Eric Bridge Turns “Terrible” Cancer Experience into an Opportunity to Help Others

Published Monday, July 8, 2024

Eric Bridge Turns “Terrible” Cancer Experience into an Opportunity to Help Others

Eric Bridge, cancer survivor and pilot, happy to be back with Porter Airlines after beating Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

by Graham Strong

Everything was coming together for Eric Bridge. Porter Airlines hired him as a pilot, and Eric moved to Toronto to take the airline's intensive training program. But while he was there, Eric started to feel sick – mostly flu-like symptoms such as a cough and fever. The symptoms didn't go away.

“I just kept getting sicker and sicker,” Eric said. “Then, my lymph nodes started to swell.”

After Eric completed his training, he left on what he hoped would be a short medical leave. Unfortunately, that wouldn't be the case. Once he got back home, he saw Dr. Nicole Laferriere at Regional Cancer Care Northwest and got the diagnosis: Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It was a complete surprise.

“No one would have expected cancer,” Eric said. “My brain kind of shut down. It's a life-changing moment. I was present when she told me, but I wasn't listening when she was listing all the things that would come next. I was in shock.”

Eric started chemotherapy almost immediately. That was an ordeal in itself. Besides nausea, exhaustion, and hair loss so common with chemo, he also experienced severe peripheral neuropathy or pain in the extremities. It was so bad that Eric needed extra-strong pain killers, which had side-effects themselves. The condition also greatly reduced mobility in his legs and dexterity in his hands, which led to sessions with occupational and physical therapists.

After months of gruelling treatments, side effects, and more side effects, Eric rang the bell for his last chemo treatment on March 31, 2023. In May, Dr. Laferriere told him his PET scan showed his cancer was in full remission.

“It was such a relief,” Eric said. “My parents and my grandparents were there for the bell ringing – it was overwhelming for all of us.”

Eric praised Dr. Laferriere, the team, and the care he received at our Hospital.

“What can I say? She saved my life,” Eric said. “I don't think I can be thankful enough for the fantastic staff. So professional and so accommodating.”

Eric said that although his finances took a huge hit while off on sick leave for 18 months, he plans to make a sizeable donation to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation's Northern Cancer Fund when he can.

Eric also has high praise for Porter Airlines, who welcomed him back once he was able to fly again. He flew his first commercial flight from Thunder Bay to Ottawa and back on February 3, 2024.

“It was a moment I'd been waiting for for almost two years,” he said.

Part of the ordeal of cancer treatments that doesn't get talked about as much is the impact of the cancer journey on your mental health. Eric said he wrestled with his own dark thoughts at times.

“The first couple of weeks, I was in denial and struggling with depression,” Eric said. “The survival rate for the cancer I had is 83%. But then you start to think, ‘What if I'm in that 17%?'”

The life-and-death struggle isn't the only thing that can drag you down, Eric said. Worrying about what life might look like after also has an impact.

“I love being a pilot, but after watching everyone move on with their careers, I began to wonder if I'd ever get back up in the air. It's things like that people don't really talk about with cancer.”

Today, cancer-free and fully recovered, Eric gives back in a number of ways. He volunteers as a mentor for Porter's Fly Well Program, a peer-to-peer support group for mental wellness.

“If a pilot or a family member is going through the same thing, I'm able to help in a unique way,” Eric said. “I'm using my terrible experience to help others as best as I can.”


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