Kiera O’Connor’s summer was all planned when she finally showed a doctor a stubborn lump in her thigh.
The first doctor she saw referred her for an ultrasound that was going to take six months. But her step-mom had a hunch. She called the ultrasound clinic and was able to get O’Connor in within a week.
They weren’t given the results but the look on the ultrasound clinician’s face said it all, O’Connor said.
“Once the family doctor gave me the results, all I heard was something about [additional] tests and to set up a visit to B.C. Children’s Hospital, and it all became a blur. My whole life’s been a blur since.”
By mid-June, at 15 years of age, O’Connor was diagnosed with nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma.
That was it for her summer plans. O’Connor cancelled out of the two-week school trip to Europe she’d been fundraising for since last year. And she opted out of a summer job working with international exchange students at Saint Michaels University School. Instead, she started chemotherapy and got used to bunking at Ronald McDonald House.
O’Connor is now 16 and is nearly finished her third and final round of chemotherapy and the results are positive. A PET scan suggested the cancer is shrinking and there is much hope she won’t need further radiation.
“The message I want to share is for kids to listen to their body,” O’Connor said. “The lump didn’t go away, and got worse, and it was already in three lymph nodes by the time I was diagnosed with Stage 1 cancer. If I had waited six months [for an ultrasound] I could very well be Stage 4.”
Though the Gordon Head teen was extremely positive from the start, she wasn’t without her doubts.
After each day of chemo session she’s on a cocktail of meds to help control the extreme nausea and vomiting for seven to nine days after, said her step-mom Lisa. She is usually in bed for five days after as well.
There’s been some bright spots, on her 16th birthday Oak Bay Beach Hotel provided O’Connor with a spa visit, pool visit and lunch.
Even the physical toll of chemotherapy and the cocktails of serious medications that are needed to help a patient through cancer treatment are not enough to keep her spirits down.
And it’s contagious.
O’Connor’s former school, Gordon Head middle, and her current school, Mount Douglas secondary, are both holding a series of fundraisers.
During a recent visit to Gordon Head Kiera felt like a rock star, giving out dozens of hugs while receiving positive well wishes and handmade cards.
This week at Gordon Head is Kaps for Kiera, where students can pay for the right to wear a hat, thereby superseding the school’s no-hat policy. On Thursday, staff and students will provide coffee (by donation) during the morning drop-off. And on Oct. 31, Gordon Head will hold a head-shave assembly at which O’Connor will shave the head of teacher Alex de Medeiros. Her 19-year-old brother Kyle O’Connor is getting the chance to come back to school and shave the head of principal Kevin Luchies (who were recently student and principal at Lambrick Park secondary).
Mount Douglas also held Kaps for Kiera this week, in which students are wearing hats, and passing around a hat to collect money toward the campaign.
There is also a GoFundMe page, which is well over its $2,500 target, and offers a 2016 U.S. Open golf tournament flag signed by winner Dustin Johnson, and a $1,000 home alarm system from Beacon Security Systems.
The money is not for the O’Connor family, rather, O’Connor has asked it be split 50-50 between the B.C. Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House.