Young cancer patient documents fight against the disease in pictures

Danette Dooley
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Personal portraits

Angela Butler has been detailing her journey with cancer through the lens of her camera.

The 17-year-old from Mount Pearl was diagnosed with stage 3B of Hodgkin's lymphoma in May 2009.

"Stage 3B means it's in three areas of your body. I had cancer in my chest, my neck and my arm pit," she explains.

Angela had only started feeling sick the month before, and doctors initially believed her symptoms were related to a flu-like respiratory tract infection.

Above, seventeen-year-old Angela Butler during chemotherapy at the Janeway. Below Angela Butler stands next to a photograph she took of herself which is on display as part of the "Cancer Connections" travelling exhibit at Bowring Park. The exhibit feature

Angela Butler has been detailing her journey with cancer through the lens of her camera.

The 17-year-old from Mount Pearl was diagnosed with stage 3B of Hodgkin's lymphoma in May 2009.

"Stage 3B means it's in three areas of your body. I had cancer in my chest, my neck and my arm pit," she explains.

Angela had only started feeling sick the month before, and doctors initially believed her symptoms were related to a flu-like respiratory tract infection.

"My chest hurt a major amount," she recalled. "I was coughing so hard I woke myself up and everyone else in the house. I was throwing up all the time. It's the sickest I've ever been."

A chest X-ray in early May revealed an 18.4-centimetre tumour under her rib cage.

Chemotherapy has since shrunk the tumour to the point where it's almost non-existent, Angela says.

"It's still there, but just a little tiny bit."

She says she'll need to be without the disease for five years before being considered cancer-free.

Angela remembers that while chemo often bought a great deal of pain, it was the thought of losing her long black hair that scared her the most initially.

"But seriously, within a couple of days I really didn't care. I mean ... I was just diagnosed with cancer and I had all of my final exams coming up ... losing my hair was the least of my worries," she says.

Angela has been interested in photography for years, so it just seemed natural to reach for the camera as she coped with cancer.

"Taking pictures is what I like to do," she says simply.

A photo of her undergoing a medical procedure at the Janeway is on display at Bowring Park as part of the "Cancer Connections" travelling exhibit.

An initiative of the Canadian Cancer Society and a non-profit collective of photographers called PhotoSensitive, the exhibit features hundreds of Canadians touched by cancer.

Angela's website (www.flickr.com/angelamarybutler) featuring her photographs has become an inspiration for other people battling cancer.

"I get messages from people who tell me that hearing my story has helped them through cancer. ... The feedback and comments I'm getting are helping me a lot," she says.

Angela says, in fact, that many good things have happened to her since she was diagnosed with cancer, including meeting Dean Stairs and his family.

Stairs is a music producer from the west coast who recently recorded two of Angela's songs for an upcoming "Hope" album in support of the Janeway Foundation.

Stairs lost his four-year-old son, Gideon, to cancer in December.

He says becoming friends with Angela has helped him and his family a great deal.

"I find Angela to be an incredibly mature 17-year-old who has faced all the odds against her with a lot of dignity and a great outlook on life," he says. "We're really pleased to have her as part of this project."

Angela says if she had to have cancer, she's glad it happened before she turns 18. Otherwise, she would have been treated at the Health Sciences Centre rather than at the Janeway.

"You'll never meet a staff like the Janeway," she said. "They are a bunch of amazing people. Their job is very hard and I appreciate everything they did for me. I don't think I'll ever be able to thank them."

Being a young person who had cancer also means she's getting a wish from the Children's Wish Foundation.

"I'd love to go on a trip and go shopping," she says.

After she graduates from Mount Pearl Senior High in June, she hopes to pursue a career in the arts.

"Something with music or photography, hopefully," she says.

An only child, she is philosophical about her illness and says her positive attitude has helped her family and friends deal with it.

"I've never, ever sat down and cried about it, because I think me getting cancer was bad, but it probably helped me for the better. It's helped a lot of people. It's changed my life."

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: Janeway, Canadian Cancer Society, Janeway Foundation Health Sciences Centre Wish Foundation

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, Bowring Park

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Recent comments

  • Jackie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    Angela, You are truly an inspiration to all people who are also fighting their battle with cancer. Your positive attitude will mean a lot in your recovery!

  • Andie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    Very sad ! Hope you get through it Angela...You are very strong and courageous...An inspiration for us all !

  • Dave
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    It's so nice to hear about such a positive attitude and the fact that Angela is making long-terms plans such as thinking about a career. Awesome!

  • Fisherman's Wife
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Dude; You Rock!

  • VRP
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    All that courage - and, beautiful, too!

