A CANCER JOURNEY
Anxiety of cancer diagnosis eased by compassionate care team
Published: February 2023
When Jay Abramovitch went to the Emergency Department (ED) in November 2020, he never expected to hear the word cancer — let alone stage 3B colon cancer.
Jay, a firefighter in South Mountain, Ontario, at the time, had been experiencing minor symptoms for a few months. To provide him peace of mind, his family doctor arranged for some tests. Then, in late November 2020, his symptoms, including blood in his stool, got worse, so he went straight to the Winchester ED. “I still wasn’t too worried because the ED doctor initially believed my colon might be inflamed, and he ordered at CT scan,” explains Jay. “I remembered thinking everything would be alright after I got some medications.”
As Jay waited at the hospital for the results, he finally heard his name called. When he saw his doctor’s face, he knew it wasn’t good news. “He took me into a private room and told me I had a mass in my sigmoid colon and some lymph nodes that were possibly malignant. That led to an emergency endoscopy, to biopsy what they found, and several more scans. Waiting for those results was agonizing,” admits Jay.
On Friday, November 24, 2020, Jay learned the news he feared most — he had cancer. “I was shocked, angry, and confused. I was only 36, and I’d always been healthy with no history of colon cancer in my family.”
“I was shocked, angry, and confused. I was only 36, and I’d always been healthy with no history of colon cancer in my family.”— Jay Abramovitch
Cancer care during the pandemic
Within two weeks, Jay got the call from The Ottawa Hospital’s Cancer Centre and his cancer journey with our hospital began. “From that moment, the support and care were amazing. Elizabeth Birch was my first point of contact. She was my surgeon’s administrative assistant, and I called her my ‘open line of communication’. My wife Leslie and I answered questions for about 30 minutes during that first call, and while I was facing cancer care in the middle of a pandemic, I never felt alone,” says Jay.
By February 2021, Dr. Laura Williams led his major abdominal surgery to remove part of his sigmoid colon. Then, Jay spent eight weeks recovering before undergoing 12 rounds of chemotherapy, administered bi-weekly for six months.
Jay clearly remembers when he walked into the Cancer Centre for the first time — it was a moment that hit him hard. “It was my first appointment with oncologist Dr. Derek Jonker. Before that, it was preparing for surgery, and everything was essentially virtual until the day of my actual operation. I remember looking around the Cancer Centre and thinking ‘I can’t believe I’m one of these patients.’ At age 36, I felt too young to be there,” explains Jay.
The other daunting part was Jay had to go in by himself due to pandemic restrictions. However, Dr. Jonker dialed in Jay’s wife to make sure she was able to hear the care plan firsthand. During that meeting, Jay also learned about some studies linked to the type of cancer and care he would be receiving. When Dr. Jonker presented him with the option of participating in the research, Jay said yes. “I participated in two studies. I almost didn’t, but I ended up actually being really thankful. I like the idea of being able to help other people too — it’s a small way to give back.”
It’s patients, like Jay, who participate in research that help to improve care not only at our hospital but around the world. They help our researchers turn their results into better treatments, shorter wait times, and less pain for our patients.
Newfound joy after ringing the bell
By September 24, 2021, Jay finished chemo treatments and got to ring the bell. His wife was even able to come in and witness the special moment. It was also a time to reflect on the care team that supported him along the way, including the nurses and staff at the Cancer Centre — each playing an important role in his journey.
But an even bigger moment would come for Jay and his wife two weeks later when they received word they were approved to adopt a little girl. Four weeks after Jay’s last chemo treatment, the couple welcomed 12-month-old Kira home. “She was the perfect distraction. It was the best possible thing that could happen after possibly the worst year and a half,” says Jay.
Today, Jay has his routine check-ins with Dr. Jonker and he’s doing well. In fact, he’s joined The Ottawa Hospital as a transportation worker, and he helps patients move through the hospital. Jay says after the excellent care he received he can now provide that compassion to other patients with a different perspective of what they’re going through. “It’s a unique opportunity to help those patients. It’s very humbling to be able to provide folks just a little bit of hope and a little bit of positivity in their day.”
Jay is also dedicated to helping others who face their own cancer journey. In his spare time, he’s involved with advocacy and peer support to help men affected by cancer through the Man Up to Cancer group.
“I participated in two studies. I almost didn’t, but I ended up actually being really thankful. I like the idea of being able to help other people too — it’s a small way to give back.”— Jay Abramovitch
The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research, and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.