Almost one year after she was diagnosed with cancer, Brooke Malakoff is staying strong and still smiling.
Brooke is back home in Fernie following a long stint at B.C. Children’s Hospital. She’s getting ready to continue her treatment in Cranbrook, and is hoping to be home for the holidays this year.
Between her original diagnosis just before Christmas of 2011, an emergency surgery, and spending months at a time in Vancouver for chemo, Brooke’s last year of high school, and what was meant to be her first year of college, didn’t exactly go as planned.
“Two days into winter break I was told I had a giant mass, three quarters the size of my lung, on my lung,” said Brooke. “After that it was about 10 days of scans, tests, being flown down to Vancouver, and going right into surgery.
“For me it was really blurry because they kept me pretty sedated through the whole thing. But through all of the ups and downs, it was still a lot to take in. Especially being 17 you’re like wait, this doesn’t happen to people like me, but apparently it does.”
Brooke lost her left lung during surgery, however the operation was successful. She returned home to finish the school year, but just a few short months later, Brooke learned that her cancer had returned.
With the exception of coming back to graduate, and a couple of weeks in Fernie here and there, Brooke has spent the majority of the last six months in Vancouver at Children’s Hospital.
“I’ve been doing a lot of chemo, lots and lots of chemo, and getting pretty sick,” admitted Brooke. “There was one stretch that I was in the hospital for 12 days because the chemo made me so sick.
“That was the loneliest time I think. I was in isolation so there was no contact and no food for 48 hours.”
Brooke was undergoing a round of chemo every 21 days. She explained, “It’s usually a week of chemo, then for the next two weeks I’m down. I’m tired, can’t really do anything, and I just don’t feel good.
“There’s about three or four days when I’m up again and I’m starting to feel better, and then they hit me with another round of chemo.”
While her mother Rochelle stayed with Brooke full time in Vancouver, her stepfather George remained in Fernie for work, and to stay with her brother Wes, who goes to Fernie Secondary School.
Well known around town for her time working as a cashier at Overwaitea and volunteering at Ghostriders games, Fernie residents began to come together to help out Brooke and her family. With everything from penny drives and hot dog sales, to concerts and hockey uniform auctions, the entire community got involved.
“It’s hard being in this situation, and it’s also hard to accept people’s help because we don’t want to feel like we need help, but we do,” expressed Brooke. “We’re just thankful for the people who have stepped up.”
She went on to say, “It’s flattering first of all to think that many people want to help and it’s so amazing what people can do these days. I just can’t wait until somebody else is in my shoes and I can help them.”
Brooke celebrated her eighteenth birthday on November 27 and is looking towards the future. She’s been accepted to Selkirk College in Castlegar for 2013 and is planning on studying psychology.
“I think maybe somehow I was supposed to be put in this situation,” remarked Brooke. “Somehow, somewhere, fate decided, she needs to have cancer because she needs to meet these certain people, and I’m getting real experience in the field of psychology.”
Now with the one year mark of her diagnosis approaching, Brooke remains optimistic.
“It’s all mind over matter,” she asserted. “When I think about it, it’s do you want to go through this and be miserable the whole time, or do you want to try and feel good about yourself?” she commented. “You want to feel good, so you just have to keep smiling and thinking one day this will be over. Always looking at the end, but still not getting your hopes up too high, because we’ve had a couple of bad PET scans.
“You have to think there is going to be a light at the end of the tunnel, we may not see it now, but it’s going to be there eventually.”