Name: Stacy Sherlock
City: Vancouver, BC
What was/is your diagnosis? Transitional Cell Carcinoma (bladder cancer)
What year was it? What was your age at the time? 2010. I had just turned 22.
What is something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
I drove on a 15,000 KM road trip around Australia by myself. I have done a series of road trips throughout North America and Europe, but that trip was the most extreme and longest journey alone.
I started in Melbourne, went through Adelaide, up to the centre of Alice Springs Uluru and Kings Canyon, then zipped over the Townsville, up to the Daintree Rainforest and finally zigzagged my way down the coast to Sydney.
Nimbin was a place I only anticipated spending a few days and ended up joining this amazing little commune for two weeks. I’m proud of just embracing that journey!
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
One day I pissed straight blood and it didn’t hurt at all. I went to VGH Emergency and they told me that I was in a great deal of pain, but was unaware of it, and prescribed antibiotics for a UTI. This didn’t sit well with me due to previous medical historical traumas, so I returned to the ER the next day and was told I likely had an STD, was pregnant, or unaware of where blood came from with my period. Like actually. Furthermore, I hadn’t had sex in so long that it would have been physically impossible, but they wouldn’t listen to me and they refused me services. On the third day I returned and refused to leave. They performed an ultrasound to discover that I was in fact correct and very aware of my own body. I had a tumour in my bladder.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
That if I hadn’t fought for three days, I would have lost my bladder or my life.
What did your treatment consist of?
I was provided an immediate consultation where they performed a cystoscopy and then advised I needed to have an operation to remove the tumour. One month later, I had the operation. The normal procedure would have had a “chemo rinse” post op, but due to a significant error and corrupted batch of chemo, I did not qualify. I was exceptionally thankful for this; I did not want chemo or radiation in my system under any circumstances. Then I had to have intermittent monitoring of my bladder through years of cystoscopy analysis to confirm I was still cancer free.
What is your current medical status?
I am free and clear. Still going to pelvic floor physiotherapy—which took eight years to get approval for—but recovering! As with all of my treatments, it’s exceptionally invasive, but I am finally starting to see progress and proper recovery steps for the physical issues post cancer.
Life after cancer:
How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually)?
This is such a heavy weighted question, everything.
Like fucking everything.
Day-to-day life in monitoring: my food intake, water consumption, and voiding. Travel plans. Day-to-day interactions. But it all goes together with my other previous medical traumas.
The fun part now is day-to-day needs: if I am in dire need of a washroom and navigating to discover the option I have located is covered in an unanticipated fragrance and triggering to a different medical need. I am not going to be able to hold the urine to locate another washroom and must subject myself to fragrance exposure. Although rare sometimes this occurs.
Emotionally, I go through waves. Let’s be honest, each year and associated anniversary has its wide spectrum of emotions. One year, you celebrate, the other, you weep until borderline sever dehydration. This past year I was having a week that I just felt dire sweeping sadness and I couldn’t figure out why. Nothing was presently so impacting. A friend reminded me of the date—it would have been the 12th birthday for our niece who will always be 7. It hit me in a wave that pulled me out and far under. So many layers to cancer.
Then there are years that could not have been a better party. April Fool’s is my Cancer Free Anniversary because the universe is just that fucking funny, and it brings a bunch of fun parties. On my first year free, there was a Halloween-themed April Fool’s adventure.
That was the year I cut all my hair off and donated it to make a wig. At the time, it felt great! I had exceptionally long curly hair and it was getting impossible to manage. Throughout my life, I grew my hair way out, cut it all off, and repeat. But this was the first year I donated it. To be honest, it was the first time it wasn’t completely destroyed and could actually be donated.
But upon doing this profile questionnaire, I realized something about that experience. Although it was my choice and I felt exceptionally empowered to do that, I was actually suffering deeply felt survivor’s guilt, but I just didn’t have the lexicon to describe that internal conflict yet. Everyone was CONSTANTLY commenting that even though I had cancer, at least I didn’t have to lose my hair.
Oh my hair, my gorgeous hair. At least I didn’t lose that. I should be so forever grateful that my beautiful hair wasn’t damaged while I survived cancer.
I got so sick of everyone commenting that I didn’t have to lose my fucking hair, that I should be so god damn thankful, I just couldn’t stand it. I SURVIVED cancer and everyone wanted to talk about my curls. My volume was reduced to a consumer obsession rather than my literal life while at the same exact moment, I felt I didn’t deserve it.
Children with cancer were dying, and here I was, annoyed at the compliments. Other people literally did have to go through that process and require a wig. I then felt like I didn’t suffer enough, like this fucked up survivor’s guilt competition. So, I cut it all off and donated it for a wig-making cancer support group. Then I had a bunch of fun playing with it for years and years! I had a bunch of different shaved styles (which actually helped with my hives). It was good! Like I said, I loved it, but there is still a weird association in that whole process for me.
Spiritually, I have and always will, trust my gut. This experience reaffirmed that.
What is/was the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult?
I have been reflecting on this question for an extensive period of time. I feel as though I was robbed. I was robbed of a large portion of my youth. My 20s weren’t fun. At the same time, so many beautiful experiences have come forth from it, so it’s just part of my path. That dichotomy is a hard mental navigation.
