wearing for graduation? Among these common teenage concerns, Maryam was also thinking about the small lump she felt in her breast. It was about the size of a peanut.
In one month’s time the lump grew from the size of a peanut to a golf ball.
Maryam went to see a specialist who reassured her by saying the fact the lump was moveable, and was not rooted to the breast, was a good sign and Maryam was told there was no cause for concern.
In a few weeks time the lump hardened and grew to half the size of her breast.
Maryam was told she would need it surgically removed and a biopsy was taken.
That August results of the biopsy showed Maryam had a malignant tumour in her breast, for which she underwent surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital to remove the tumour the following month. Testing revealed that it was rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer that starts in muscle cells and that invades nearby tissue.
As rhabdomyosarcoma is much more common in the paediatric population, Maryam was immediately referred to The Hospital for Sick Children and placed under the care of Dr. Abha Gupta, who focuses on sarcomas. Maryam was put on a 10-month long chemotherapy plan. She was terrified and overwhelmed as she had never expected to be at SickKids starting chemotherapy one-month after her surgery.
The chemotherapy was aggressive and Maryam was admitted for weeks at a time after every session due to severe side effects. Dr. Gupta developed an individualized treatment plan which was less punishing on Maryam’s body.
Maryam expects to complete her chemotherapy regimen this June. She goes to the hospital every three weeks for chemotherapy and is still admitted for a few days at a time due to nausea and other side effects.
Since starting her cancer journey, Maryam’s teenage thoughts and concerns have evolved. She has a strong team and support system by her side. She celebrated her birthday with a surprise party at the hospital, hosted by her nurse and Child Life friends. Her friends from school were also invited and Maryam says it was one of the most special birthdays she can remember.
Due to her newfound knowledge and experience of paediatric health, Maryam is now re-thinking her career path and plans to apply to nursing school when she finishes high school.