In 2010, Alison Tegan Carmichael (known to family and friends as Tegan) began struggling with “intrusive thoughts.” Negative feelings or images would pop into her mind and overwhelm her, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. The staff at a hospital in Vancouver, where she was living with her husband at the time, initially misdiagnosed her symptoms as a psychotic episode, but Carmichael sensed that something else was wrong. That summer, she returned to her hometown of Edmonton and, unbeknownst to her family and friends, went to the University of Alberta Hospital, where she insisted they take an MRI of her brain. On June 9, 2010, Carmichael was diagnosed with an oligodendroglioma brain tumour in her left temporal lobe. She was 23. Following her diagnosis, Carmichael underwent seven brain surgeries, two spinal surgeries, two rounds of radiation and multiple rounds of chemotherapy. During treatment, she worked full-time, ran her first marathon and was heavily involved in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, presented by Evraz, benefitting the Alberta Cancer Foundation, including serving as a team captain for seven years (most recently for the Accenture Brainiacs team.) Carmichael passed away on February 19, 2019, at the age of 32 with her family around her. This August, Carmichael’s husband, Mike Proudfoot, will be cycling in the 2019 Ride to honour her legacy. Here, Proudfoot shares his wife’s story and reflects on her inspiring life.
as told to Stephanie Joe
“Tegan was always a very hard worker; she was very disciplined. She’s someone who never missed a workout and was in the gym every day. She ran most days and she was quite the athlete. I think that basically multiplied after she got her diagnosis.
“She organized her life around, ‘What can I do to beat this thing?’ She was very determined to do so. I think, as happens with most people when they are faced with such a diagnosis, that they face their own mortality. Although she was very structured with her exercise regime and things like that, she also became much more spontaneous. For example, on her 25th birthday, she went skydiving, and for her 30th birthday, [I] bought her flying lessons.
“I think when you get diagnosed with cancer, it’s such a complex disease and right away the odds are stacked somewhat against you. With something like the Ride [to Conquer Cancer], I think it’s a way for patients to gain control and having that agency provides an immense benefit to their state of mind. With Tegan that was pretty evident. Looking at it and saying, ‘There’s a lot of things I can’t control here, [but the Ride] is something I can control, and as a result I’m going to invest my efforts in that cause.’
“That’s the biggest benefit I think she gained from the Ride. You build your team and you’re all fundraising and you’re all working towards the same goal. You build lasting friendships. It also allowed her to share her story.
“Since she has passed, I have received a ton of calls from people I’ve never met, [telling me] that Tegan continues to inspire them with how she responded to her illness and how she continued to fight in spite of everything is amazing. I think she gained a lot of pride for being able to share her story and inspire others with it as well.
“This year, I am participating [in the Ride], and while I’m in Alberta or [elsewhere in] Canada, I don’t envision a situation where I wouldn’t participate. To me it’s a very worthwhile cause and it’s also a good way to honour Tegan’s legacy.”
In her own words, this is what Tegan thought of the Ride to Conquer Cancer: “Since my original diagnosis, I’ve taken part in the Ride to Conquer Cancer [six] times, raising over $60,000 for the cause. In this time I’ve seen stats change. I’ve seen my life expectancy shift. This is 100 [per cent] because of the research made possible via fundraisers such as this Ride. These [funds] are making a difference and I’m seeing it first-hand. Trust me. Please, make a [donation]. I’m fighting against all odds and your donation is truly working to extend my life.”
Learn more about the Tegan Carmichael Legacy Fund, in support of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, at payment.csfm.com/donations/calgaryfoundation/