Kristel Boon: Home Away From Home
It was July 2018 and Kristel Boon was full of anticipation and pride, as she packed her suitcase and prepared to travel from Okotoks to Israel to watch her oldest son Tibor represent Belgium in the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships. Tibor, in his 20s, was married and living in Denver, so he would travel to Israel separately.
After the games, Kristel planned to go on to Belgium to spend time with cherished family and friends, before making her way to Denver, where her husband and younger son would gather, and the whole family would celebrate and recap the exciting experience.
This was a trip of a lifetime. Lacrosse had been a highlight for the family for many years, as both Tibor, and his younger brother Branko played competitively. Kristel and Peter never missed a game – they were always on the sidelines zealously cheering and often volunteering.
“Two days before I was scheduled to leave, I found a lump in my breast. It’s funny how your mind works, I totally disregarded it. I thought – I’m not going to let a little lump stop me from watching my son play for Team Belgium,” said Kristel.
The Israel trip was an unforgettable experience, watching Team Belgium win and lose games, and overall growing as a team.
On the latter part of the trip, Kristel noticed the lump becoming increasingly painful and she decided it might need attention. When she got back to Okotoks she went to see her family doctor, who sent her for an ultrasound which subsequently led to a biopsy.
“I don’t know why but I wasn’t thinking cancer at all. I booked a follow-up appointment with my family doctor and Peter came with me. As soon as the doctor walked in the room, I could tell something was wrong. Still I was totally shocked when he said ‘you have cancer,’” said Kristel.
Even more surprising, though Kristel could only feel one lump, tests revealed two tumours in the same breast, and they were two different cancers. Viewed as aggressive, a mastectomy was rapidly scheduled.
“Five days before the surgery, I requested to have a double mastectomy instead,” said Kristel. “I didn’t want to live in fear – having the remaining breast checked every year and being fearful of the results. Also, if I got cancer in the other breast five, 10, 15 years later, I’d be that much older having to go through the surgery. It would be harder to recover,” said Kristel.
In October, after having a double mastectomy, Kristel went to her follow-up appointment with her oncologist and was surprised to hear that next up, her medical team was ordering chemotherapy and radiation.
“I must have be so naive – I thought we will get rid of these breasts and then it will all be done! But no – I needed what I call the full-meal deal,” she said, adding that she was also prescribed applications of Herceptin, bone builder infusions, and five years of hormone blockers.
Today Kristel feels like she is slowly reemerging and she credits Wellspring Calgary with helping her through the darkest days of cancer. She knew about Wellspring before her diagnosis, and found her way to the north location between appointments at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.
“I walked into Carma House and got a warm welcome and a tour. I learned about all the free programs and I thought – I need this! I’m going to be using this service a lot. It just felt right.”
Kristel joined Yoga for Harmony, Visualization and Meditation, Brain Fog, Money Matters, Music is my Therapy, Reiki, and Time with Cindy. Coming from Okotoks, she gravitated to the south location (then Fountain Court, now Randy O’Dell House), and when the pandemic hit, she joined Wellspring online and was grateful to find she could still tap into the much-needed support in a virtual context.
“Taking programs online really works as well. I made a special space in my home where I go to do yoga and other classes. It’s a welcome reprieve and nice that I don’t have to leave home when I’m tired, or on terrible winter days,” she said.
Eventually Kristel looks forward to returning to centres and joining her Wellspring family in person.
“From the get-go I have called Wellspring my home away from home. People are warm and welcoming but you are not coddled, you are just accepted,” she said. “Everybody knows why you are there – you don’t have to explain yourself, it’s unspoken. It’s wonderful that you get so comfortable at Wellspring, you actually forget you are going there because you have cancer.”