Living With Gratitude – Cancer Survivor Alexander Konowalchuk

“Even though it feels like your darkest hour, it’s not. In actuality, it’s the start of your recovery. It’s the start to getting things fixed.”

The day Alexander Konowalchuk was diagnosed with cancer, he couldn’t help but feel relieved. For months, he had been feeling pain in his mouth and throat and doctors couldn’t figure out why.

“I was getting worse and worse. I underwent a series of tests to no avail and it was sheer torture. So when they finally figured out that it was cancer, I said great! Now that we know what it is we can work to fix it,” says Alex.

On November 26th, 2016, Alex was diagnosed with stage 4 Squamous cell carcinoma in his tonsils and lymph nodes. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments for six weeks at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. Fortunately, his treatment was successful and he is now considered to be cancer-free.

After treatment, like many head and neck cancer patients who have received radiation therapy or have undergone surgery, eating and swallowing became a struggle for Alex. The effects of radiation treatment shrunk his throat and airways, which meant he could only eat soft food that is cut into small pieces or easy to swallow. Alex chuckles and says “KFC or steak is out of the question now. I call myself a ‘souporonian’ because I either eat soup or macaroni.”

Alex and his wife Anne on their wedding day.

His diagnosis may have changed how he eats, but it hasn’t stopped him from being grateful and motivated to make every day count.

“People will come up to me and say, ‘Oh boy that’s all you can eat? It must be terrible’, and it is but you know what? I’m still alive. I’m still here, living my life, being married to the most fantastic lady I have ever met. What more could I ask for?”

A couple of years after completing his treatments, Alex got married to his long-term partner Anne McFadyen. “She’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. If it wasn’t for the treatments and care I received, I wouldn’t have been able to marry her.”

If there’s one thing that has helped Alex live well through a cancer diagnosis, treatment, and the side effects of treatment, it’s practicing positivity and gratitude every single day.

“The brain and your mindset is a very powerful thing. Heading into treatment I would think to myself, that cancer won’t kill me. It will likely be an ex-wife that does it! I’m getting the help I need and I’m going to be ok. It’s not like I walked out of every appointment smiling, I just kept telling myself that I was getting the help I needed and that they were doing everything in their power to help me through this.”

“Even though it feels like your darkest hour, it’s not. In actuality, it’s the start of your recovery. It’s the start to getting things fixed.”

Alex admits that some days are harder than others and finding something to always be grateful or positive about isn’t easy. In 2019, he lost two of his daughters unexpectedly, only six months apart from each other. Alex struggled and grieved his loss, but the experience was a reminder of the role gratitude plays in staying afloat when life throws you curveballs that you simply have no control over.

“I’m not perfect, and I face struggles just like anyone else, but if I didn’t have that mindset I just don’t know where I would be right now.”

Alex has always been a survivor. He grew up in a rough neighbourhood and struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction for a long time, “It wasn’t easy, but I eventually got better. I survived all of that and more, so I wasn’t going to let cancer get to me,” he says.

Photo of a 1969 Chevelle at a car sale, after Alexander Konowalchuk completely restored the vehicle.
The 1969 Chevelle that Alex restored after treatment

To this day Alex is in awe of the fantastic care he received at the Cross Cancer Institute.“There are so many people that enter that building every day, and still the staff treated each one of us with so much care,” he says. From his oncologist, the radiology team, the nurses who administered chemotherapy, front desk staff to the volunteers, Alex felt seen and heard and was reassured by the kind and friendly staff.

“Even though I was going through a really hard time, they were able to make me feel a little better, and that matters,” he says.

Today Alex is making every day count. After completing his treatments, he not only got married but was also able to complete his seven-year-long restoration project on a 1969 Chevelle. A couple of months after he got the strength to start working on the vehicle again, he wound up winning $10,000 in a lottery, which he used to purchase the necessary parts to completely fix and drive the vehicle.

“As I said, it all comes down to positivity. Your mindset and the energy you put out there reflect back to you,” says Alex.

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