Debbie's Story: “Don’t let the brain tumour stop you”

Debbie's Story:  “Don’t let the brain tumour stop you”
For any 50-year-old, looking back on a life that’s included solo travel, university, and even a stint working at a tropical resort chain, would be satisfying; but for Debbie Ackerman, what’s even more exceptional is she’s done all these things but is also a childhood brain cancer survivor. 
 
Just three days before her 3rd birthday, Debbie underwent surgery to remove a plum-sized, cancerous mass from her brain. “So even though a birthday is supposed to be a really happy celebration,” she explains, “every year my birthday also reminds me of my brain cancer and everything that’s changed because of it.”
 
Debbie not only endured the invasive brain operation, which would leave part of her skull open for the rest of her life, but she also had to undergo whole brain radiation that would eventually destroy the hair follicles on her head. “I was constantly made fun of growing up. Imagine being a 5, 10 or 13-year-old girl who’s bald – it wasn’t easy.” Spinal non-malignant tumours, thyroid cancer and mobility issues would follow Debbie into her 40s, adding to the late side effects from the original brain cancer treatment she already had. 
 
Despite the incredible health and physical challenges Debbie has faced since her childhood, she’s accomplished so much, attributing much of her perseverance to a “stubborn streak” she developed early on. “After the brain cancer, everyone thought I was going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. But my mom says I made myself get up and walk!” she says laughing.
Today, Debbie channels her energy into creative projects like making stuffed animals and crocheting. She’s also part of Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s Montreal support group, where she’s met other patients and survivors who share some of her same experiences. “Every so often, someone says something and I have an ‘aha’ moment – like oh, so this doesn’t only happen to me. Even though I don’t meet lots of childhood brain cancer survivors, it still seems like adult survivors face similar issues to me.” 
 
It’s been years of major ups and downs for Debbie, but if there’s one thing she could say to anyone else on the brain tumour journey, it’s to remember to keep moving forward and not let the disease define them as a person. “Every day, life has its challenges but some days are better than others. Don’t let the brain tumour stop you!”
Thank you Debbie for sharing your story!

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2016


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