Carissa Marcotte is a dynamic 16-year-old with strength beyond her years. At such a young age she has learned the importance of what really matters. Her journey started in the summer of 2015, when life handed Carissa a cancer diagnosis.
Most kids spend their birthdays surrounded by family and friends while digging into a slice of their favorite cake. Carissa spent her eighth birthday at a hospital in her hometown of Timmins, Ontario, where she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). ALL is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow.
Her parents were told that “this was a good one” as far as pediatric cancers go. But what followed was anything but an easy road for Carissa and her family.
Carissa began her treatment protocol immediately. The first month was terrifying as multiple complications, from a ruptured appendix to troubling spikes in blood sugar, were occurring far too often. Keeping Carissa safe as her immune system was depleted with rounds of chemotherapy meant that she was in the hospital for an entire year without discharge. Over the course of her treatment, she fought infections and daily fevers for over two years and sustained significant damage to her body.
As a result of these complications, Carissa’s mobility was affected from being bedridden for such a long period of time, and she slowly had to rely on a wheelchair. Prior to her diagnosis, Carissa was an avid athlete and loved to challenge herself with an array of sports and activities. She visited CHEO four to five times a week to work with the oncology team, physiotherapists and counsellors. “I started doing physiotherapy to regain all of the strength I had completely lost. I had to re-learn everything from the ground up, from sitting up in bed to standing up on my two bare feet, it was a painstaking process that took forever for me to even start,” explains Carissa.
Carissa spent many years dealing with the physical and emotional after-effects of her cancer treatment, she had her sights set on walking again and never lost her ambition to achieve that goal. In 2020 she underwent a heel cord lengthening surgery that helped ease limited motion in her joints. Following the procedure, Carissa was overjoyed when she began to experience some restored movement. She describes it as “the surgery that changed her life.”
“That surgery was the final step for me to finally get what I needed to start walking again and it’s been an amazing accomplishment that I’ve been working so hard on throughout my treatment,” says Carissa. “I’m proud to say that I’ve been walking for three years now, and I have been in remission for five years. I still have a long way to be completely back to walking normally, but as it stands right now, I’m doing very well and I’m passionate about the future and thankful to the people who have helped me along the way.”
Despite a mountain of odds stacked against her, Carissa managed to skillfully navigate life’s unforeseen challenges with courage and grace. All the moments in her journey could have left her feeling defeated. Instead, she refuses to let cancer define her present or future. “The difficult moments I encountered along the way have not only made me into the person I am today but it has also made me realize the significance of what really matters in life,” says Carissa.