Rachel’s Courage

Rachel was in her first year of Optometry School at the University of Waterloo, during 2002-2003 when a variety of health issues began to plague her. After experiencing a transient loss of gross motor movement as well as noting some intermittent loss of vision, she underwent a lumbar puncture and a CAT scan in March 2003. Tests were reported as normal, but she was referred to a neurologist who saw no abnormality, but agreed to arrange an MRI… but it was unfortunately scheduled for eleven months later.

During the month of April, Rachel was pulled from final exams with a full body rash and extremely low blood counts. Following hospitalization at two sites, isolation and a battery of tests, Rachel was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosis. Recovery was long and slow, but Rachel managed to complete her final exams for year one by the middle of July. After a brief lupus flare, her medication regime was reviewed and Rachel began to rebuild her energy levels and felt back to normal. Unfortunately, many of the symptoms that Rachel was experiencing were attributed to lupus and/or its treatment, so the brain tumor remained undiagnosed.

She went back to University of Waterloo and entered into her second year of Optometry. September flew by, but October saw Rachel experiencing headaches once again. Her energy level dropped and it was difficult to continue classes. In October, Rachel began having sporadic vomiting, and found herself sleeping a lot. The rheumatologist confirmed that the lupus was stable and not to blame for the symptoms.

The MRI had now been moved up to November 24, and by November 10, Rachel was spending most of the day in bed. The MRI confirmed increased intracranial pressure due to a large frontal tumor. She underwent emergency surgery on December 3, and finished radiation treatments on February 16. Her tumor was diagnosed as olfactory neuroblastoma or esthesioneuroblastoma, but unfortunately it showed aggressive features.

On May 4, Rachel underwent a second surgery as the tumor had spread to her lymph nodes. Rachel did another five weeks of radiation and felt that she was finally clear. However, just as Rachel was preparing to return to school, more tumors were found on her neck requiring a third surgery. Rachel did return later in September, but was once again removed from school in November, 2004, as the tumor had now spread to the bone marrow. Rachel began chemotherapy and negotiated a break from it in March. She had recently returned to classes and managed to complete the first term of her second year by the end of the school year.

This was a significant milestone, as this blasted tumor had done its darnedest to keep her from attending school, and it was this status as a student that she strove to maintain. She participated in the 2nd Annual RACH 3-Pitch Tournament in June 2005 and played for the York Region Firefighters' team. They needed four female members to qualify as a team, and as she volunteered, Rachel said, “it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it!” During followup at Princess Margaret Hospital, it was found that the beast had reared its head again in the brain in multiple locations, and to a lesser extent in the lungs. She consented to an oral chemo that was expected to control the brain metastases, agreeing that they would be the likeliest to interfere with Rachel being who she was.

She spent the summer in Parry Sound with family and friends, enjoying the Georgian Bay sunsets, until the shortness of breath from the lung tumors made her face the fact that it was time to try something to interfere with this persistent, annoying enemy. Unfortunately, the timing of one’s interventions is best judged from the retrospectoscope, as the tumor stole her breath away on Sunday August 21, 2005. Rachel has graduated to Angel first class, so should be a formidable addition to any of the ball teams that she chooses to join. This fundraiser continues to raise funds for brain tumor research at Princess Margaret Hospital, with the RACH Fund raising over $839,000 since 2004.