  • Shannon
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    Hi Angela, I don't know if you remember me, but I was your Grade 8 intern four years ago. (The long black hair reference made me realize it was you!)

    I am truly inspired by your courage and character in the face of your illness. And I wish you the best for the future. I always remember your sense of humor and fun in class. You have that, as well as boundless strength.

    Please take care of yourself and keep on taking pictures!

  • Newfie on the Mainland
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Darlin' you are amazing! Your are doing this with a strength beyond understanding. Continue to be a light to those who need it. Sounds as though you have touched many lives and hearts.
    Blessings to you. Thank you for sharing.

  • Tracy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    Amazing, Angela. You are an inspiration to us all. Looking forward to seeing more of your photography work in the future as you pursue your career. It is an honour to have known you, and a wonderful thing to have been taught so much by a student.

  • Jennifer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Angela as my cousin as my friend you are truly amazing. You strenght and courage has helped us all you are one in a million.

  • Jo
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    So proud of you Angela! The longer I know you, the more surprises you have in store. I had no idea you wrote songs. You have a bright future ahead of you girl. Take care.

  • Joan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    Keep that Positive attitude Angela, it makes a world of difference. God Bless!

  • Jamie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    I had the privilege of chaperoning this young lady as part of a school choir trip to Europe 2 years ago. I discovered then what most of you are just coming to know now - that Angela is one of the world's beautiful people. You go girl!

  • Angelica
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    God bless you Angela. I hope to see you pictoral journey in book form and on the Best Seller's List one day! You are an inspiration to both young and old.

  • noreen
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    angela keep up your positive attitude it makes a big difference.i had stage 4 cancer in 2000.and again in 2002.and i beat it i was 58 at the time .so be brave and dont give up.take care and god bless

  • Coda
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Angela, you are one amazing person!
    I'm speechless about how you deal with this. Indeed, you are a great role model.
    Bless you for wanting to reach out to help others by sharing your story is the greatest gift you will ever give to another family.
    My prayers are with you to reach the first of your many milestones.

  • Jackie
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    Angela, You are truly an inspiration to all people who are also fighting their battle with cancer. Your positive attitude will mean a lot in your recovery!

  • Andie
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    Very sad ! Hope you get through it Angela...You are very strong and courageous...An inspiration for us all !

  • Dave
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    It's so nice to hear about such a positive attitude and the fact that Angela is making long-terms plans such as thinking about a career. Awesome!

  • Fisherman's Wife
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    Dude; You Rock!

  • VRP
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    All that courage - and, beautiful, too!

  • Shannon
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    Hi Angela, I don't know if you remember me, but I was your Grade 8 intern four years ago. (The long black hair reference made me realize it was you!)

    I am truly inspired by your courage and character in the face of your illness. And I wish you the best for the future. I always remember your sense of humor and fun in class. You have that, as well as boundless strength.

    Please take care of yourself and keep on taking pictures!

  • Newfie on the Mainland
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    Darlin' you are amazing! Your are doing this with a strength beyond understanding. Continue to be a light to those who need it. Sounds as though you have touched many lives and hearts.
    Blessings to you. Thank you for sharing.

  • Tracy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    Amazing, Angela. You are an inspiration to us all. Looking forward to seeing more of your photography work in the future as you pursue your career. It is an honour to have known you, and a wonderful thing to have been taught so much by a student.

  • Jennifer
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    Angela as my cousin as my friend you are truly amazing. You strenght and courage has helped us all you are one in a million.

  • Jo
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    So proud of you Angela! The longer I know you, the more surprises you have in store. I had no idea you wrote songs. You have a bright future ahead of you girl. Take care.

  • Joan
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    Keep that Positive attitude Angela, it makes a world of difference. God Bless!

  • Jamie
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    I had the privilege of chaperoning this young lady as part of a school choir trip to Europe 2 years ago. I discovered then what most of you are just coming to know now - that Angela is one of the world's beautiful people. You go girl!

  • Angelica
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    God bless you Angela. I hope to see you pictoral journey in book form and on the Best Seller's List one day! You are an inspiration to both young and old.

  • noreen
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    angela keep up your positive attitude it makes a big difference.i had stage 4 cancer in 2000.and again in 2002.and i beat it i was 58 at the time .so be brave and dont give up.take care and god bless

  • Coda
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    Angela, you are one amazing person!
    I'm speechless about how you deal with this. Indeed, you are a great role model.
    Bless you for wanting to reach out to help others by sharing your story is the greatest gift you will ever give to another family.
    My prayers are with you to reach the first of your many milestones.