“Geez! Why won’t that sore go away? Why is it so hard?” I thought to myself as I looked down at the side of my right breast.
“It must be mastitis. Although, my youngest is 6 and I haven’t breast fed for a long time… it must be mastitis. I’ll make an appointment to see the doctor next week.”
I was busy trying to manage my parents’ bar while my dad was going through cancer treatments trying to raise two boys after my divorce and establishing a new relationship. I felt like the lethargy I was feeling was only natural for someone as busy as I was and emotionally drained from everything going on in my life. Still, that lump was worrying me. My mom did have breast cancer at 35 and I was 31 at the time. I forgot to book the appointment with my doctor, or more likely, I was scared to hear what my doctor would say.
Finally it got to the point that I was having dizzy spells and sometimes couldn’t keep my head up so I bit the bullet and called my GP. I got my sister and her husband to drive me over as I didn’t trust myself to drive because of the vertigo. My GP took a look at my breast and then tried to poke it. When she felt it she withdrew her hand so fast it looked like she was trying to avoid getting burned. Not really reassuring, let me tell you. She booked me in for a mammogram right away. Within 2 weeks I travelled from my home in small town Alberta to Edmonton with fear in my belly but a strong resolve to get this thing figured out so I could move on with my life. My first ever mammogram and the tech tells me they see something and they want to do a biopsy before I leave to save me from having to come back right away.
“I’m sure it is nothing. You’re young and healthy. This is just a bump in the road” the tech tells me, trying to give me her best reassuring smile.
I did an hour of aerobics every day, I ate lots of healthy salads, took supplements, and I was my ideal weight. I looked the picture of health. They told me to come back in a couple of weeks for my results. I booked my appointment at the desk on my way out and returned home.
When I went back for my results I had to stay overnight because my appointment was first thing in the morning and I lived over 4 hours away from the clinic. As I pulled up to my parent’s house in Edmonton I got a phone call from the clinic asking if they could reschedule my appointment for 4:45 instead. I grumbled “that’s fine, I just want to get this over with” wishing they had told me before I left home so I could have come up the next day instead. I walked into my parents’ house and talked with my dad who was feeling the effects of his cancer treatments.
The next day I showed up at 4:40 to a ghost town of an office. No clients, no admin staff, no anyone. Finally, a doctor comes out and introduces herself and says she will be right with me. I have my mom and my sister there with me and we all chat quietly as we wait. Finally, she brings me into her office, plops a box of tissues in front of me and says, “I’m sorry, it’s cancer. It’s ok. You can cry. You’re safe here.”
Already prepared for whatever she would throw at me, I muster my courage and say “So what is the next step? Where do we go from here?”
She puts her hand on mine “You might be in shock. This is scary. You can feel safe. You can cry if you need to.”
I looked her straight in the eye “I’m fine. I want to know how we are going to fight this thing. When do I see a specialist so we can figure out my treatment plan?”
“You are booked in with an oncologist in a couple of weeks. You will have more answers then.”
I left the office, frustrated and angry at being told I should crumble when all I wanted to do was fight. I started on my own battle plans as I drove home that day, preparing how I would break the news to my boys and to my partner that had only moved in the year before.
I took a leave from running my parents’ bar and I took the time to take care of myself and my boys. I told my partner about the diagnosis and how difficult the road ahead might be so I wouldn’t blame him if he left now. He held me close and said “There is no way I’m leaving you! We got this.” I melted into his arms and sighed in relief.
Over the next three months I started chemo. On my own I had started attending a sweat lodge after each chemo treatment and immersed myself in the teachings of gratitude and of connections to nature, community, and to the lived experiences of those still struggling to reinforce gratitude even more. I juiced fresh veggies at home every morning and included a vegan protein powder and omega 3 & 6s. I slowed down my life and snuggled up with my kids more. I did not leave the house much so no one ever really knew how sick I was feeling. I did my best to hide how I was really feeling so no one would worry, especially my boys. I had nightmares and anxiety so I was told to create prayer ties and include a prayer for healing and wellness into each one along string. This was enough to take my mind off of my fear and bring me back to healing and gratitude and I was eventually able to sleep again.
When I was scheduled to start radiation after I had my lumpectomy, I found out the same doctor that gave me my diagnosis was to be my radiation oncologist. I refused to work with her. I did not want someone that didn’t promote my ability to fight to be in my army to battle this disease. It felt good to stand in my power over something I felt I had very little choices over, my medical treatments, and decide how to proceed.
Almost 13 years later, I have had a few scares but no reoccurrences. I have completed my genetic testing and found I have no known markers. I have kept my triple negative, 3rd stage breast cancer in check and I believe it has a lot to do with changing my mindset to be more grateful and to take time for the little things in life that mean world to me.
Two and a half years ago, I decided to start a new battle/journey to become a psychiatric nurse. I am now in my final preceptorship and I love what I am doing. I have learned a lot about how people’s perceptions, life experiences, and beliefs hold much sway over their health and how we need to heal from the mental on our journey to heal the physical. I was living what should have been a life conducive to physical health but mentally I was living a very toxic life. At the time, I thought my cancer came out of nowhere and I was angry and confused. I believe I got cancer to teach me and it showed me how to appreciate the gifts that I had so often taken for granted. It showed me I needed to change and I will be forever grateful that I got that message before it killed me. Now, I appreciate my opportunities to learn and grow, I embrace seeing life through a different lens, I try not to put off happiness and joy just to get things done, and I embrace every day as the gift it was meant to be.