Gordon MacDonald

Gordon MacDonald

Two decades ago, I was told I had less than six months to live. But I’m here to tell my story, 23 years later, because the Cape Breton Cancer Centre saved my life.

When I was 37 years old, climbing a hill on my postal route, I found myself gasping and wheezing for air. I felt dizzy and as if I was going to faint. I immediately went to the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, where I was sent for x-rays and testing.

Doctors found fluid in my lungs and a mass in my neck and chest. A biopsy confirmed that I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a diagnosis that left me in a state of shock. The 20-kilometer drive from the hospital to my home felt like it took a whole day.

At home I had some of the toughest conversations of my life. Just two years earlier we lost my father to cancer, and now I had to share my own diagnosis with my family, including my wife, our three young children, and my mother.

I’m sharing my story today in support of the Cancer Care Here at Home campaign, as I know first-hand how important it is to be surrounded by your loved ones, at home, while receiving life-saving care. Will you consider supporting the campaign to enhance cancer care in Cape Breton?

Two days after my diagnosis I experienced a seizure. An ambulance rushed me to Halifax, where I took a second seizure and was left paralyzed. I was terrified.

Luckily the paralysis only lasted for 12 hours. However, testing showed a mass in my brain. My cancer had broken the blood-brain barrier, which is extremely rare. In fact, at the time, there were only six reported cases of this in the entire world.

It wasn’t until my 38th birthday, when I received my first round of chemotherapy, that I truly understood what this meant for me. When sharing my six-month treatment plan, my oncologist explained that he didn’t think I would live to see it through. My rare diagnosis was also a terminal one – they were certain.

I was stubborn and even a bit saucy back then, and I remember saying to my doctor, “you do your job and I’ll do mine.” I requested to receive the rest of my treatments at home in the Cape Breton Cancer Centre and rolled up my sleeves to fight.

I cannot say enough good about the people at the Centre. As scary as this whole situation was, I felt I was in good hands, and they took very good care of me. My team at the Centre continuously worked to learn what treatments were best for me and my relatively unknown diagnosis, including virtually connecting with doctors across the country. And with every round of chemotherapy, I saw improvements in my breathing. I saw hope, and my doctors were blown away.

In my opinion, the Cancer Centre staff are heroes. The Cancer Care Here at Home campaign will place state-of-the-art equipment in the hands of these heroes to ensure others, like me, can receive lifesaving care on the comfort of our Island. Will you consider giving in support of the 45,000 patient-visits made to the Cape Breton Cancer Centre annually?

After six months of chemotherapy and 28 days of brain radiation, I had completed my treatments. But I remained a patient at the Centre for 10 years, visiting for bloodwork and tests every three months.

I remember feeling a great sense of relief knowing I could access this long-term care at home. There are so many additional complications that come with a cancer diagnosis: I had to leave my job for three years; I lost my driver’s license due to the seizures; I experienced short-term memory loss and had to re-learn fine motors skills, just to name a few.

I couldn’t possibly imagine going through all this change and not being home. Being home is what makes you better. Being close to family is what helps you heal.

Today, I am proud to say I have a clean bill of health. I’m not on any medications. I have seven grandkids now, twins on the way. I shouldn’t have met any of them, but against all odds, the Cape Breton Cancer Centre saved my life.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my story. I hope you will join me in supporting the Cancer Care Here at Home campaign, Cape Breton’s new Cancer Centre, and our friends, families, and neighbours, right here – at home.


Gordon MacDonald
CBRM Councilor District 1
Husband, father, grandfather
Terminal Cancer Survivor

PS. – Thank you for taking the time to read my personal story. The Cancer Care Here at Home campaign has a goal of providing our medical experts with the vital tools and equipment they need to continue to care for fellow Cape Bretoners battling cancer; to fund research and innovation to advance cancer care on our Island; and to fund complementary patient programming like psychosocial supports, and more. Please consider giving today, because you care.

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