After 843 days of chemotherapy, Karissa Bezanson is officially cancer-free.
It’s been a long journey for the young girl who was first diagnosed at the age of 11, but one that’s nearly reached its happy ending for Karissa and her family, who threw her a surprise party March 16 in Kingston.
She’s never been one for attention, but Karissa says she enjoyed one part of the celebration in particular – a surprise visit from her favourite Acadia University hockey player, Kyle Farrell, who says the feeling was mutual.
“The first time I met Karissa was at a hockey game, and she must have brought me luck because I scored. So, I gave her the hockey stick who scored the goal, and she’s still got it,” he says.
A fateful game of hockey
Karissa’s mother, Shannon Hohmann, says she cannot believe how far her daughter has come since she was diagnosed with biphenotypic acute leukemia more than two years ago.
Karissa’s resilience has always stood out, but it was a rough time that weighed heavily on her young shoulders.
Hohmann says while smaller medical hurdles still exist, she’s grateful this big one has now been lifted.
“It’s amazing to see how far she’s come, from being so sick and frail to now – I just don’t know what else to say,” says Hohmann.
Karissa’s sister, Kayleigh, organized the event alongside Karissa’s special friend, Lisa Caldwell, whom she first met at a hockey game.
It was Caldwell who encouraged Karissa to gather her courage and shout good luck to Farrell at that fateful hockey game, and she says the pair have been best friends ever since.
It was also Caldwell who arranged for Farrell to pay Karissa a visit. After he arrived, he and Karissa talked endlessly for nearly 30 minutes.
“I’m just so happy to have been able to arrange this, and to have seen her face light up when he walked in the room,” says Caldwell.
Caldwell says her connection with Karissa has been strong since their high five after she yelled at Farrell at that hockey game.
The younger girl has since proclaimed them soul sisters – something she made official with the gift of a purple bracelet with a silver charm to Caldwell.
Caldwell wears two such bracelets now on one arm. She wore a new bracelet March 16 on her other arm, this one also purple, but with orange letters.
It’s a bracelet many others also wore at the event to show their solidarity with Karissa, and their relief that her cancer treatment is finally over.
A cake with the words ‘Cancer-0, Karissa-1’ was also featured at the event, along with video of Karissa singing Rachel Platten’s Fight Song, which has become the cancer survivor’s unofficial anthem.
And it’s a song so appropriate for Karissa, whose determination to beat her disease has never faltered.
“She’s just come so far and has accomplished so much. It’s astonishing and amazing, it really is,” says Caldwell.
‘I feel pretty lucky’
Farrell brought Gatorade hockey towels and a water bottle with him as a unique gift for Karissa because she had mentioned to Caldwell after a hockey game that it “would be cool to get one.”
They are items that may seem basic, but ones that made Karissa smile wide when she found them inside the bag.
It’s a smile that has struck many people – that she’s been able to face her leukemia with such zest and has remained positive through the entire ordeal.
It’s also a smile that Farrell says he noticed immediately when meeting Karissa.
She’s asked him if they could get Chinese food together, and he’s said yes. He also says he’s glad they met and hopes to spend more time with her in the future.
He wouldn’t let anything keep him from going to the event and surprising his lucky charm.
“I feel pretty lucky to have met someone as strong as Karissa,” he says.