Stephen’s Message of Hope

Hey, I’m Stephen Radu, I’m 30 years old, and my journey with cancer started when I was 13.

Years of fun and laughter shared with my family and friends changed in one day.

It was the summer of 2006 and I started having extremely bad headaches, for the first few months, I figured out that a quick nap was the trick to feeling better. I started grade 8 that year and everything felt normal, for a while. The headaches became more frequent, and my parents started taking me to the doctor’s office who would order different tests to determine what was wrong, but none of those tests could pinpoint the cause.

I started to get other symptoms, such as tiredness and nausea, that made it genuinely difficult to focus on schoolwork, and as a grade-A student, this really frustrated me. I had stopped playing soccer and quit my job cleaning at a local auto repair shop, thinking that doing too much was the reason I was getting sick, but that didn’t help to relieve any of my symptoms.

Again, more trips to the doctors with no answers, but one morning in November my mom came to wake me up. I could hardly talk as my tongue was swollen. We assumed it was just an allergic reaction, so my mom got me into the car and drove to the local hospital. After spending the day there, I went to the Red Deer hospital, and underwent a previously scheduled CT scan where a large mass was found at my brain stem. My dad, mom, and I stopped quickly at home to gather a few overnight things and we were off to the Stollery in Edmonton where the doctors diagnosed me with a Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumor (PNET). Here is where things get hazy for me so I will let my parents fill in the details of my treatments.

“When we received Stephen’s PNET diagnosis on November 24th, 2006, we were in a state of shock, frustration, and anger. We also knew that we were in the right place for his treatment, and that Stephen’s positive attitude would be a huge asset in the battle ahead. He underwent multiple surgeries and had some serious setbacks, the scariest being cerebral mutism, a side effect of his brain surgery.

The worst part of this was that he could not talk for many months, and he lost most motor functions, all of this going on while he went through many rounds of chemo, radiation, and other surgeries. We had doctors tell us that he may never talk again but we knew Stephen better than that and he eventually began to “wake up”.

Since the amazing day at the Children’s Hospital in Calgary where, after four months of mutism, he asked for a drink of water (and later for an orange, a cheeseburger and a question about the $20 bill he’d left in his pants when he was admitted), Stephen made amazing progress toward recovery.

Our family is so grateful for the support we received during those very scary days – from family, friends, our community, and organizations like KCC, who deeply understand the challenges of the cancer journey.

We quickly came to appreciate KCC’s contributions to the daily grind that is cancer treatment including pizza nights, gift certificates for nights out of the hospital, bringing in the Calgary Flame and Stampede’s chuckwagon drivers, and especially Camp Kindle.”

As a result of the surgery, I lost all movement and speech and was unable to go back to school due to a compromised immune system but was given the wonderful support of family and friends offering help and encouragement to me and my family. They came to visit us in the hospital and brought movies, books and magazines for us to occupy our time while my health gradually improved enough to leave the hospital. 

I spent hours in physiotherapy and speech therapy but eventually, I was able to return to school with all my friends that had supported me, and later that year I got to experience camp for the first time with my sibling right beside me!

It seems like a pretty simple thing, but camp is a wonderful place where I could connect with others, have fun, build confidence, and create positive memories after years of difficult times. The emotional support the councilors gave just made everything fun again. I was surrounded by a bunch of kids that were or have been going through the same journey as me and there was an immediate understanding that everyone is just here to have fun and it is a place where you feel “normal”. Every year I looked forward to seeing my old camp pals, and I’ve also made lifelong friendships with some incredible people, as well as a whole list of campfire songs that will be stuck in my head for the rest of my life.

It was in 2010 that things got very cool, until then Kids Cancer Care shared the camp Horizon with other disabled children. That year they bought their own camp near the town of Water Valley, and I was among the first campers at the new, yet to be renovated camp!

It was an amazing time exploring everything the camp had to offer, and I am happy to have been on the team that named the camp, Camp Kindle along with the on-site clinic, Rekindle Clinic!

In 2010 I was chosen to be one of three ambassadors for Kids Cancer Care’s Tour for Kids which is a three-day 300+ kilometer bike ride to raise funds for children with cancer. Together, my dad and I raised $7,220, and with the help of the other riders, a grand total of $287,000 was raised that weekend. Since only 5 per cent of all the cancer research funding in Canada is allocated to childhood cancer, it was great to raise all that money going towards helping young people affected by cancer!

My Dad still cycles in this event every summer, which is being renamed the Cycle Challenge – Ride of Courage, and I am at his side volunteering and supporting all the riders with snacks and cheers. We have met so many amazing people who have been impacted by childhood cancer, they’re my volunteer family!   

My journey with Kids Cancer Care did not stop there as I was then awarded the David Wandzura Memorial Scholarship in 2012, helping me pursue higher education. At that time, I was unsure of my career path, so I started with history and psychology classes and decided business classes were the right way to go!

There are things that I enjoyed before being diagnosed that the unkind effects of cancer treatment took from me. I lost all of my hair because of the chemo and radiation therapy, I find it quite hard to play the guitar due to the deterioration of my fine motor skills, I can’t play soccer and since my balance isn’t the same, I’m unable to ride a two-wheeled bike.

However, everything I lost from Cancer doesn’t compare to what I’ve gained. Many years later, I am proud to say that I am a survivor. I graduated from Red Deer College in 2017 with a business administration diploma majoring in marketing.

I enjoy relaxing and spending time with family and friends, reading books, listening to music, and playing video games.

Cancer changed my life in so many ways, but it also taught me the importance of resilience, and hope!

Thank you for taking the time to read my story, and I want to express my gratitude to everyone who helps Kids Cancer Care by donating, volunteering their time, or holding fundraisers!

-Stephen Radu