Tashina Janus went to bed feeling fine and looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner with her family the next day. Less than a week later she was recovering from brain surgery and trying to process the death sentence her doctor had handed her.
It happened a little over two years ago. Tashina had a seizure in her sleep — she has no memory of it and would never have know it happened had she not been living with her boyfriend.
“He was like, ‘woah, you’re having a weird dream there,’” Tashina said. “He woke me up and he’s like, ‘we have to go to the hospital.’ And I’m like, ‘no, go back to sleep, I’m tired, how dare you.”
The next day the couple went to her mother Monica’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, and Tashina had trouble getting up the stairs.
“I told my mom, my legs are so sore, my tongue hurts. I feel like I just worked out, which I never do,” she said.
Tashina thought she had the flu, but after her boyfriend told her mom — who worked for 45 years as a nurse-clinician at Vancouver General Hospital — what had happened the night before, Monica raised the alarm.
Within days Tashina had a CT scan, was diagnosed with Astrocytoma, a type of brain cancer, and admitted to hospital. The mass in her frontal lobe was huge with tentacle-like branches, and had actually pushed her brain over the mid-line. After a seven-hour surgery, the doctors had removed 95 per cent of the tumour, but because of its location were not able to remove anymore.
“It was overwhelming, to say the least,” Tashina said.
Her doctor gave her five years to live.
“I asked him expecting a totally different answer, just a reassuring question: Is this going to kill me? And he goes yes. To a 21-year-old, that’s not the answer you want to hear,” she said, adding much of what came next is a blank.
“Because at that point I just zoned out. I’m like, well, I’m going to die. Why do I have to listen?”
The type of cancer she has doesn’t respond to chemotherapy or radiation, so it’s a wait-and-see situation. Her doctor monitors the remnants of the tumour via periodic MRIs, looking for the telltale signs of it growing. And if — or when — it grows again, there’s little that doctors can do; a second surgery isn’t possible.
“These cancers that start off moderately malignant, they grow like a bell curve; over time they grow faster and faster. They have a life of their own,” Monica said. “And Tashina’s had a bit of a flare. On the last MRI there is some cloudiness, indicating very slow movement of this tumor.”
Tashina’s currently taking anti-seizure medication, which have caused her to gain weight, and she still suffers from fatigue and severe headaches.
“I’m just a normal girl, just wanting to live life,” she said. “I’m not ready for death.”
|(from left) Tashina, Monica and Soraya Janus. (Photo submitted)|
Tashina and her family haven’t given up hope. Monica has gone back to work to help pay for Tashina’s treatment, and has spent countless hours researching alternative treatment plans for her daughter. She renovated the basement of her home to give Tashina somewhere close by to live while she goes through treatment.
In addition to moving back home, Tashina began working as a behavioural interventionist with young children and autistic adults, and is on track to completing her studies at Langara College. (Prior to her surgery she was studying psychology, with an eye towards a career as a social worker.)
She spends her off-time with her boyfriend, visiting friends and watching Netflix. Last month they held a fundraiser for her at Kennedy’s Pub in North Delta.
Recently, Tashina switched oncologists, and they have an experimental treatment picked out that could save the now-23-year-old’s life.
Immunotherapy, simply put, tricks the body’s immune system into fighting the cancer cells. The treatment is available in Canada to combat certain types of cancer, such as liver and bladder, and is in those cases is covered by insurance. But it’s not yet approved to fight cancers of the brain, so Tashina is having to look outside the country.
Her doctor recommended she see a neuro-oncologist at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco, but the cost of seeking treatment outside of Canada is steep.
“The University of California San Francisco … is one of the top centres for brain research and brain treatments and different modalities and stuff. So that’s what we’re fundraising for,” Monica said, adding she anticipates the consult alone to cost about US$10,000. “That’s beyond our scope.
“I would think, conservatively, if we went through the States, it’d be about US$400,000 to $500,000, which is not an option.”
The family is working to raise the money needed to get Tashina the treatment she needs. Her sister has set up a GoFundMe, raising over $42,000 to date of the $80,000 goal, and has organized a gala fundraiser at Aberthau Mansion in Vancouver (4397 West 2nd Ave.) this Saturday, Nov 17 at 7 p.m.
The event will feature a live art auction (with pieces generously donated from acclaimed naturalist and painter Robert Bateman’s personal collection) and a silent auction with items donated by WestJet, local hotels and spas, to name a few.
Tickets are available at the door for $10. RSVP to Soraya Janus at 604-970-1755 or firstname.lastname@example.org.