The following is the story of a heroic, brave, and inspiring woman who battled breast cancer. Every woman has her own story of how breast cancer has affected their lives, here is hers. You can see the pictures from her photoshoot here.
By the time this post is up, I will be celebrating my 2 year cancerversary (a term coined by survivor Hollye Jacobs). Yay! Let’s drink pink champagne!
My chemo and radiation treatments ended in October 2013, and so did using the “cancer card” whenever I wanted to get my way. Using the cancer card was a technique I would “occasionally” utilize to guilt my family into getting my way. The classic phrase that stems from me having cancer is this one: “Can you get that for me? I have cancer.” Yeah… all manipulative triumphs come to an end and thankfully so has my treatment. My cancer adventure endured through some 15 months of treatment and included 2 surgeries, 6 rounds of chemo cocktails, 30 radiation treatments and 6 months of bizarre reactions to hormone therapy. And I drank no champagne during the adventure either. Sigh.
In all honesty, my cancer adventure would have been unbearable had it not been for my neediness to lighten things up, laugh, enjoy copious amounts of Starbucks CDL and whine about our ridiculous health care system in this country and province. Not allowing myself to wallow in self pity gave my family license to laugh with me, make fun of me and, ultimately, gave us all the strength to take on the gravity of this horrible disease. My positivity and sense of humor helped me journey through circumstances that were beyond my control. Oh, and when I say sense of humour, it doesn’t mean that I am funny, witty or quick with a comeback. Quite the contrary, but I always looked for the funny side of things, and my family members who are funny, often had me in stitches. Thank-you family.
After turning 50, I began treating myself to an annual mammogram. Gotta love menopause! For 4 years, my results always came back clear and I expected nothing less as I didn’t have any of the typical risk factors in my life. That fall, as I expected, my results came back clear and I was sailing into November and a lovely autumn…my favorite season. A few weeks later, I noticed the lump when I was adjusting “the girls” to strike the upward salute yoga pose in my bra (versus downward dog, the place they naturally were drawn to go). I knew that lump wasn’t there the day before, and now suddenly there it was. I had just had a clear mammogram weeks before, it couldn’t be cancerous.
Fast forward 10 days later, I finally see my doctor as the damn lump was still there. I was so hoping it would disappear, but that gut feeling deep down inside told me it just wasn’t going anywhere. It was a whirlwind after that. Another mammo, ultra sounds, bone scans, more biopsies and needles galore impinging my precious booby. Then the unforgettable call from the doctor, “I am afraid I have bad news, you have breast cancer. Blah, blah, blah, blah.” I never heard another word after he said the c word, “cancer”. I was scared to pieces; a co-worker had recently passed away from breast cancer. However, my husband and I cried for all of 5 minutes and then we determined to kick this shit to the curb. We must celebrate our strength! After a glass of pink champagne of course. My husband drinks whisky. No bubbly for him. More for me.
I learned that one should never have cancer in December. There apparently isn’t a doctor who treats cancer in our city, province, or country who works from December 15 through to January 15th. I guess that’s because cancer doesn’t grow at Christmas time. Seven weeks after my diagnosis, I am finally in surgery for a lumpectomy. It didn’t go well. Three weeks later, I had to do it all again, as they didn’t get clear margins. Lumpectomy to chunkectomy. My original diagnosis was stage 2. Waiting 7 weeks for surgery with an angry tumor growing like a Kardashian tweet, catapulted my cancer to a stage 3B now with lymph node invasion.
How did I get cancer anyway? Every patient asks that question, wanting to assign blame somewhere. My cancer began manifesting, according to my cold and unfeeling oncologist, more than 10 years prior to being diagnosed. She said contributing factors to my cancer were likely stress and bad luck. WTF – bad luck? I had none of the risk factors (genetic, environmental, etc.) and considered myself relatively healthy. Other than the occasional indulgence of pink champagne, plain champagne, champagne with hibiscus flower, champagne mimosas, Kir Royale, Prosecco and my addiction to Starbucks, I had no bad habits. Cancer was so not on my radar. And neither was bad luck.
I lost my hair, my finger nails, toe nails, sense of taste and really missed my eyelashes and eyebrows. We (my family) celebrated the hair loss with a buzz cut party! My cousin (hairdresser) was on the phone guiding the process! After it’s buzzed off, you have to “bic” it she said. Bic razor. Oh yeah. We all played with the wigs and joked that my future son-in-law and I had the best bald heads in town. There was no more pink champagne in my life during this part of the adventure. I became addicted to bubbly Perrier water instead!
As my treatment progressed, I wanted to distract my mind away from the challenges of chemo and focus on something important. Renovating our basement! The timing to get reaaaally nice stuff was NOW. I may have abused the “cancer card” just a little during this time, but hey, I now have Swarovski drawer pulls and door knobs in my bathroom.
Life returns. The fear subsides. My hair grew back, albeit slow, dark and curly!
MY SUPPORT SYSTEM
I had the most incredible support in my family. My mother came from 1000 kilometers away to wait on me hand and foot. Besides my family, I had friends, neighbours, and congregations of people I didn’t even know, call me, write to me, and send me cards and prayers.
My step daughter ( a nurse), actually moved in across the hall from my bedroom and literally got up in the middle of the night to ensure I took my meds and to check my totally attractive drains and tubes and other oozy things coming out of my booby – things that don’t seem to faze nurses or step daughters. My other step daughter is also a nurse, who at the time chose to do an intern round at the Cancer Institute to help me in my adventure. I received great care from them, but not so much from our health care system. Lesson learned – be your own advocate, don’t ever back down.
Cancer is a long adventure and it was vital that I had my husband, children, step children, sons in-laws, parents and siblings as my adventure companions. They made me laugh, they made me puke bucket kits, made me meals, made me drinks (Perrier & lattes), made me addicted to Downton Abbey and Scandal (thank-you by the way), made fun of me and made me so proud they are a part of my life.
People often ask what did I learn or take away from this experience. First, I say that a positive outlook and a sense of humour do not curb or cure cancer, but it certainly empowered and distracted me from ever dabbling toward a pity party. Misery is an option. Cancer doesn’t make you what you are, but it will reveal who you are.
Second, I take nothing for granted, and I have stopped obsessing and complaining about all the little stuff. It doesn’t matter if my kitchen is vacuumed today – although it would be nice if I had new cupboards in it, and maybe a sparkly bar fridge for champagne at just the right temperature! I am grateful on a daily basis. Not perfect, but grateful. My outlook continues to be positive, my spiritual life continues to grow and my focus on healthy living continues to improve. I am not running marathons, climbing mountains and travelling to Bali to see if there is healthier food there. Although I would love to go back to France and this time visit the Champagne region. I imagine they have really healthy champagne there with mountains for me to climb to get to it.
Really, what matters more now than ever, is spending time with my beloved family and treasured friends. To love well and fully, leaving God to do the heavy lifting.
I used to be particular about how things looked – from my house to my wardrobe to my yard to my weight. Now, I am obsessed with spending time with my family. I used to put job, house work and yard work ahead of everything, not as much now. Things still get done, but after I re-charge and spend time with family. I still wish my house were cleaner, my yard with fewer weeds, and that I had the body of Jane Fonda, however, those are fun wishes, not toxic obsessions. I am enjoying loving the first of, hopefully, many grandchildren to come. Our new grandson has brought me much laughter and a sense of hopefulness…life goes on.
There is a reason I have been given the gift of waking up today and it is the gift to share and celebrate life and love. Until the last breath I take, I pray I will always see the positives in life and love – and enjoy toasting them with a perfectly sparkly glass of pink champagne!