Andrea Cardin became a mother for the second time on Nov. 21. She became a cancer patient patient 12 days later.
You may not recognize her name, but you have probably seen her work. Cardin, 34, takes photos for for Freestyle Photography, the official photographer of the Ottawa Senators, Redblacks and other local sports teams: action shots, team rosters and team photos used for promotional materials, websites, magazines ad trading cards. Cardin was capturing the Senators in action right up until she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in mid-November.
“I’m having trouble processing it,” she said Friday from her hospital room at the General campus of The Ottawa Hospital. “It seems like there is a plan and a path. As long as this can be behind us someday, that’s enough.”
On Dec. 3, less than two weeks after son James was born, Cardin said goodbye to the newborn and his brother Charlie, 2 1/2. She will remain in hospital for about a month.
The first 10-12 days of chemotherapy will knock out her immune system. The following 20 days or so will be spent building it up again. She will likely have three more rounds of chemotherapy as an outpatient. If all goes well, she won’t need a bone marrow transplant and the process will be over in six months.
Routine prenatal blood work revealed that Cardin’s iron levels were low late in September. Her obstetrician recommended iron supplements and scheduled more tests a few weeks later to make sure they were working, Those test results showed that her hemoglobin had plummeted. By this time, she was feeling tired and a little short of breath.
On Nov. 12, Cardin had an appointment at the Civic. Her body wasn’t absorbing the iron. The next day, she had a bone marrow biopsy, and two days later learned she had myelodysplastic syndrome, in which immature blood cells in bone marrow do not mature to become healthy cells. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, about one-third of people with the syndrome progress to acute myeloid leukemia. Cardin was one of those.
Cancer during pregnancy is rare. Because of that, not a lot of research has been done, the Canadian Cancer Society says. To complicate things, cancer symptoms such as fatigue and nausea are also common in pregnancy.
Doctors carefully managed the tricky balance between allowing Cardin to carry the baby as long as possible and treating the leukemia. The baby was due on Dec. 12 and Cardin was induced on Nov. 21. James was healthy, weighing in at six pounds, one ounce.
So far, Cardin’s husband. Chris Vopni, has been taking time off from his job as a structural engineer, with both sets of grandparents pitching in to help.
Cardin’s cousins, Michelle Johnson, who lives in Aurora, Ont., and Jennie Stacie, who lives in Port Elgin, Ont., got together to create a Go Fund Me page and setting a goal of $25,000. Cardin will need at least six months of treatment and, as a freelancer, she won’t be making any money, Johnson said.
“We didn’t want them to worry about money when they had so much to worry about.”
The page was launched on Dec. 2. By Friday afternoon, it had attracted more than $26,000 in donations from more than 230 people.
“It’s incredible. We have been blown away,” Cardin said.
Added Vopni: “We’ll be thanking people for a long time. We never expected this.”
Even more important to Cardin have been people, some of them strangers, reaching out with stories of positive leukemia outcomes, Johnson said. Keep them coming, she urged.
“I know how helpful it has been to feel all this support,” she said. “We can’t thank people enough. It’s not even about the money. It’s about the thoughts and the generosity. It really has been unbelievable.”
There’s more to come, too, said André Ringuette, owner and chief photographer at Freestyle Photography.
Ringuette says he was impressed with Cardin from the time she arrived as an intern from Algonquin College.
“She knows the game, she likes the game and she’s determined and dedicated,” he said. “I consider her to be one of my right-hand people. I would trust her to shoot anything.”
After Ringuette posted the news of Cardin’s illness on the Freestyle Facebook page, colleagues from around the National Hockey League world stepped forward with offers of framed prints and team merchandise. There’s a fundraiser in the works, with details to be released later.
Cardin knows the next few months will be hard, but she’s optimistic.
“They didn’t tell me I had six months to live. They told me that one day it should be behind us. That’s enough for me. I’ll still be here for my boys and my husband, and I’ll still be back to my old self,” she said.
“We have two kids now, and that’s how many we wanted.”
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