When Serena Bonneville decided this year to live on-campus at the University of Victoria, she hoped the change in scenery would also provide a new beginning free of the disease that consumed most of the previous year.
In her popular blog, Breeding Optimism, which chronicles her journey with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the Southridge Secondary grad writes that the “monthly ferry rides home for treatment, binge eating and face puffiness from steroids, make it difficult to maintain ignorance of my past. I’m reminded that one can’t ever really move on from something as consuming as cancer, regardless of where they stand in or after treatment.”
Speaking to Peace Arch News on Oct. 10 – one year to the day she was first diagnosed – Bonneville explained that she didn’t post anything to her blog for two months in order to move on from that part of her life.
“I was getting into the university swing of things and it was a completely different chapter in my life.
“Especially after Grade 12, I was kind of hoping that I could leave that chapter behind and close it off and kind of start fresh in university,” she said.
While that fresh start has been interrupted each month when she travels home in order to get treatment, Bonneville said the experience has made her realize that the cancer diagnosis was not “just a part of my life, but just simply, a part of me.”
“As I accept this, I can better find ways to try and turn these reminders into positive things,” she writes in her blog.
And the business program student has done just that.
Earlier this month, Bonneville, 17, spoke to a group of donors at BC Children’s Hospital, sharing her story.
“I was asked to do a speech about my story, my life and what Children’s has done for me,” she said.
“I spoke to donors and met some pretty amazing people.”
Bonneville’s story has reached thousands of people through media coverage, and of course, her blog, which has had more than 70,000 views since its inception in October 2013.
Most recently, Bonneville’s story caught the attention of Coast Capital’s community leadership team after she submitted an essay for the 2014 Standing Tall Award, which offers $5,000 towards pursuing education goals.
“I wasn’t able to work over the past summer, which I was planning to do so I could use money for my education, so I wrote about that, and how it would help me,” Bonneville said.
The South Surrey teen was among 25 students to receive the Standing Tall Award.
In a news release from Coast Capital, Bonneville said that since her diagnosis, she “rejected the opinion that I could no longer do something because of the cancer, whether it was academics, sports or anything else.”
“Finding strength to persevere is tough, especially when given unjust circumstances, and I hope that the strength that I’ve found will inspire others to find their strength, resilience and optimism as well…”
The outpouring of community support that she has received was a huge boost during her recovery, Bonneville told PAN.
Both the Coast Capital award, and the earlier Community Leader Award that she received from PAN sister-paper, The Surrey Leader, came at a time when the treatments were particularly rough and her optimism had taken a beating.
“I received them at a time when I was in the midst of everything; a heavier phase in treatment. And it was good for my motivation and good for my mental health. I’ve received to so much support from the community, but to get recognized in a more public, official way during such an intense time was amazing,” Bonneville said.
Signing off in her last blog post, the avid writer and film buff said that she plans to “weave my diagnosis into my new life in Victoria.”
“Maybe (I’ll) infiltrate this new community with some fresh positivity, and as always, breed some optimism.”