Alberta Cancer Foundation

My Cancer Journey By Bradley K. Drader

Brad Drader in the parking lot of the hospital for his cancer treatments, 1969.

My cancer journey began in the spring of 1969 at the age of 2.5 years. The Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton had only recently opened, and I was admitted after being diagnosed with a rare form of adrenal cancer. After the gland was removed, it was determined that the cancer had greatly affected other glandular functions and that extensive (long term) hormone treatments were required to treat my abnormal growth rate and massive hormonal imbalance. As the long-term effects of my specific type of cancer were relatively unknown, I spent much time with a variety of doctors as they discussed treatment plans and future prognoses.

From the years of 1969 to 1975, ongoing treatment and testing at the Cross Cancer Institute and University Hospitals became a regular part of my young life.

Having grown up on a farm in rural central Alberta, it was neither convenient nor easy for my parents to be with me during the many days I was required to spend in the hospital. There were no family rooms or Ronald McDonald Houses available to stay at, so my parents would drop me off at the Cross Cancer Institute or University Hospital for a few days until they could return to pick me up after my tests were complete.

Also at that time, children’s wards in hospitals were not common. My hospital bed was usually among 6 beds in a room that I shared with other (usually elderly) patients. I often relied on the hospital staff and volunteers to keep me company. If it were not for those dedicated people and the support they gave me, those years would have been incredibly difficult for me as a child.

Many of my earliest memories involve my experiences as a cancer patient at the Cross Cancer and University Hospitals in Edmonton. As a matter of fact, the earliest memory I have was in post-surgery recovery after my adrenal gland had been removed during an ‘exploratory’ surgery to determine the exact cause of my massive hormonal imbalance. I was in an oxygen tent, holding my mother’s hand while she was in tears. The memory was so powerful that over the years, I checked with my mother to verify if it was ‘real’. She confirmed it on more than one occasion.

I also vividly remember a variety of situations that occurred between 1970 and 1973. When I was around 4 years old, and I was required to stay several days at the hospital. I remember running in tears to the hallway window that overlooked the hospital parking lot to wave ‘goodbye’ to my parents as they drove away to go home. This was one of the rare times that I had another younger patient try to comfort me as he walked me back to my room. I can’t remember his name, but his presence was much needed at that time.

When I was around 5 years old, the Cross Cancer Institute had recently obtained some improved radiation treatment equipment and a pool table that was also donated for patient use. One of the local TV stations did a short news report on the recent upgrades and donations, and I was allowed to play pool as a part of the newscast. I felt pretty special.

Another vivid memory I have occurred when I was between the ages of 4 and 5 years old. During one of my lengthy stays, I was given a ‘special ride’ in an ambulance to see a large group of student doctors. I was taken from the Cross Cancer Institute to the University of Alberta (just a few blocks away). This is where my oncologist and surgeon presented my case to a group of young doctors in a large lecture theatre. Everyone involved made me feel very comfortable and at ease, even though I was placed directly in front of a large group of people and was asked to answer a few questions from the young student doctors.

Even with the tremendous barrage of unique experiences I had as a young patient, I was always made to feel special. I trusted my doctors and nurses implicitly. I was even led to believe that calling me ‘Master Drader’ was a sign of respect and reflected my uniqueness (although it was common practice at that time to refer to young patients as ‘master’).

Brad Drader with his Bradley Pot.

When I was 6 years old, I was diagnosed with a growth on my skull that required surgery and radiation. After recovery, I was again required to return for regular testing and check-ups, and I will never forget the support and encouragement I received from the staff and volunteers at the Cross Cancer Clinic. My doctors (Dr. D.G. McGowan and Dr. M. Crockford) were always so respectful and easy to talk to, even for a child. The nurses and other support staff members would often allow me to be with them during their work shifts.

Craft days were always a thrill for me. One volunteer had a great impact on me. She came in occasionally to do pottery with the patients. Even though I was very young, I greatly enjoyed her encouragement and positive attention. She referred to herself as the ‘pot gal’. She made me a special pot out of happy faces, which I still have and use on my dresser to this day (over 50 years later). She called it the “Bradley Pot”, as I always seemed to be happy. Truly, I was happy because of her and the many other hospital staff members that I came to know and trust as my interim family. I do not know her name, but I have been forever in her debt.

In 2008 I was diagnosed with melanoma, and after follow-up tests were done, there was a concern that the cancer had spread to my liver. After surgery, 2 large cysts were removed but were found to be benign. At that time, I had 2 young children and was deeply concerned about my family’s future should something happen to me. The staffs at the University Hospital were unbelievably fantastic and supportive.

One of the most uplifting and motivational experiences I have ever had occurred during my recovery from the liver surgery. As a teacher, I have made many connections with some amazingly resilient young individuals. One such student of mine, Jesse Bartlett, was receiving chemotherapy treatment for advanced-stage cancer he contracted when I taught him in grade 7. He walked to my ward from the Children’s Stollery Hospital, along with his I.V.’s and pole, to check up on me and talk for a while. Jesse, unfortunately, lost his battle with cancer a few years ago, but his courage and positivity will forever be etched into my memory.

In truth, some of the most motivational people I have had the privilege of knowing have been those who have battled cancer.

In 2022 I was diagnosed with ‘High-Risk Prostate Cancer’ at the age of 55 years. Radiation treatments at the Cross Cancer Institute were prescribed as the best alternative for my situation. Again, as before, the hospital staff at the Cross Institute have been amazing. During my treatments, my normal body ‘functions’ began to change, becoming very frustrating for me. My radiation technologists were incredibly encouraging and patient.

There were a couple of times when my body was not ‘ready’ for the daily radiation treatment. The technicians stayed passed their shift in order to complete my radiation session, all the while giving me much assurance and support. All of the staff members (including my oncologist, Dr. Danielson) have been incredibly professional, patient, understanding, and genuinely caring. My radiation treatments went very well, and I will complete my hormone therapy in June of 2023. My initial follow-up test results have been very positive.

The two main support mechanisms that I have been blessed to have with my cancer journey over the last 53 years have been my family (both as a child and as an adult) and the amazing hospital staff members. As a child, my parents and brothers tried their best to keep my young world as ‘normal’ as possible.

The staff and volunteers of the Cross Cancer Institute and University Hospital helped to raise me and provided a safe and caring environment during a potentially very lonely (and scary) time. As an adult, my wife and children have given me purpose and motivation, while the amazing hospital staff have given me much encouragement, patience, and support.

I would very much like to thank the staff and volunteers of the Cross Cancer Institute and University Hospital for being an incredibly important part of my life’s journey and for everything they have done for me over the last 53 years. Their expertise, professionalism, care and concern are truly inspiring, and we are very blessed to have them.

Inspired by Brad’s cancer journey? You can share your cancer journey too. You never know whose life you could change simply by talking about your own, contact us today.

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