“Eva and I used to lay side by side, getting chemo together. We talked about going to university together and changing the world some day and now she was dying. I promised her: ‘I will keep fighting for you Eva. I don’t know how I will do it, but I will.’” – Amandha Richter
Eva passed away in December, 2001 at the age of 15. She wasn’t the only friend Amandha would lose to cancer, but she was the friend who would forever change the course of her life.
Amandha recalls the first time meeting Eva. They were both at the hospital, waiting to receive treatment. Amandha had just been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Eva was battling a brain tumour.
Eva kept looking at Amandha and Amandha kept trying to avert her eyes. Amandha was 17 and angry, struggling to make sense of the disparate worlds of cancer and life as a teenager. Finally, with great difficulty, Eva got up, walked over and stood directly in front of Amandha. When Eva asked Amandha how she was, Amandha finally asked her how she was.
“Well, I can walk today, so today is a good day,” Eva replied and they immediately became great friends.
After losing Eva, Amandha was left to battle her own cancer-related demons.
“My sister Whitney used to say I went from being 17 to 40 overnight. My physical person was completely the same, but inside — emotionally — I was different. I no longer shared common ground with my school friends, so I lost a lot of friends that way.”
But Amandha was already cancer-weary, having lost her best friend Loni to cancer years before, when she 10 and Loni was 11.
“I’d only known people who had died from cancer,” Amandha says. “When I was diagnosed, I thought: ‘I’m 17 and I’m going to die. I’m not going to graduate and go to university. I’m not going to get married and have kids. I’m going to die.”
Amandha survived cancer, but not unscathed. As with many childhood cancer survivors, she struggled with depression for years after treatment. Amandha was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, periodically seeing a therapist to manage her PTSD.
a fundraising legacy
In the aftermath of cancer, Amandha started making good on her promise to Eva. Little did she know that she and fellow cancer survivors Taryn Penrice and Jeff McNabb would start a legacy of fundraising for pediatric cancer research in central Alberta.
After organizing a shave event in 2001 and raising more than $75,000 for Kids Cancer Care, Amandha joined forces with her friends Taryn and Jeff to organize the first Golf a Kid to Cure tournament in Red Deer.
Jeff’s family later went on to organize the Build a Kid to Cure initiative, where trades and individuals from the housing industry donate time and resources to build a home. Proceeds from the sale of the home go to Kids Cancer Care and other local charities.
Sadly, Jeff passed away in 2011 and his parents Dave and Brigitte McNabb kept the legacy alive by annually hosting the Build/Golf a Kid to Cure events in his memory. With the support of the employees at Dominion Lending Centres Regional Mortgage Group and the Red Deer community, the McNabbs have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for childhood cancer research.
But when Amandha promised to keep fighting for Eva in 2001, she had more than fundraising in mind. She had plans to become a pediatric oncology nurse.
When Kids Cancer Care introduced the Derek Wandzura Memorial Scholarship Fund in 2008, Amandha was among the first 26 cancer survivors in Alberta to receive a scholarship. With the help of that scholarship, Amandha pursued a Bachelor of Science in Nursing through a joint degree program at Red Deer College and the University of Alberta.
“I was so grateful to receive that scholarship,” says Amandha. “It gave me the opportunity to focus on my studies.”
Amandha is now using her nursing career to continue paying it forward, working as a critical care nurse in the Emergency Department at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.
“It can be tough, working as an emergency nurse,” she says. “We’re with people on the worst day of their life. We are part of that really bad day. You save their life and they go away and you never see them again. It’s so intense and immediate. Afterwards, you can say, ‘I did that for them. I helped save their life.’”
Amandha remembers her first emergency ward experience: “I was doing my final preceptorship in Atlanta and I was terrified. One of the nurses said to me, ‘Don’t worry; you won’t be doing chest compressions on your first day.’ I did chest compressions on two patients that day and they both lived,” she laughs. “I must be an adrenaline junky or something. It was such a high to know that I had helped save them.”
More than the adrenaline-high, Amandha loves the fact that she can give her entire being to her patients: “I can give all of myself to nursing. I can use my brains, my hands and my heart. I use all of these parts of myself.”
A big part of Amandha also loves the diversity of the role — from newborns to seniors, and everyone in between. Each patient presents with a different disease or medical issue, from hang nails to heart attacks. Amandha is constantly learning and the breadth of her knowledge is ever expanding.
But there is one area of nursing that Amandha is currently unable to go — pediatric oncology.
“I’ve tried, but I can’t do it,” she says. “I used to see that as a failure, but I don’t anymore.”
Working with a therapist over the past few years, Amandha has learned to manage her PTSD by identifying triggers and dealing with them early on, so they don’t escalate. Helping children on a pediatric cancer unit is one of those triggers.
“I don’t know if cancer follows us or if, as former patients, we follow cancer, but it is always there,” says Amandha. “From diagnosis to my dying day, it will forever be part of me.”
For now, Amandha continues to fight for young people like Eva by raising awareness through public speaking engagements at two Red Deer high schools.
“I couldn’t save Eva’s physical being,” Amandha says, “but I can keep her with me spiritually. I carry her with me. Who knows how Eva would have lived or fulfilled her potential. I’m helping in my way. I think that’s how we honour the people who are no longer with us. We live for them.”
As a teen, Amandha could not save Eva’s life. Nor could she save Loni’s life. But as a critical care nurse, Amandha saves lives every day. We never know exactly how our dreams and promises will manifest. They can manifest in unexpected ways. Amandha’s dreams and promises led her to a career in nursing at the Foothills Emergency Department, where every day she enacts the one thing she was unable to do as a kid – save lives.
Thanks to your generous support childhood cancer survivors like Amandha are fulfilling long-held promises and dreams to help others.
Dreams realized by YOU.