What was your diagnosis? Stage 2 Breast Cancer
What school did you attend? University of Ottawa
What are your career goals?
To educate young women about breast cancer and to support and comfort the newly diagnosed via a book that acts as a guide for young women facing cancer.
What is your occupation? Store Administrator / Accountant
Your cancer experience:
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
I found a lump and told my doctor about it. From there, there was a lot of imaging done but because of my age, it was assumed that I did not have cancer. Two months before my diagnosis, I was told, “You don’t have cancer” by a surgeon. Finally, seven months after telling my doctor about my lump, a biopsy was done and it came back positive.
What year was it? What was your age at the time? 2011/26
In which hospital were you treated?
At what level of education were you at diagnosis?
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
Disbelief, I thought they had the wrong file. I was obviously numb for a few days, too.
How did your family react?
They were so supportive and had my back at every turn.
How did your friends react?
Most of my friends just blew me away with their support. From entering “Team Katie” into a national fundraising campaign to throwing me a benefit because I had to go on leave from work, my friends have been the kind of people I hope I would be if cancer happened to one them.
Some friends stopped talking to me; it’s like it was too much for them to handle. Although I know everyone handles cancer differently, I was hurt by the lack of support from some of them.
What did your treatment consist of?
I had two surgeries (a mastectomy and nine months later, I had the second part of my reconstruction) and six rounds of chemo. Now I am on a hormone inhibitor for the next five years that will slow the growth of cancer if there were any cells that survived surgery and chemo.
I don’t think anyone can prepare you for the emotional and mental side of chemotherapy. Well, first, I guess I should mention the loss of a breast. You almost have to mourn the loss of your body part in order to get passed it. For the first three weeks after my mastectomy, my boyfriend had to dress me because I couldn’t accept that I was missing a breast.
Then came chemo and let me tell you, it plays some pretty mean tricks on you. Chemo becomes a lot more than a five-letter word once you’re about to go through it.
It was such an emotional time, while my friends were planning their weddings and having babies, I was sorting out my chemo schedule. It was very easy to be envious of any other 26-year-old.
The physical part is awful too, I ended up in the emergency room from a fever, on an IV of anti-nausea because I couldn’t stop throwing up, and felt no relief until about 10 days after each treatment.
What is your current medical status?
How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
Life now is completely different.
Physically, things are a little different, my boobs are different, thanks to the steroids and treatment, I gained 30 pounds, and my long hair is now short.
Emotionally, I approach life completely differently. I try to look at it like this: if I died tomorrow, did I make today worth living?
There is no ‘going-back’ to your old life. You will always fear the return of cancer and you will always be an expert on having cancer. I obviously see life a little differently and am extremely grateful for all that I have. It is amazing how something as awful as cancer can really make you realize how lucky you are.
What was the toughest part of your challenge?
Chemo was pretty tough but I think the transition between treatment and finding your “new normal” has been the hardest for me. I think a lot of time people assume that when you’re done treatment, you’re done cancer and if you’ve ever had cancer, you know that is not the case. I’m trying to get back to the life I knew but trying to incorporate cancer into that life.
What was the best lesson you took away from your challenge?
Cancer can take my breast and rob me of a summer but it can’t take my spirit. I’ve learned that no matter how bad life gets, I am the only one who can control my attitude and I will not let cancer take that away from me.
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
I knew that other women needed to be helped so I knew if I was strong, it would give other women strength. I also had such a fantastic support system that picked me up when I was down and it made it easier to be strong when so many people believed in me.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?
I realize now that having cancer isn’t a death sentence and as I mentioned before, you become an expert about (in my case) breast cancer. I knew virtually nothing compared to what I know now. Now, when I hear “breast cancer” I have a physical reaction to it. Rather than just hearing the words, I feel the pain.
What are some (if there are any you know of) preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?
Well, considering there was no known reason for my cancer, my answer to this question is kind of generic; stay active, maintain a healthy weight, everything in moderation, try to avoid taking any prescriptions with hormones in them, be smoke-free, etc.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge? No
If you did not attend a support group, why?
It was difficult to find a breast cancer support group where I wasn’t the youngest one by 30 years.
Would you if one had been available? Do you think attending one would have helped you?
I think I would have just to have some of my feelings validated. My friends and family were great but none of them have had cancer, so I couldn’t really relate to them in that way.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?
I found the website online and I am attending a Retreat in May.