Sitting on her bed in her Ocean Park home, Beth Hutchinson rattles off a list of nine things most don’t know about her.
For example, despite living in Canada for more than 10 years, the 20-year-old sometimes slips into an English accent. Her room includes movie photos and posters, and she has a huge aversion to dry hands – a family trait.
This scene from Beth’s Brain – a month-old video that’s already received 1,600 hits on YouTube – may seem like many other spiels videoed by young people, but for Hutchinson, this was the opportunity to give a glimpse of the person behind a disease that has been defining her to strangers for the last four years.
At age 16, Hutchinson was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. In her young life, she has had four brain surgeries and currently has a fifth tumour growing close to her spine.
Despite the diagnosis, she doesn’t want people to see her as a walking cancer patient.
“Cancer has changed me, of course, but it hasn’t affected my personality. It hasn’t changed my interests. I’m still that girl who loves Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings,” she said. “I think the misconception is that you suddenly become this total cancer patient, but many people have had no idea what I’ve been going through the last four years.
“I just wanted to make sure that people got enough of me in that video and that people get to know my personality, as well as the story. I don’t want to just be another statistic.”
Getting to this point has been a difficult journey for the Elgin Park Secondary grad.
While her father, David, has been a vocal advocate for her treatment, speaking to the media and rallying support within the community, it took Hutchinson herself much more time to feel comfortable sharing her story in her own words.
In April, her family and friends began a fundraising campaign for an alternative treatment, which she had previously been unable to afford. Following the first stages of the fundraising campaign – a pub night held April 6 and an account set up in Hutchinson’s name at Coast Capital Savings in Ocean Park – Hutchinson realized she had to come out and tell her story herself, rather than keeping it under wraps as she had been doing before.
“When I put it on my personal Facebook page with the links (to the fundraising page), it was the first big step. Kind of like coming out of the closet with cancer. I didn’t know how people would take it – my friends or people I had hidden it from in high school. But they were so incredibly supportive and they shared my video and many have contacted me to reach out,” she said. “I feel foolish for not doing it sooner and for not talking about it. The fundraiser opened the door for me.
“I was there and saw everyone doing these things for me and I thought, why not?”
Through the fundraising, and the creation of the Beth’s Brain page on Facebook, which she tries to update daily, Hutchinson today (Tuesday) goes for her first session of loco-regional hyperthermia treatment. The alternative treatment would have cost $50,000 for a year’s worth of sessions, making it nearly impossible to pay for. However, family and friends rallied around the family, refusing to let Hutchinson give up on living.
“I’m incredibly excited. We’ve had people donating, just handing over money. I’ve never had that before. But it’s not just the money, it’s the fact that I don’t know these people but they are giving me their support and their time,” she said. “Just to know there are people out there who are rooting for me who I have never met – that’s something I find the most touching.”
Encouraged by the support she has received, Hutchinson plans to continue updating the Beth’s Brain page with her day-to-day activities and the special ones, like crossing skydiving off of her list of things to accomplish.
“It was one of the things I had on my bucket list. It was an amazing experience. It was lovely. I can’t wait to go up again,” she’s said. “I was able to share it with my support team, my good friends, and it was an unforgettable experience.
“Having cancer becomes a part of you, but not in a way that overtakes your personality or diminishes any part of you. I think it has actually helped make me strong, because I have to fight and I’ve had to not have my shell.”
Coming out with her story has also lead to new friendships, she noted, with many people in her past reaching out to share their own experiences with cancer or other illnesses.
“Making these new friendships, that’s one of the best things I’ve received from this,” she said. “I wanted to make sure if I came out and talked about it, it was how I wanted it to be. I’m hoping to raise awareness on alternative treatments and make more videos. I want to talk about this experience with death and everything I’ve gone through so far.”
Hutchinson’s former employer at Spicer Bistro on Marine Drive will host a curry night benefitting the cause on May 26 at 6:30 p.m. For tickets, call Eileen Spencer at 604-542-2299.