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Emily’s story: Sarnia woman survives two life-threatening illnesses before the age of 21

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Tara Jeffrey

You are strong. You are beautiful. You are loved.

That’s the message a young Sarnia woman wants to spread via a YouTube video recounting the struggles and triumphs she’s experienced over the past few years.

“My Fight with Health” is Emily Ager’s raw account of her life-threatening battle with mental illness and cancer — all before turning 21.

“No one should be ashamed of an illness — health is health,” said Ager, who is currently studying psychology and criminology at Brock University.

“That’s the message I want to get out. I think it really would have helped me when I was younger, to know that I wasn’t alone.”

In the video, Ager recalls her early bouts with anxiety and depression as a teenager, which intensified through high school, leading to an eating disorder and pushing her to the breaking point.

“I began to self-harm,” said Ager. “I was lost, broken, hurt and helpless. I didn’t care what happened to me anymore.

“If I couldn’t be pretty enough, skinny enough or good enough — I would die trying.”

Finally, Ager was admitted to hospital, where she met with a team of specialists, and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Those 82-hours in the psychiatric ward saved her life, Ager said.

“It changed me. I found help. I was ready for my road to recovery,” she said. “But unfortunately, my fight with health did not stop there.”

In late 2013, Ager was sidelined by a severe sinus infection, which eventually worsened and left her with a large lump in her neck.

“I remember sitting in the doctor’s office, and I heard him say, ‘results are compatible with lymphoma,’” said Ager. “I thought, ‘No. I’m 20-years-old. I don’t have cancer.’”

On Valentine’s Day, 2014, she received the official diagnosis: Stage 2B classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A month later, she would begin the first of several rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, enduring the consequential fatigue, weakness, nausea and hair loss.

“In June, I began to lose my eyebrows and eyelashes. It was devastating. I felt like an alien,” said Ager. “For years, I had worked to try and love myself. All of the sudden, it was destroyed.”

The depression returned, and once again, Ager was ready to give up.

“I told my parents I was done chemo. I didn’t care if cancer eventually killed me. I was done fighting back. I was broken.”

But family and friends — who shaved their heads in solidarity — helped her to carry on.

In October 2014, Ager completed her chemotherapy, and a follow-up with doctors revealed she was officially in remission.

“It was this day that I realized love is actually greater than cancer,” she said. “I won. I had beat the monster that tried to destroy me.”

Today, Ager’s health is monitored closely, and while there are still hard days, she’s got more fight than ever.

She’s hoping her story will break down the stigma of mental illness, and remind anyone who’s struggling that they’re not alone.

“Physical and mental health are serious, and both require medical attention,” she said. “We’re all human and we all fall down. But we are stronger than we know and loved more than we can imagine.”

To view Emily’s video, visit:

Emily Ager
Emily Ager



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