“ Sometimes you will only have yourself to lean on, but you will be amazed at how strong you can be.
Eamonn Conrad is a “Canuk-ing” mAss Kicker. We found him online, but he is based in Vancouver, Canada! He got his PhD in Chemistry from Dalhousie University in 2010. He is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow in Chemistry at the University of British Columbia. As a young adult cancer survivor, he adds a very unique perspective to his work! He is very active in many Canadian-based cancer organizations. We were very fortunate to find time in his busy schedule to ask him a few questions.
mK: Hi Dr. Conrad! Thanks for hanging out! First question… What was your diagnosis?
EC: My diagnosis was a type of cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. It was discovered in both my right inner thigh and my right hip.
mK: What were your symptoms?
EC: Basically, and perhaps most frighteningly I was symptomless. I felt fine and normal in every way except for a small hard spot in my inner right thigh that was no bigger than my finger tip.
mK: Glad you decided to get it checked out! Why did you get involved with advocacy?
EC: I got involved with advocacy because I know what it is like to go through cancer, all the questions, all the problems, and all the difficulties that come pre-, during, and post cancer treatment. When I was getting treatment I really felt lost during so much of it. It is a struggle for everyone around a cancer patient, and although we don’t have all the answers, I like to let people know they are not alone.
As an advocate, I do three main things. Firstly, I am involved with the Huffington Post “Generation Why?” section on young adult cancer by writing articles on my experiences. Secondly, I participate in an event called the “Ride to Conquer Cancer” that has raised over $50 million for cancer research at the BC Cancer agency (in Vancouver BC), this event fundraises year round with the “main event” as a two day, 240km bike ride from Vancouver to Seattle. And thirdly, being involved in social media as a method of support. I can’t tell you the amount of people I have met, gave support, got support and shared stories with over social media.
mK: Social media is def a type of unofficial support group. Who is your hero or heroes?
EC: My heros are two football players. One, is a line-backer for the New York Giants, Mark Herzlich, he had Ewings Sarcoma in college and still made it to the NFL and is still doing great. The second, was also a football player for the New York Giants in the 80’s named John Tuggle, he was diagnosed with cancer as a player and unfortunately didn’t make it (Great short documentary on him btw called “The Irrelevant Giant” worth a watch!).
mK: So, what motivates you?
EC: My biggest motivator is that there are still so many people going through cancer and everything that comes along with it. There have been few experiences in my life that made me “see the world with new eyes”. I kind of went through life haphazardly but seeing people in pain, living in the chemo ward, really changed my life. Made me strive for a better purpose.
mK: Cool. When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
EC: That is a big question. I am not sure I completely felt like the “Pre-cancer” me ever after my diagnosis. Cancer changes the way you view so many things, being faced with your mortality will change most anyone. I have to say I feel most “normal” when I am around my close friends and talking, watching sports, whatever, just having fun. Those moments when you kind of forget it all happened because you are having a great time, I feel happy and “normal” again.
mK: Finding that sense of “normalcy” is something every survivor strives for. What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
EC: Laugh? As a resident of the pacific north-west I love the show Portlandia. Cry? I cried a lot when I was going through chemo. Get Angry? The thought that so many people still have to go through cancer.
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
EC: Hmmm…that’s a tough one. I got to swim on a beach in Hawaii with big sea turtles about a year after treatment. Don’t know how interesting people may find that but I sure enjoyed it!
mK: Turtles are pretty cool. Not many can say they did that! What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor?
EC: I think the biggest challenges for me is the uncertainty that cancer puts into my life. I still go to check-ups every few months (as does everyone) and it can be incredibly stressful, not knowing, the waiting, and returning to the places where I received all my treatments can bring back really painful memories and the thoughts of maybe having to return is scary. Currently, I see a counselor to help me deal with the fear and the issues that come along with it. It has been incredibly helpful.
mK: So Eamon, we ask everyone this question… What is your guilty pleasure?
EC: I think I love almost every microbrewery I have ever been to. My dream job would be to own/operate one. I love all the different types and flavours of different types of beers.
mK: OK, another question… If you founded a new country, what would you call it? What would it be known for? Use your imagination…
EC: Whole country? That is a big chore! Can we start with a city and build up? Awesomopolis maybe? Not exactly sure what would be filling it but it would definitely be warm and tropical, Hawaii-esque. I went there one time and it was the greatest place I have ever been.
mK: Alright. The tropical “colony” of Awesomopolis. What do you like to do in your spare time?
EC: Eat and exercise! Since I got sick, and had the ability to eat and go do things taken away from me, I promised myself I would never take for granted these things again. I love cooking (and honestly probably eat healthier now than I ever did) and I have taken up boxing recently to try something new and it has been great! I also love to watch football (NFL and College).
mK: Awesome! There are so many sports metaphors that can be applied to post treatment “thrivership!” What are you up to now?
EC: Currently, I am a Ph.D. chemist working in a research lab at the University of British Columbia. Working towards moving my career forward!
mK: Awesome! Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
EC: First of all, you are not alone. Being diagnosed with cancer can be one of the most difficult and alienating times of a persons life, especially at a young age when friends and family are off doing exciting things. You are beginning a fight for your life. But you are not alone. There are plenty of places for support be it from family, counselors, support groups, and social media. Make use of them as frequently or as infrequently as you need to. Secondly, make sure you get the information you need about your diagnosis from a proper source (like your oncologist) and bring someone with you to help absorb the information. I have seen so many people go to the internet and all you get is fear. Your doctor will steer you in the proper direction, and if you want a second opinion get one! Most oncologists have no problem with this. You are beginning an incredibly difficult fight, they know you want as much information as possible. And finally, hang in there. It is tough and incredibly scary to be told you have cancer. Sometimes you will onlby have yourself to lean on, but you will be amazed at how strong you can be.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
EC: If I could live anywhere in the world it would be Seattle. Best city I have ever visited. Great food, great people, football and baseball! All my favorites!
Dr. Eamonn Conrad: sea turtle-fanatic, micro brew connoisseur, mayor of “Awesomopolis”, chemistry wizard, sports zealot, Seattle groupie, Huffington Post blogger, and determined young adult survivor advocate in Canada! Check him out on the Huff Post! We’ll definitely be looking for your posts often!