Debbie's Story: "It hasn't been just about me..."

Debbie's Story: "It hasn't been just about me..."

"It hasn't been just about me - it's about everyone who's been with me."

2012 was a year of ups and downs for Victoria, BC’s Debbie McNeil. But what began with a startling diagnosis ended with a celebration of survivorship and strength.

On January 31, 2012, Debbie was at her office, working as a legal assistant. It was a typical day for her, until she had a generalized (grand mal) seizure. “I don’t even remember much about it,” Debbie says, as she looks back on that day. Coming to just as the paramedics arrived, Debbie was rushed and admitted to the local hospital. There, she underwent an MRI that showed a mass on her brain and Debbie was scheduled for surgery in late February to resect the tumour.

A successful craniotomy removed 99 per cent of the tumour. Then came the pathology results: Debbie was diagnosed with a Stage III Oligoastrocytoma. “We weren’t prepared at all to hear that diagnosis,” recalls Debbie. “It was such a shock for me, my husband and our two kids. That it could be cancer didn’t even occur to us.”

Aggressive radiation and chemotherapy followed, and on November 11, Debbie completed her treatment plan. Results from her regular MRIs have shown no signs of the tumour returning, and to celebrate, Debbie’s friends and family threw her a huge party.

Throughout her treatment, Debbie remained positive, but not overly optimistic she explains. “Staying balanced was most important. I’m a pretty positive person and I had to carry that with me through everything, but I didn’t want to be too over-the-top.” Her diagnosis “brought people out of the woodwork,” reconnecting her with long distance friends and family – a support network she wasn’t expecting. Cards and notes poured in from people Debbie hadn’t seen in years. She says help from loved ones and the increased day-to-day support from her husband was amazing. “This has brought us all closer, especially with my husband. There are special moments – well, really, everything feels special. Even decorating the Christmas tree this year felt like something new.”

Debbie at Victoria Spring SprintTo share the outpouring of support she received, Debbie got involved with Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. With her family and friends by her side, Debbie joined a Spring Sprint (now Brain Tumour Walk) team that was started in her honour by her nine-year-old daughter’s classmate. Together, the team raised over $2,000.

Debbie and her loved ones also participated in October's Brain Tumour Awareness Month in 2012, taking part in the “Making Cents” of Brain Tumours coin drive.

Debbie has also shared her story in her words, and instead of sending holiday cards in 2012, she made a donation in tribute to the brain tumour community.


Debbie at her end of brain cancer treatment partyNow that she’s completed her treatment, Debbie’s looking forward to “getting back into Mom mode.” She admits that it was difficult, not being able to take care of her kids as much while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.

But, with her big celebration behind her and several tattoo tributes to her journey permanently commemorated on family and friends, Debbie is grateful for what the year has given her. “It hasn’t been just about me – it’s about everyone who’s been with me.”



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Story posted: March 2013

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