By Sheila Phibbs
The Haldimand Press
CANFIELD—When Shannon Adams of Canfield was seriously ill in December 2020, she thought she might have COVID-19. As a nurse in the Medical, Surgical, and Obstetrics Unit at Norfolk General Hospital (NGH), it was a logical presumption after feeling increasingly unwell the week before. On December 17, she knew she needed to get to the hospital to be tested.
Adams recalls, “I felt so awful that my husband had to drive.”
The reaction of staff was similar. The emergency nurse said, “You look really awful. Let’s do blood work.” The results indicated a possibility of cancer; Adams was admitted immediately and transferred to Juravinski Hospital in Hamilton two days later.
The diagnosis was confirmed following a bone marrow biopsy. On December 22, Adams learned that she had acute plasma cell leukemia. This was devastating news for the 42-year-old mother of two who hadn’t experienced any real warning signs other than fatigue. To put it simply, Adams says, “I was fine and then I wasn’t.”
Adams was told she would be staying in hospital for a month, more unwelcome news just days before Christmas. To her relief it was later decided that she could go home. She says, “We had arranged to get our daughters a horse for Christmas, so I was able to be there for that.”
Adams has since commenced treatment and is halfway through four cycles of chemotherapy. Each cycle involves chemotherapy every three days for two weeks followed by one week off. She says, “Chemo has been very kind to me. I’m very tired but other than that, I’m not sick.”
Adams will undergo two stem cell transplants this spring. The first will use her own stem cells, known as an autologus transplant in which stem cells will be harvested from her blood, frozen, then later transplanted into her body.
The second is an allogenic transplant of donor stem cells. Adams’ sister is being tested to see if she can be the donor. If she is not a match, a donor will be sought using the stem cell registry. This is a rare and aggressive form of leukemia, but her oncologist is confident in the course of treatment and prognosis.
It is interesting to note that, as a teenager, Adams enrolled on the stem cell registry. The age range for eligible stem cell donors is 17 to 35 and she says, “Just to raise awareness about stem cells is so important.” She adds, “I’m learning a lot about hematology and oncology. I’m also learning about what it’s like to be on the other side of the bed.”
Adams cannot say enough about the care she has received at Juravinski. Her initial stay was in the Ron and Nancy Clark ward, which she appreciated as a Haldimand resident. She says, “We’re so lucky to have a place like that so close to us. Everyone there is so wonderful; I don’t know how they find so many great people.”
She is also grateful for the support of her NGH colleagues who rallied together to lend their support. She says, “You go to work and do your job and think no one notices but you’re wrong. This is why you work at a small hospital; we work with everybody and we know everybody.”
Adams is described as a well-loved employee. In 2019 she received the Dr. Julie Beaver Award for the top nurse at the NGH labour and delivery/obstetrics unit.
In just one night, NGH nurses raised almost $5,000 through their private Facebook group page. The funds were used to purchase gifts for the family, including gas cards and an iPad for Adams to use while in hospital to Facetime with her daughters, aged 9 and 12. NGH nurse Melissa Frank, whom Adams jokingly refers to as her “work wife”, created ‘Together We Fight’ t-shirts and Adams’ cousin and sister-in-law have been selling bracelets. Both items feature the colour orange, which represents leukemia.
Four blood donor clinics have also been organized in honour of Adams, with the first two achieving 93% and 106% of their clinic quota (according to Canadian Blood Services). She says, “To have it in my name – all of that blood collected is going to help hundreds of people.” It is especially meaningful as she will use someone’s stem cells and may need someone’s blood as well.
In between treatments, Adams enjoys being with her family. Her husband, Brad, has taken time off work and she admits, “The most bizarre thing right now is that we are all home.” She is helping her daughters with online school and says with a laugh, “I’m a terrible teacher!” But she says they are doing okay during the pandemic with everyone home on the farm.
From her family at home to her family at work to the neighbours who filled their freezer while she was in hospital, Shannon Adams feels thankful and blessed for all the support she has received. She says, “I could never imagine the things that people have done for me. It’s a cliché but it does give you strength when you know you have so many people behind you.”
For more information on the stem cell registry, go to Canadian Blood Services, blood.ca.