After experiencing multiple symptoms and health problems for more than a decade, Tarja Bouchard found out she had a brain tumour. Over the years, the Timmins woman had been experiencing everything from severe muscle aches to tingling sensations, weakness and even seizures.

After sustaining a bad fall at work in 2009, Tarja was diagnosed with a brain tumour that was thought to be benign. She underwent surgery to remove a large portion of her tumour that she later learned was a rare type of brain and central nervous system cancer called oligodendroglioma. She was then prescribed oral chemotherapy, which shrank the remaining tumour but it is still there.

Today, Tarja considers herself “a survivor living with brain cancer” and, while she is no longer in active treatment, her tumour is being monitored with MRIs every six months. In 2012, she decided to participate in her local Canadian Cancer Society Relay For Life, which ended up becoming a catalyst for positive change in her life.

“Many of my friends and acquaintances knew I was sick, but they thought it was with a benign brain tumour. When it was revealed my tumour was malignant, I didn’t update anyone with the news,” explained Tarja, “when I attended Relay For Life I ran into many people I knew who didn’t even know I had been diagnosed. I hadn’t realized how quiet I had kept it and as a result I ended up seeking out the support I needed.”

Tarja hadn’t planned on staying as long as she did but once at the event, she was so moved by what she experienced she found it nearly impossible to leave. The most memorable moment of what she calls “a truly incredible event” was the Survivors’ Victory Lap, where cancer survivors walk the first lap of the Relay track. As she completed the lap and heard the applause, tears started streaming down her face.

“When you do the Survivors’ Victory Lap and you hear your name called out over the loudspeaker, you are a survivor in every sense,” said Tarja, “it is so emotional as people in your community are cheering and applauding for you. It is truly an indescribable feeling. Events like Relay For Life really do make a difference.”