At twenty-four, I had just finished school, was planning my wedding and felt fully in control of my life. I thought I had it all—an education, a wonderful fiancé, a great family—but I would soon learn that I had breast cancer, too.
My social life was just as it always was—nights out to concerts, hanging out with friends, watching films, blogging—and on top of that I was starting to think about my wedding, and planning for my career.
Having just finished the Book & Magazine Publishing program at Centennial College, I was getting my first real taste of the working world as an intern at Faze Magazine, and was feeling as if I’d done the right thing by going back to school after graduating from U of T. Although I was getting married and preparing for real adulthood, I still felt young and alive, and was so excited to get ready for the next chapter of my life.
Late one night in June of that year I happened to watch Elegy, a film where a woman (played by Penelope Cruz) gets breast cancer. When it was over, I took a shower and then suddenly, under my soapy hand, I felt a hard little piece of something near my right breast, close to my armpit. Perhaps I was subconsciously more aware because of the movie I had just seen, but I was sure there was something strange there and knew I had never noticed it before. The next morning I went to see my doctor, and she sent me to have a mammogram, even though she thought it was probably nothing.
The mammogram results were inconclusive, but to be safe I had a biopsy done. On July 15th, a breast specialist looked me straight in the eye and told me it was cancer.
Shock. Fear. Disbelief.
Despite my soup bowl of emotions, from the moment I heard those words, the recovery ball was already rolling. The good thing about getting breast cancer at 24 is that people are interested and want to be involved. Unfortunately, breast cancer in young women is becoming less rare, so cases like mine are dealt with very seriously.
I was sent for tests, scans and injections, was probed and prodded, and a month later underwent surgery that left me with about a quarter of my breast gone. Bummer, right? Obviously. But the good news was, with it went the little tiny tumour, less than 9 millimetres small.
This mindset of looking on the bright side had been my mentality since the beginning. Was I going to allow my diagnosis to be the end of my happiness? No. Why? Because I just refused to let it get in the way of all the good stuff I had going on. I mean, come on, I had a wedding to plan! I thought about the love of my life, David, and exchanging vows and whenever I felt sick or tired or ugly from the chemotherapy I remembered what was to come and what ought to be.
A lot of people would ask me if I was upset about getting cancer, but I would always say, “Upset at who? At what?” There’s no one to point the finger at.
My belief is that my body is science and sometimes things misfire. I’m no better than anyone else—people get sick all the time, I just happened to be one of them. Being angry wasn’t going to change anything, and it certainly wasn’t going to make everything just disappear (not to mention the added stress from negative emotions was the last thing my body needed).
Don’t get me wrong; there were plenty of times I would look in the mirror, stare at my bald head, at the incisions the surgery left me with and think to myself, “How can this be happening?” Some days felt like the end of treatments would never come. I would have trouble staying focused, and spent the occasional day feeling sorry for myself while binging on the couch. But there were also times, sitting in the Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook, looking around at all the other people, that I realized I wasn’t the only one on the planet going through it and—more specifically—I had good people around me, friends and family, as well as age on my side. Some patients were all alone and in a lot worse shape than me. Those were the moments I would gain perspective and remember that this wasn’t going to be the end of the world.
With that in mind, I realized that I could take back control over my life by doing the right things and having the right outlook. I knew that the cancer was already there, but I thought about what I could do for myself aside from the treatments. For instance, I immediately looked for information about the right foods to eat and completely changed my diet—which I’m still following, and I feel healthier than ever!
With BFF Melissa, after experimenting with different hair styles–knowing she would lose her beautiful locks soon.
I never wanted my diagnosis to be something sad, or limiting, so I decided to have some fun with it and instead of just letting my hair fall out from chemotherapy, I cut my long, brown hair really short and dyed it platinum blonde (ironically, I had been growing my hair to donate since my mother died of lymphoma in 2005). Taking that action gave me a sense of choice. And that, ultimately, is how I got through everything. I always knew I had a CHOICE. I could choose to be miserable and feel bad for myself, or, I could choose to stay positive and look at all the things I was lucky for.
I was lucky I caught it early, before it spread. I was lucky to get great medical attention and care. I was lucky to have a supportive and loving family. I was lucky to have the best friend in the entire universe anyone could ever dream of. I was lucky to have a man who loved me enough to stand by me. Maybe these things seem small compared to the weight of a cancer diagnosis, but that is the whole point; choosing to perceive it all in a healthy way.
The biggest decision I made that really helped me was deciding to not cancel my wedding. Despite not knowing how I would feel or look when the big day would arrive, I knew that if I changed the date I would only be letting the cancer defeat me.
And knowing I had such a huge thing to look forward to kept me motivated. It even led me to start an intense workout regime after chemotherapy because the treatment left me so weak. I had so much energy at the reception I danced until 2am. I felt and looked amazing, because I chose to. So what if I had to wear a wig? I was marrying the most incredible man, and got to share that day with everyone close to me. Those were the important things.
It’s only been a few months since I’ve finished all my treatments, and I’ve already accomplished so much: I’ve had my wedding, a 23-day European honeymoon, moved into a condo in the city and started a new job. But there are always endless things to look forward to.
With all the things I will go through, and no matter what comes my way, I always remind myself that although the present can be tough, at some point, I’m going to look back and take it as a past experience. For me, now, I’m able to say that breast cancer was just another thing I’ve gone through.
|There is no shortage of support in Toronto for anyone affected by breast cancer. Check out some of the organizations and programs that help girls like me.
Rethink Breast Cancer
The PYNK Program