Kicking Stigma to the Curb

Mental health is something that 18-year-old Dawson is not afraid to talk about. He has lived it, overcome it, and now wants to share his experiences. However, his story of beating anorexia nervosa is more complicated than most, because at the time of diagnosis, Dawson was receiving treatment for cancer at Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre.

Dawson was only eight years old when he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a type of blood cancer. To his families delight, he responded rapidly to treatment and the outlook was positive. That was until two years into treatment when things took a turn for the worse and the family unexpectedly had a new battle to fight.

It started with over-exercising and restricting what he ate, covering it up with the excuse that he was training for hockey. Still undergoing chemotherapy, aversion to food and weight loss was attributed to the medication. But, when his personality changed drastically and he lost 30 pounds, his parents Stephen and Shannon knew it was time for help.

The team in the Eating Disorders Program at Children’s Hospital quickly diagnosed Dawson with anorexia nervosa and he was admitted to the inpatient unit. For three months, he worked through his mental illness, while still receiving cancer treatment.

Through it all, Dawson’s parents made sure he was not ashamed of his illnesses.

“My parents always told me to never be ashamed of my cancer, so when I developed an eating disorder they told me the same thing,” remembers Dawson. “I realized that people had a better understanding of my cancer and knew it was life-threatening. It was evident to me, even at a young age, that there was a lack of understanding that my eating disorder was also life-threatening.”

Although Dawson is now a high-school graduate, getting ready for the next big phase of his life, he hasn’t forgotten his time at Children’s Hospital or the positive impact it had. He continues to share his story so that others can better understand mental illness. He champions and advocates for the importance of supporting the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Care Program, as well as other patient- and family-centered programs at Children’s Hospital that helped him through his journey.

This year, he will share his story with RE/MAX agents during their Month of Miracles, a month dedicated to learning more about supporting their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital and how their donations, through every sale of a home, can help kids like Dawson.

For 25 years, RE/MAX has been a partner of Children’s Miracle Network, supporting kids’ health in communities across Canada. Thank you RE/MAX agents and customers for ensuring that our kids have access to the very best health care, when they need it most!