ME AND MY TWIN: The Unmistakable Effects of Childhood Cancer

Until the age of 11, most people could not tell me apart from my identical twin brother, Ben; we had the same friends, performed the same at school, and we have always had similar interests and tastes.

At that age, I had heard of cancer, but I didn’t think kids could get it.

My official diagnosis was acute myelogenous leukemia and the doctors said that my best chance of survival was with chemotherapy, total body radiation and a bone marrow transplant. My odds were still only 55%. I actually had two unsuccessful bone marrow transplants before they tried an experimental treatment called lymphocyte donor transfusion. I have now been in remission for over 16 years.

Because of all of my time in and out of the hospital, I missed the majority of grades 6 through 8. Before I entered high school, I had to take a test to see if I met the basic requirements; I barely passed. The amount of school I missed, combined with the radiation to my brain, had set me back academically. They placed me in the special education class with a reduced course load and extra time to write tests.

A few months into grade 9, I developed cataracts, and due to my loss in vision I had to really struggle to complete assignments. Soon it became so bad I had to wait for my brother after school just so he could guide me to our bus!

I ended up spending two extra years in high school, and it felt like I was being left behind by my friends and my brother. It was like I was stuck in time, which was made worse by my physical developments, or lack thereof. While my brother continued to have growth spurt after growth spurt, I slowly grew a few inches at a time and stopped growing once I hit 5’3 and 100 lbs. My brother stands at 6’1 and 200 lbs. And although my stunted growth did not affect me academically, it greatly lowered my self-confidence.

Now I have two degrees, with honours, and I am looking for a job in public administration. Even after this incredible achievement, I still had doubts. I wasn’t getting called for any job I applied for and for a while I felt like I was unqualified for anything. At my lowest point, I reached out for help during my yearly checkup and was referred to Lucie, my Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario counsellor. With her support, I have been able to upgrade my skills, identify and apply for appropriate jobs and even get called in for interviews. My confidence has skyrocketed.

As a result of these efforts, I recently was hired by POGO as the Administrative Assistant to Conferences, Educational Events, and POGO’s financial assistance to families’ program. Boosted by this success, I will continue to build my skills and professional experience and work toward fulfilling my career goals.


– Jamie Irvine