Why Debbie Davis doesn’t let cancer define her life
Having worked in health care administration for 30 years, Debbie Davis never pictured herself as a patient. But in 2010, what she thought was an annual sinus infection turned out to be something much more serious.
As the symptoms of her ailment improved, a mysterious pain in her leg did not. She was coughing regularly and felt sore on the left side of her ribcage. A visit to the Emergency Department at Mackenzie Health revealed a large mass in her lung. Following extensive tests, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, which had metastasized to her brain.
“My first thought was they made a mistake,” says Debbie. “I thought these must be someone else’s X-rays. If it was cancer, I was doomed.” Having lost two sisters to cancer, Debbie believed the diagnosis was terminal. Her thoughts naturally turned to her children — daughter Ashley, 32, and son Tyler, 28, and the rest of her extended family. “I could not think about leaving my children behind,” she says. “I wanted to be with them for many more years.”
A 16-year resident of Richmond Hill, Debbie lives just 10 minutes from the hospital. She debated seeking treatment at Princess Margaret Hospital, but a meeting with now-retired local oncologist Dr. Mary Tweeddale changed that. “She explained my treatment plan in great detail. My confidence grew in Mackenzie Health’s ability to treat me. They were so close to me, and their actions proved that they are very capable of dealing with cancer patients. This is where I wanted to be cared for. I felt very comfortable.”
She is grateful to the staff for the level of care they provided. “I could not thank the staff enough for how I was treated, and despite the fact that they were always busy, they were always available if I needed them,” Debbie says. “They are very caring, compassionate and dedicated to their patients and to others.”
The woman who once thought she was doomed to death soon learned to live with cancer. “I would recommend that you remain positive even during the times during or after treatment where it may seem that there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “Continue to do things you did before your diagnosis. Never compare your cancer with someone else’s. Get plenty of exercise even if it means doing something as simple as going to a mall.”
Debbie underwent brain radiation and 12 weeks of chemotherapy. “As treatment progressed and my continuous test results showed the tumours in my brain shrinking and the mass in my lung was no longer evident, I became more optimistic that I was going to beat this,” she says. The positive messages she received from Dr. Tweeddale gave her hope and, as each milestone of time passed, her survival rate increased.
“To this day, I am so thankful that I made the decision to continue treatment at Mackenzie Health, and for everyone I came in contact with during this journey,” she says.
It has been six years and Debbie is enjoying life cancer-free. “My two dogs could not be any happier — they stayed by my side every night to see if I was OK,” she says. As a cancer survivor, Debbie wants others to know, “Cancer is only a chapter in a book, and it is not the whole story.”
– Joann MacDonald