Smiling at Life

A year ago, Ottaviano Rosada and his wife Pina were walking on sunshine. The couple were about to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, they were house hunting and about to start a family. Then Ottaviano fell ill.

A bout of strep throat in September 2014, prompted the 33-year-old to make a doctor’s appointment for a check-up. The doctor did a routine exam and ordered blood tests. The very next day, the couple’s life fell apart.

“The doctor called. He said he had some bad news, but wouldn’t say more over the phone. He told me to go to the hospital first thing the next morning. I knew it was really serious,” recalls Ottaviano. At the Jewish General Hospital, they broke the news: acute promyelocytic leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells.

“I was with my wife when they told us. Wow, it was a really big shock. We didn’t know what to say. We started to cry. One day you are feeling amazing, the next they are telling you have cancer. It was horrible,” he recalls.

Ottaviano was admitted to hospital immediately to start treatment. He and his wife received yet another major blow. The healthcare team told the young couple the chemotherapy might make Ottaviano infertile. Their dreams of starting a family started to fade. As a precaution, before starting chemo Ottaviano visited a fertility clinic to preserve his sperm.

Chemotherapy was very difficult on the young man. “I felt horrible and was constantly nauseous. I had a lot of complications including really bad stomach pain. Then my body started to retain water in my legs, arms, I started to inflate. It was truly awful.”
“My wife was amazing. She was by my side nearly the entire time. Close to the end of the treatment in hospital, I was so tired, emotionally and physically and was starting to get depressed. My wife helped me get through all of that. As well, my family and friends were there for me. Without their support the experience would have been much worse. Honestly, I don’t know how I could have done it without them. I use to walk up and down the hospital hallway and would notice a lot of patients didn’t have visitors and didn’t have the support I did. They were alone and lonely.”

Ottaviano was in hospital from September to end of December. Once discharged, he continued his chemotherapy for another month and a half as an outpatient.
End of the nightmare
In July, Ottaviano got a call from the hospital with a little good news. He had won VOBOC’s getaway package, a one-week stay in Mont-Tremblant. VOBOC’s contest was open to all young adults receiving cancer care at a McGill affiliated hospital (McGill University Health Centre, Jewish General Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital Centre).

“We had such a good time. After everything we had gone through it was nice to get away and relax. It was a very charming place in the heart of Tremblant. The vacation helped my wife and I disconnect and turn the page on everything. We were smiling again, happy and looking forward to the future.”

Ottaviano says being diagnosed with cancer and in the hospital for so long, made him realize how much he had taken life for granted. “When you are well and strong, you don’t realize how lucky you are. To be healthy is a really a big thing. It gives you the freedom to do anything. Without it you are stuck between four walls being treated and worrying if you’re going to make it or not. On top of all the treatments and complications, there’s the stress and anxiety that comes into play.”

Today, Ottaviano says he feels great. “I came back 100%, thank God! I am so happy for that. I am still on medication for the next year or so, but I am back to my old self. I’ve gained weight back and I am no longer tired.” He even returned to work in August.

The future is bright. The couple recently bought a home and is working with the fertility clinic to start a family.

“We’re happy. Basically that is the only thing I now want from life, to be happy and not worry about the little things. Sometimes you argue about stupid things, you get annoyed and mad, maybe you spend too much time at work. Now, for me, life is about being healthy, eating well and being positive. I was always a positive person, but now I am even more so. I am so grateful for the chance to continue living.”

“I want to thank VOBOC and its supporters for the wonderful vacation. Also, I was pleased to receive a VO-PAK* at the start of my treatment. It is so nice to receive these special things when you are going through hard times. It helps. It really does make a difference. I am so grateful for VOBOC and all the good things you do for adolescents and young adults with Cancer.”

*VOBOC delivers free backpacks to oncology units to give to their new adolescent and young adult cancer patients on their first day of treatment. Each Vo-Pak contains tools and resources to help patients navigate through the cancer treatment experience. The backpack contains: Hospital comfort Kit, Venturing Out Kit and F.O.L. (Friends of Lara) Information Kit – contains medical information, resource tools and navigation tools.

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