Far more than just a kid with cancer

Planning walk to help refurbish clinic's teen room


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Kendra McBain was a high-achieving 15-year-old when she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer three years ago.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/05/2009 (5134 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Kendra McBain was a high-achieving 15-year-old when she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer three years ago.

She was getting good marks at her high school, St. John’s-Ravenscourt. She rode horseback, swam and played on the school volleyball team.

Kendra was as immortal as any teen until the day she glanced down at her left arm and noticed it was swollen. She then fell down the rabbit hole of a cancer diagnosis.

ken.gigliotti@freepress.mb.ca Kendra McBain keeps smiling despite cancer: she�s lost her hair to chemotherapy, has a large scar on her arm from surgery and is sensitive to bright sunlight.

But Kendra, whose subsequent high school years have been defined by cancer, chemo and radiation, refuses to let her diagnosis dictate the rest of her future.

"I want to enjoy my life," says the gorgeous 17-year-old. "I want to enjoy health and happiness. I didn’t want cancer to define me."

She pauses.

"I’ve lost that kind of carefree attitude that most teenagers have where they don’t worry about anything. I’m very conscious that life and good health aren’t a given."

Hers has been a long battle.

She has rabdomyosarcoma, a cancer rare enough that only 100 cases have been diagnosed in North America and New Zealand in the past six years. In the first year of her illness, she had 12 rounds of chemotherapy, major surgery and 20 sessions of radiation.

"It’s not good," says her mother, Tammy. "It’s the kind of cancer that likes to come back."

And it did.

Kendra has spent the past year in cycle after cycle of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She missed so much school that she jokes she opened her last report card and couldn’t tell which number was her grade and which was the number of days she’s missed.

During the years where most teenagers are worried about little more than weekend plans, she lost her hair, her strength and her place in a world of accomplishment.

"It’s forced me to mature," she says. "It’s sort of hard going out with my friends, seeing them do typical teen things. I have to go to bed at nine."

She’s pensive as she talks about the biography that graduates write for convocation. Other Grade 12s will talk about their volunteer work, sports achievement and debating awards.

"I still feel like I’m in Grade 10," she muses. "I basically had a year and a couple of months of high school. I’m not ready to leave.

"I’m afraid my bio will be ‘Kendra McBain had cancer.’"

But that won’t be her legacy. She’s determined to give back to CancerCare Manitoba, the place where she spent so much of her adolescence.

"They are just wonderful," says Tammy McBain. "The staff is so caring."

Kendra spent hours in the pediatric clinic, a brightly lit, Disney-filled room intended for little children cursed with illness. There was no place to be a teen, to escape the waiting room filled with anxious parents or the mixture of frightened, sick or rambunctious kids.

There are only a handful of teens diagnosed with cancer in Manitoba each year. And while CancerCare has a room designated for teens, it has been overrun by the children.

Kendra McBain plans to change that.

On May 29, the first Kendra’s Walk for Kids will take place in the neighbourhood around SJR. It will be a short walk, but she hopes to raise enough money to refurbish the teens’ room and create a sanctuary for anyone sharing her experience. She admits she was in denial when she was diagnosed and that she didn’t begin to move toward acceptance until her cancer recurred. Now she can see the value in meeting other teens with shared experiences.

"I used to wear my wigs all the time. Now I’ve come to school without one. I think people should be able to approach me. I can talk about it now."

The fundraising walk will involve the 800 students at SJR. Other schools may have satellite walks. Kendra and Tammy McBain, along with brother, Graham, and father, Rob, don’t have the time or the energy to pull together anything more ambitious.

"I guess I want kids to know it’s nothing to be embarrassed about," she says.

Any money left over after refurbishing the teens’ room will go to a program supporting teens with cancer.

Kendra McBain is going to graduate with the class of 2009. After that, she hopes to go into nursing at the University of Manitoba.

She’s already picked out her red dress and the yellow shoes for her graduation party.

When she walks across the stage and they read her bio, the applause should be deafening.

Advocate. Survivor. Inspiration. Role model.

Those are the words they should use.



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