At 25, Susan Ehrhardt never expected to be where she is: Living with her mother in Moncton, on social assistance and about to begin her sixth and final round of chemotherapy.
Ehrhardt was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the summer. It’s a type of cancer that strikes young adults and hers has hit stage 2A.
“They call it undesirable because I went in with a 14 cm mass on my chest. Basically, they say it took up 40 per cent of my chest.
“What happened is the mass sort of grew up in the empty space I had in my chest and started growing up to my neck and under my arms.”
It’s something the 2009 St. Thomas University grad never predicted. Ehrhardt practiced a healthy lifestyle. She even writes a blog on eating well and exercising thegreatbalancingact.com. She posts recipes and what she’s going through in her treatment and photos and music.
In fact, it’s through her blog that Ehrhardt has connected with others who share her disease.
“I connected with a girl out in B.C. and one in Toronto and in New York. We’re all in a close age range and we all have lymphoma.
“It’s nice to have that support. As much as people can sympathize, it’s really hard to find people who can empathize with what I’m going through.”
Erhardt was working as a personal trainer in Toronto when she fell while skating and shattered her elbow last winter. She had reconstructive surgery, but her arm was taking a long time to heal. She moved home to Moncton in April and began a new job working in communications in May, but her health steadily declined.
“I just started getting headaches every night and one time I had a fever that lasted 10 days,” she said. “I never did anything about it because I thought I was a healthy 25-year-old.”
After suffering through what she thought for days was a kink in her neck, then noticing differences in the veins in her chest and feeling swelling in her throat, Ehrhardt’s mother made a doctor’s appointment.
“The CT scan showed that I had a blood clot in my jugular vein so I went back for another scan to see if I had any more clots and they found the mass in my chest and I was admitted to the hospital right away.”
Ehrhardt talks openly about her illness through her blog and in interviews, but “there are a lot of things too that you get scared to talk about with
other people. So it’s nice to have these people who are going through the same exact thing and say, ‘oh yeah, I totally get that.’”
Connecting with those who can understand makes a big difference. But her blog has helped her in more ways than that.
“Being a former journalist and writing—writing on my blog almost every day now— I don’t know how else to deal with it besides talk about it and write about it and be really honest with it.”
Though, that doesn’t change the reality.
“I’m really scared. I don’t think about it a lot because if there’s one thing cancer is good for, it’s good for teaching you to learn to live in the day and each moment. I don’t think ahead as much as I used to.
“I would have never fathomed that it would happen in my 20s. Never.”