An Airdrie family is travelling to Mexico in pursuit of their daughter’s chemotherapy treatment.
On July 17, Sadie Litoski, 19, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – a type of blood cancer that starts in the lymphatic system, according to Healthline.com.
“We never thought anything like this would ever happen,” said Melanie Litoski, Sadie’s mother. “Sadie has always been very healthy and there were no real symptoms or anything that would suggest she was sick.”
Litoski said initially, the only sign was an apparent cold Sadie developed that wouldn’t go away. Then, a lump formed on her neck.
After two rounds of testing, she said doctors determined her daughter had developed Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The cancer had already spread to the lymph nodes in her lungs, liver and spleen and there were numerous tumours present in both sides of her neck, chest and diaphragm.
“[That] was probably an even bigger shock, to learn it was that late of a stage,” Litoski said.
“There was a lot of reflecting and crying and we were very upset. It was hard for the whole family, [including] our extended family and grandparents. Everyone had a feeling of helplessness – that there was nothing we could do.”
Following Sadie’s diagnosis, Litoski said the family set up a GoFundMe page Aug. 7 to help raise money for her treatment, which is not covered by Alberta Health Services. Within eight hours, the family’s fundraising goal of $55,000 had been met. Within 24 hours, more than $73,000 had been raised.
Because the amount raised surpassed the family’s objective so quickly, Litoski said the family agreed to stop accepting donations Aug. 8 and is now directing people to the GoFundMe pages of two other local families who are dealing with similar circumstances.
“The GoFundMe page was shockingly successful – we never thought it would be so supported,” she said. “Sadie just felt that, since it was more than we asked for and there are others out there who haven’t met their goal and are dealing with similar cancer challenges, that she wanted people to donate to them as well and help them with their fights against cancer.”
“I know [McFarlane's] mom has reached out to me to connect, because we’re both going through similar issues with young adult children who aren’t ready to be real adults but are having to deal with this kind of thing,” she said. “Anything we can do to help them with their treatments and plans would be great.”
After much deliberation and consultations with specialty clinics around the world, Litoski said the family opted to pursue a treatment plan for Sadie at a clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. She said the clinic in Tijuana will offer integrative cancer treatments with low-dose, targeted chemotherapy, which she added would reduce the long-term health risks associated with conventional chemotherapy.
“The treatments in Canada are very aggressive chemotherapy treatments, with very high doses and serious long-term side effects that were very hard for us to deal with,” she said, adding that, along with the short-term side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy like hair loss and nausea, Sadie will also be at high risk of developing long-term side effects, including infertility, permanent heart damage, lung disease and secondary cancer.
“Most of those clinics [we talked to] suggested a low-dose chemotherapy treatment,” she said. “Because of the way it’s administered, it would have the same impact in treating the cancer, but would significantly reduce those long-term effects and give her a strong prognosis for a long life without continued health problems.”
She added the average age of a cancer patient is 66 years old, and oncology in Canada is designed to provide an additional 10 to 20 years of life.
“When you’re 19, having 30 years left to live is not acceptable for us, so in our research, we talked to a dozen clinics and actually had consultations with six of them,” Litoski said.
A competitive hockey player for much of her life, Sadie is a 2019 graduate of the Edge School – a Springbank-based private school for elite student-athletes. She played AAA hockey for the Rocky Mountain Raiders and was also a member of the Airdrie AA U18 Lightning.
Prior to her diagnosis, she had just finished her first year of undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO).
“She took science in the first term and then business in the second term,” Litoski said. “We’re still working with [UBCO] to see if there’s a modified program and if she can continue with some courses while we’re away that won’t be too difficult, because she will still have chemotherapy treatments, and there are challenges with that.”