Glace Bay, Nova Scotia
How did you find out you were sick? What events led to the diagnosis?
I found a lump in my right breast when I was doing a monthly self-exam. I learned the proper technique when I was 19 from a Nurse in New Brunswick. Upon discovering the lump, I immediately made an appointment with my doctor to have it checked out. A mammogram showed a risk of cancer but a core biopsy confirmed that the lump was indeed cancerous.
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
I found the lump in June 2005 and I received my diagnosis in August 2005. I was 24 at the time.
At what level of education were you at diagnosis?
I was in my second year of study at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Do you work? Currently no. I’m taking some time before returning to school in Sept. 2007
What was your diagnosis?
Breast Cancer (Stage 2, Grade 3) or Invasive Ductal Carcinoma
What are your career goals?
I’m pursuing a career in the field of Public Relations. I’d like to eventually work with the R.C.M.P. or in the television industry.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
When my doctor informed me I had breast cancer, I was at a loss for words. I was paralyzed with an intense fear because I truly believed I was going to die as a result of my cancer. I started to feel panicked because I realized I might not get a chance to do the things I always wanted to do.
How did your family react?
Everyone was in disbelief that I was diagnosed because my father, a non-smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002. You hear about other people getting cancer but you don’t really believe it can happen to your own family. The reality that cancer was affecting another family member was unimaginable to us. Especially taking into consideration that breast cancer is extremely rare for women under 30.
How did your friends react?
Naturally, my friends were frightened but they really stepped up and have been by my side since day one. Some people in my life that I thought would be there for me didn’t really contact me anymore. I guess they weren’t prepared to handle the situation. It was upsetting at first but I learned who my true friends were.
What did your treatment consist of?
Medical Side: Days after receiving my diagnosis, I had a bone scan, a mammogram, a liver ultrasound, blood work and a chest x-ray. Up until my diagnosis, I had no other major health problems. I opted for a lumpectomy to have the tumor removed. Four sessions of chemotherapy and twenty-eight sessions of radiation followed. Currently, I receive monthly injections of a drug called Zoladex. I’ll be on a drug called Tamoxifen for the next five years. I have routine check-ups with my surgeon and oncologist every three months for the next three years. Yearly mammograms are required for the next 20 years.
Chemotherapy was really hard on me physically which, as a result, had an affect on how I felt emotionally. I didn’t have a lot of energy because I felt sick most of the time. My entire body became really dry and I lost my appetite. It was hard to deal with feeling like that because I knew it would last until treatment was finished. Radiation was a much better experience. I didn’t really have any major side effects other than feeling tired. Compared to chemo, it was a walk in the park.
In which hospital(s) were you treated?
Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney, Nova Scotia.
What is your current medical status?
I received my one year mammogram in Ausgut 2006 and I am happy to report that I am now in remission! YAY!
How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually)?
Physically, I am feeling pretty good. My appetite has returned and I’ve been working on getting my energy level back up.
Emotionally, I am doing really well, I think. Of course, I have my moments where I let the fear of reoccurrence get the best of me (who doesn’t?). It’s been difficult to swallow the reality of my diagnosis and my fathers passing towards the end of my treatment. My mother helps to remind me to take things one day at a time.
What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?
My biggest challenge was having to undergo chemo. I felt so miserable after the first session that it became a struggle knowing I had to go back for more. Losing my hair also didn’t help the situation. I cried every time I looked in the mirror because I was reminded that I had cancer.
What is/was the best part of your challenge?
The experience has definitely made me a stronger person. I feel that if I can overcome cancer, I can overcome anything. I really learned a lot about myself during this past year. I think a lot of people underestimate themselves until they are challenged.
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
My father definitely motivated me to keep going while I was sick. Because he underwent chemo before, he was someone who understood how I felt. He inspired me to keep a positive attitude because he showed me that it does make a difference in how you feel. I knew immediately that I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I also realized that my mother had to witness my father battle cancer and now her youngest daughter. I didn’t want to let her down by fearing my situation.
What lessons or messages have you taken away from your experience?
I’ve really learned to soak up each moment of my life in every possible way. I refuse to take anything for granted because I learned the hard way that life can change so quickly. My cancer diagnosis has truly given me a new awareness towards life and because of that awareness, I don’t make room for any negative energy. It simply serves no purpose.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?
Initially, I was terrified when I was diagnosed! I really thought I was going to die at age 24. Now, I feel less frightened towards my illness. I’ve changed my way of looking at my diagnosis. A cancer diagnosis does not mean a death sentence. I have so much more I want to do so I have chosen to fight it and not fear it.
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?
I found a cancerous lump myself by doing a monthly self-exam. Taking the initiative to do a self-exam has been the reason my cancer was found. That’s why it’s important for one to be active towards their own health because early detection can make a significant difference in the outcome. It’s never to early to become educated on what one can do to take care of themselves.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
No, I did not.
If you did not attend a support group, why?
I didn’t attend a support group because I felt my family and friends were the support I needed.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?
I saw a poster for the [YACC] retreat in the waiting room at the cancer clinic. I wanted to find out more about it so I contacted them. I think it’s a great organization because it’s a source of support and information for young adults affected by cancer. It’s comforting to have people your age to talk to and who can relate.