As a child, Laurie Dion would spend hours preparing for her figure skating competitions. The hair, the makeup, the dress… all of it had to be just right. Back then, Dion couldn’t anticipate that her burgeoning interest in beauty and fashion would garner the attention of a massive online audience—or that it would help her cope after she was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer.
At 20, Dion was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour known as glioblastoma. The American Brain Tumor Association says this type of cancer has a median survival rate of just over a year, and only 10 per cent of patients survive five years or longer. The doctors gave Laurie 18 months. That was five years ago.
“Prior to falling ill I had a fashion blog, and after falling ill I decided to start making YouTube videos instead,” she says. “I had always wanted to [create vlogs], so I thought, ‘It’s now or never!’ I also figured it would be a good idea to start making videos so that, if ever I were no longer a part of this world, my close ones could have a nice souvenir to remember me by—one that also reflects my passions.”
But the vlog hasn’t just been a hobby—Montreal-based Dion says maintaining it has been integral to her well-being throughout the cancer treatments. “After publishing a video which explained my story, I received an enormous amount of support from people that understood what I was going through. It felt as though I had less on my shoulders. It was like a therapy session with my psychologist, so I decided to continue sharing my life with my subscribers. They are so empathetic that they make me feel supported through a computer screen,” she says.
“Every video I make, I receive waves of love. Oh my god! Sometimes, I can’t believe it. Like, my last video received over 200 comments. It makes me warm inside to see how big-hearted and empathic my subscribers are,” says Dion. “We all know someone that has been affected by or passed away from cancer. It is an area of common understanding for many people.”
And there has been another positive outcome from Dion’s vlog—what started as a creative outlet has evolved into an important aspect of her career. Thanks to YouTube, Dion has been offered professional opportunities that she could not access prior to vlogging, from collaborating with major brands to attending galas as an ambassador. And that’s particularly meaningful, because she had always planned to build a career in fashion—she actually started studying fashion marketing at LaSalle College, but had to take breaks throughout her studies because of her diagnosis. (When doctors gave her only 18 months to live, she didn’t want to spend the time she had left in school.)
Up next, the 24-year-old hopes to expand her digital audience and influencer presence. While creating content on Instagram and YouTube is a part-time gig for her at the moment—she’s currently working as a cosmetician at Pharmaprix in Montreal—she hopes to grow in the industry and has plans to combine her love for fashion styling and makeup artistry toward a bigger project.
But vlogging will continue to be part of her life—it has helped her process what has gone on in her life so far, and she’ll need it going forward as she navigates the lasting implications of her cancer.
Just last week, Dion posted a YouTube video sharing some good news: she’s in remission. But, she’ll have to continue an experimental therapy treatment called Novocure, which requires her to wear a cap that “uses electric fields tuned to specific frequencies to disrupt cell division, inhibiting tumor growth and causing affected cancer cells to die.” She’ll be on Novocure for the next five years and, in order for the treatment to work properly, she must keep her head shaved. Doctors have also recommended that she and her husband, who have been married since 2016, hold off on having kids for now due to potential side effects.
Still, Dion is hopeful about the future. After all, she has already blown past everyone’s expectations. What else is there to do but keep going?
“At the beginning, the doctors gave me 18 months, but those 18 months passed a long time ago,” she says.
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