Linda Scharf answered the phone at 2:11 p.m. on a Thursday, and heard one of the most chilling things a 37-year-old mother of two small children could hear.
She had cancer.
Considering herself luckier than some, the military wife had already had the surgery to remove two golf ball-sized tumours on her thyroid.
They had been found accidentally, said Scharf. Because the tumours were growing, the medical professionals decided removing her thyroid was prudent.
Scharf said it was only after the pathology that she learned she had had cancer for about seven years.
“I never had any major symptoms, but I can say that after my youngest daughter was born, I never truly felt balanced or in sync,” she said.
The year following her surgery taught the normally independent-minded Scharf how to accept help, and even harder, how to ask for
“I don’t know how I would have gotten through that year without my husband, Dave. Easily I slept 18 hours a day, taking naps in the morning and afternoon when possible.”
Scharf said Dave made her salt and iodine-free meals, and served as her caregiver, housekeeper, driver, and child minder.
The trying year eventually ended, and the family moved forward. But five years later, the challenges arose again, but this time her daughter, Mackenzie, was inexplicably, and dangerously ill.
It started with a severe allergic reaction.
“We spent entire days in emergency, as hives up to 18 inches across cycled every hour and a half, and the doctors struggled to control facial swelling that would close her eyes completely for up to six hours,” said Scharf.
The struggles culminated in July 2009, just after Mackenzie had graduated Grade 10. The family received a phone call from her work stating they thought Mackenzie was having a heart attack. Another rush to emergency in Edmonton, and finally, a doctor was able to diagnose her with Graves’ disease.
While the problem was partially identified, her “extreme and uncontrollable symptoms” persisted until her surgeon discovered she had thyroid cancer. The procedure to remove the gland was coupled with taking out 19 lymph nodes.
Mackenzie said she was able to deal with the news quite well.
“When my diagnosis had come through, I had already been through it with my mom.”
Today, Mackenzie, now 20, is cancer free, but it was a hard experience.
“I really got a wide spectrum of how people are going to deal with [you getting cancer],” she said. “It was really a strength builder for me.”
Both women have walked in previous Canadian Cancer Society Relays for Life in other communities, such as Moose Jaw and Cold Lake. This will be the second Abbotsford event in which they will take part.
Each spoke of the strength they gained from being involved.
“The relay brings support from strangers,” said Mackenzie, who noted she was getting hugs and encouragement throughout the event. “Lots of people gather at the three-quarter mark [of the victory lap], and there are lots of people cheering you on, calling out, ‘Keep fighting,’” said Scharf.
This year’s event takes place at Rotary Park on June 14 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. For more information, visit relayforlife.ca or phone 604-852-1410.