Loan Woll, 31, of Ontario, Canada, radiates positive energy.
Her voice is light and cheerful.
She sounds calm, collected and content. So much, in fact, that it’s easy to assume she’s living a peaceful life free from chaos.
But appearances can be extremely deceiving.
Five years ago, Loan married Ben, the love of her life, and in January 2016, they decided to try for a baby.
She got pregnant quickly, but about six weeks into the pregnancy, suffered a miscarriage.
“It was early,” Loan says, “but it was hard. It was in March 2016. We waited a little while and then decided to let things take their course.”
Three months later, Loan got pregnant again. In June, she had some routine bloodwork and an ultrasound, which revealed a due date of Feb. 24, 2017.
“When I went to that appointment, the doctor said my hemoglobin had dropped a little,” Loan recalls. “But he just told me to keep my iron up by eating red meat.”
The pregnancy progressed without issue – until she was about five months along.
“At around 19 weeks, it’s normal to go in for a glucose test (to test for gestational diabetes),” Loan says. “My bloodwork revealed severe anemia, so I was prescribed an iron supplement. They told me not to Google stuff, or it would say I had leukemia or something. They told me to come back for a full work-up in six weeks, and we would go from there.”
But she never made it to that follow-up appointment.
'Every symptom was related to cancer'
“And in hindsight,” Loan recalls, “every symptom was related to the cancer.”
On Jan. 13, she woke up feeling faint.
“When I went to the bathroom,” Loan explains, “it was abnormal. Then I started throwing up tons of blood. We called 911 and I went straight to the hospital.”
Loan’s hemoglobin was at 47, which is equivalent to someone who has been stabbed, she says. After several blood transfusions, doctors discovered that her baby no longer had a heartbeat.
They induced her, and she delivered her stillborn son the next day.
“I had him on Jan. 14,” Loan says. “I didn’t want to wait and let the delivery happen naturally. I wanted to hold my baby right then … I held my son for 10 minutes before I could even look at him. I thought, maybe if I don’t look at him, I won’t be so attached, you know?”
She was in a state of shock. But things were about to take a turn that nobody saw coming.
Doctors performed an endoscopy, followed by a biopsy to determine the cause of Loan’s anemia and loss of blood.
“That’s when they told me it was positive for cancer,” she says. “I was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkins lymphoma the day after I lost my baby.”
How does a young, seemingly healthy woman cope with a delivering a stillborn son and learning she has advanced cancer, within a 24-hour period?
“You’re really not hearing them when they tell you these things,” Loan says. “I was crying but there were no tears. It was shock and sadness at the same time.”
Loan had a stomach tumor that had been bleeding out for almost nine months, doctors says. When she got the official diagnosis, five round of radiations were started just to get the bleeding under control.
Loan has since completed six rounds of chemotherapy, and the lymphoma is in a form of remission. The fast-growing cells are gone, but the slow-growing cells are still present, which means more radiation will likely begin soon.
“It’s not what we wanted to hear after five radiation and six chemo treatments,” she says, “but one small victory at a time, right?”
Team Loan: Small but mighty
After Loan’s first round of chemotherapy, her sister surprised the family with T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Team Loan: Small but Mighty.” Word spread, and next thing they knew, about 600 T-shirts were sold.
“And people still want them,” Loan says, “as a way to show support. I love when people send me pictures of them wearing the shirts – it reminds you that you have people in your corner.”
Loan knew that she had to use this momentum to make a lasting impact – especially when it comes to grieving parents. She decided to donate all proceeds from the T-shirts to several causes:
“We donated three Cuddle Cots, which allow parents to spend more time with their babies after they pass,” she explains. “Nothing takes that pain away ... but the time they have with their deceased child is so precious.”
Loan, who lost her hair during chemotherapy, also wanted to help empower women dealing with cancer.
“We funded 10 ‘Look Good, Feel Better’ workshops,” she says. “To help women facing cancer feel more like themselves. I walked into a workshop and I felt like me again – there’s nothing more powerful than putting a group of women in the same room.”
Loan, who’s dedicated much of her time to conquering cancer, also committed to raising $20,000 for the OneWalk to Conquer Cancer, happening in September. Funds raised will go toward cancer research at Princess Margaret Cancer Center in Canada, where Loan was raised.
“So far, we have raised $60,000,” she says. “And now we want to keep raising funds to mark the anniversary (of her son’s death and her cancer diagnosis). It’s a way to give back and thank caregivers. Nurses really perform a labor of love.”
It’s been almost six months since Loan’s world was flipped upside down in a matter of days. How does she cope?
“There are days where it’s really hard,” she explains. “There are days we cry and days we laugh. I’m a true believer that everything in life is given to you for a reason. Maybe I’m meant to help others through this journey. There’s always hope.”
To learn more about OneWalk to Conquer Cancer, visit www.onewalk.ca/goto/teamloan.