By Julie Michaud
A couple weeks ago, now, I was told that I would need chemotherapy for the second time around. And of course, I would be on a chemo that would make me lose my hair. Again. “Again?” you ask. Let me clarify, if I may:
I’m Julie Michaud. I live in Nova Scotia. I am married to my best friend and together we now have three children. When the eldest was 11 months old, I was told the large lump in my right breast was actually cancer (labeled stage 3b, later on). This started a fire under the butts of those in the medical field that had, until they saw the mammogram, thought that this 29-year-old only had mastitis (big, angry milk ducts from breastfeeding). Never mind my doctor was calling them weekly asking why I was waiting several months to be seen for a mammogram. I started chemotherapy, had a mastectomy, and radiation.
I had a friend tell me of her friend that was also diagnosed at a young age. She mentioned a group that helps unite young adults dealing with cancers of any type, within Canada. YACC, she called it. That turned out to be an acronym for Young Adult Cancer Canada. I immediately signed up for their Retreat Yourself East 2011. I was in awe. I was talking with people my age. I was discussing issues relevant to me and my generation. And best of all, I wasn’t asked to pay for the retreat; YACC tries their best to make their events free-of-charge to survivors.
How is this possible? That’s a lot of money: food, lodging, travel, and supplies. That’s when they mentioned Shave for the Brave, YACC’s largest fundraiser. People wanting to help survivors, like me, get to a YACC event would shave their head or cut over 10” of hair and ask for pledges for doing so. Intriguing! You give money, and it actually goes to helping people.
Back to me: I started attending YACC’s conferences, connected with more young adults, and found more support/solace in doing so. At least until this year. This year I couldn’t attend; I was 40 weeks pregnant with my second son. Something else occurred when I turned 40 weeks pregnant: I found a lump on my ribs. See, I had had a prophylactic mastectomy of my remaining breast and started reconstruction a couple years ago. I thought this might help me from contracting cancer again. I was wrong. I knew it then, but it was confirmed the next week, cancer is back. It is in my sternum and my right lung.
I have a newborn, a two-year-old daughter, and a soon-to-be six-year-old boy. And, I have metastatic cancer. Go big or go home. I’m lucky that my husband (who is in the Navy) is able to take paternity leave and supports me 100 per cent. I’m lucky that my family is close by. I’m lucky that I have friends that love me. I’m lucky that I have my YACC friends.
YACC friends are a different category because of several reasons. For example, they have had cancer themselves. Be it stage 1, 2, 3, or 4, they have all been diagnosed. Another bonus to YACC friends — some of them have been diagnosed as metastatic. This helps give me hope through living with cancer. I have great friends to lead me by example. Cancer can be in your life and not take away your idea of living.
YACC friends know what not to say. I love my friends, and every single one of them means all the best, but some things are just not that helpful. I wont “beat this”; I will have cancer and treatment for life. Telling me I’m strong and that you could never deal with this is not really that encouraging. I know what they are trying to do, and I love them for it, but YACC friends know those things don’t really help because they’ve dealt with it themselves.
So when I found out that my hair would be vacating the premises, once more, I knew what I had to do. I had to pay back YACC for helping me connect with those YACC friends. I had to try to help make sure that others out there — others like me — could attend Retreat Yourself or Survivor Conference and make YACC friends. How? I would shave my hair before cancer laid claim to it.
One of the sweetest things, my son has chosen to shave his hair in support of YACC, as well. He doesn’t remember me losing my hair before, but he knows this is important to me. And so, we’ll Shave for the Brave on July 10, 2015. We’ll Shave for our family, we’ll Shave for those that YACC has been connected to, we’ll Shave for those that have not yet heard of YACC, and we’ll Shave for those that have not yet been diagnosed.
What do I ask of you? I ask that you support us. If you can send a couple bucks, great! If not, shave or donate your hair. Find friends or family that will shave, instead.
No matter what, spread word of YACC and of Shave for the Brave. Spread the word that young adults do get diagnosed with cancer; we are not mythical creatures. We are reality, and we appreciate all your support.