There is always balance; it puts things in perspective though! I am so much healthier now than I ever would have been if left on my course of life. For example, and this is strange to think about, if I had not gotten cancer, I would still be smoking. I would still be drinking heavily and regularly. I would still be eating meat and fast foods. And to be most honest, there is NO way I would have been this hydrated!
As fucked up as it is to think about, each one of my horrific medical traumas brought me into closer connection with positive self-care and a generally healthier lifestyle than I would have had without it.
What really helped/helps you to keep going while you were/are sick?
Friendship. Gathering your community, in any format of that word, is especially and exceptionally important.
Treating yourself to a special meal filled with the laughter of your favourite humans makes everything easier. It can be online, in person, over the phone, with special snail mail surprise packages—it’s all so important!
Building goals that aren’t focused on anything to do with treatment or recovery is an asset. Have a project that in no way overlaps, have personal goals (reading, writing, artistic, puzzles, practice a new language), find a thing to explore and embrace that fully. Don’t lose your whole identity to your newly-acquired, unanticipated title.
Planned adventures. I planned each road trip and travel as a way to explore the limits of my body once healthy. Those goals were so important to me.
You can literally make any excuse not to go out for a walk. I am from Calgary originally and when I was a kid, no matter what the weather, you would at least go for a walk around the block. I think it’s important to remember that it can always be too rainy, too snowy, too cold, too hot, too foggy, too windy—there could be too many rainbows. It doesn’t matter how fast or how slow or to what form of assistance you require, a trip around the block is essential recovery. Yoga, pilates, and bike rides were crucial reclamation!
Did/Do you feel isolated from your peers since your diagnosis? If so, how did/does that affect you?
No one will understand your spectrum of emotions, but they will claim to in order to make you feel grounded. In a time period when you should be having the most carefree, unrestricted fun, you are processing a world many avoid until elderly or at the end of life.
How has your cancer experience affected your body image, and your relationship to your body?
This is also such a heavy weighted question.
When I first saw my tumor on a screen next to me, I was surprised at how pretty he was. I gave him a name instantly: Vincent Price (whom I think would find that fucking hilarious!). He danced and swirled like a Tim Burton creation inside me. I created an entire piece of theatre on the concept of his character—uber fun!
I have an exceptional connection to my body—my bladder care specialist and physiotherapist could tell you detailed stories of my awareness. I monitor my breath very closely while going through different procedures. I talk to my bladder when trying to get trigger signals to connect with my brain more effectively. I have incredible pride when technicians compliment me on my bloodwork or quality of urine sample.
With each round of medical trauma, you gain a new level of insight to your human. It also gives you a better connection to time. I literally do not have time to waste on certain frivolous shit. My grey hairs were earned! My laugh lines are an honour! There was a time I didn’t think I’d live to 25, so honestly, my body is amazing!
What are some lifestyle changes you’ve made since your diagnosis?
Bladder Cancer caused an increase of dietary restrictions. Due to my previous medical history of the flesh-eating disease Clostridium Difficile at 16, I was no longer able to consume wheat/gluten or soy. Just after my operation, I had to focus on a raw, vegan, citrus-reduced diet for six months to help my bladder lining fully recover. Since that time period, I was able to introduce more items, but I’m still restricted. Now I have updated to wheat/gluten and soy free. No meats—only fish—and reduced shellfish with a significant reduction in citrus.
I have to closely monitor my water intake, and I am not able to void my urine. With the assistance of the pelvic floor physiotherapy, I am able to have some more control over my bladder function, but it is a long process that takes an exceptional time to navigate.
I don’t know if this is a change, but it reaffirmed that I do not want to have children. My body has been through enough and I am proud to choose not to push it further.
Resources and recommendations:
What would you add to a treatment day playlist?
Sylvan Esso, Iggy Pop, Spoek Mathambo, Grimes, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, Joy Division, New Order, The Fugees, Sublime 40 oz. to Freedom, TLC, LCD Soundsystem – Dance Yrself Clean, Bonobo, Die Antwoord, Bjork, Chet Faker, Ibeyi, Moby Meditation Album, Mountain Man, The Royal Tenenbaums Soundtrack, Gil Scott Heron, Led Zeppelin, Amelie Soundtrack, Elliott Smith (when you need to cry it out).Click here to view Stacy’s playlist!
All of Rupert Sheldrake’s presentations are available on his webpage—go listen!
Are there any other resources you’d like to recommend?
Go take a trip, remove yourself and enjoy a new vista. It’ll make all the difference.
Stay in touch:
What would you like to say to other young adults dealing with cancer who are reading this profile?
Trust your body. Listen to your gut. You are allowed to retain autonomy in your decisions with your human form. No one else can tell you to take specific action in your recovery choices. If you are not interested in proceeding down any path of treatment, don’t! You are not required to feel guilt or pressure from close or far members of your community. Stand your ground and speak your truth, in whatever capacity that means. Some members of your support team may not like these decisions; that is ok, and they need to process their own emotions. You need to feel grounded and confident in choices made for your health, your treatment, and your recovery. Do not let anyone sway what you feel is right for your human. Ever.
Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges? If so please let us know how you can be contacted.
[If you want to connect with Stacy, email a message to [email protected] and we’ll forward it along!]