365 new days. 365 new possibilities. As this year comes to an end, I reflect back on the struggles I’ve overcome, the friendships I’ve made, and the memories that will last a lifetime. Here’s a recap of some of my biggest moments from 2017 and what I’m looking forward to in the new year:
Finding support in the breast cancer community
I started off 2017 no longer blanketed in active treatment and was suddenly left to flounder my way through life after cancer. Feelings of fear and uncertainty quickly creeped up leaving me in one of the darkest places I had been since being diagnosed. Through social media, I found out about an event called the YSC (Young Survival Coalition) Summit for young breast cancer survivors and was hesitant to go at first because I didn’t know anyone there but I jumped in with both feet and am so glad I did. I made connections with survivors from around the world and finally found other women who really got it! Fast forward a few months later to attending Boobyball in Vancouver, a fundraising event to raise money for Rethink Breast Cancer. I went with a fellow survivor who flew down to meet me for the occasion and we made a weekend out of it getting glammed up in our best 80s aerobics attire, hiking the trails in Tofino and bonding over our love of travel, food, and fur babies!
Living life to the fullest
There was always a reason for me not to make plans: I had my monthly Zoladex injections, bloodwork, scans, appointments with my doctors and upcoming surgeries. It was hard to plan for the future when I didn’t know what would be happening from one month to the next. I was tired of putting my life on hold after spending half of 2016 going through chemo and radiation treatments. So I began to take control, make a plan to live life to the fullest, and not have it revolve around my appointments 24/7. I made time for myself and was fortunate enough to spend 3 weeks travelling throughout the islands of Hawaii as well as trips to Vegas, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto, and exploring my home territory on Vancouver Island. Instead of saying I can’t, I began saying I CAN and accomplished things I would have never imagined like participating in the 5km CIBC Run for the Cure.
Yes, I finally got to hear those 3 beautiful words…NO EVIDENCE (of) DISEASE! I had a lumpectomy in 2016 but it wasn’t until halfway through my treatments that I found out the margins weren’t clear after getting a second opinion from another pathologist. Almost a year to the day from my first surgery, I went in for a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with immediate latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction to ensure any remaining cancer cells were gone. When I got that call two weeks later from my surgeon with those words we all want to here, I finally found that breath of relief…I was NED!
From crazy chemo curls to pixie cuts
When my hair started growing back after treatment, the last thing I wanted to do was cut it. I didn’t want to risk cutting off any of that precious chemo hair growth but I was starting to grow a mullet which needed to be tamed. It was definitely all business in the front and a crazy chemo curl party in the back. I went in to see my hairdresser 9 months post chemo and played it safe at first with a quick trim but as the next month went by and my hair started to grow more, I realized how much I missed my short pixie hair. It was cute, easy to style, and a perfect cut for my fine hair. So, almost a year post chemo I went in and chopped the rest of my chemo curls off. It felt amazing to be in the driver’s seat this time and be cutting it off with a purpose and not because cancer was taking it away from me.
So, what’s next for 2018?
I’m starting my new year with a gratitude jar, an awesome idea created by Josie Robinson. She has a simple guide to follow that’s called give THANKS: Think about what you’re grateful for. Have an open mind. Allow yourself to feel gratitude. Note your gratitude. Keep it in a jar or other special place. Share it with someone else. You can put a note in the jar every day, week or month and could be anything from clear scans, going on a trip away, or even just a message from a family member or friend. It’s important for us to focus on what we are grateful for and look at the positive aspects of life rather than just the negative. At the end of the year, it will be fun to go back and look to see what has happened throughout the year and remind myself of what I am grateful for.
No More Surgeries!
Well, that’s my goal anyways. Breast reconstruction is never a perfect process and has taught me a lot of patience and understanding with my body. Like many women, I went into my reconstruction surgery with high expectations and came out with feelings of disappointment. There were indents, loose skin, and the implant was sitting to high and pulling to one side. After speaking to my surgeon, it was decided that I will need to remove the excess skin, do fat grafting to fill in the gaps and smooth things out, and skim off part of the lat flap so that it sits more flush with the rest of my breast. I am due to go in for another surgery within the next couple of months for breast revisions and hopefully count this one as my last!
Back to work
It’s been a long year and a half since I took a medical leave of absence from work. My career was finally starting to take off and I was focused more than ever on slaying my goals. But plans changed and a breast cancer diagnosis forced me to put my career on hold and focus instead on my health and wellbeing. The keener that I was told my boss that I would be back to work within 6 months but the reality was I would be off much longer. I am currently working with my doctors, counsellors and a rehabilitation team to successfully get me back to work in the near future. I’m anxious to return but also a bit nervous as I continue to work my way through the long term physical and emotional side effects of treatment and life after cancer.
Travel, travel and more travel!
I love to travel! Anytime an opportunity arises, I have my bags packed and am ready to go on another adventure. My parents used to take my siblings and I on numerous road trips growing up crammed into their old Cutlass Supreme. Needless to say, there were many fights but also a lot of good times and instilled in me the desire and passion to travel. Next up is the YSC Summit in Orlando to reunite with and meet new breasties from all over. But what I’ve really been saving up for is a trip to Italy with my husband. I’ve wanted to go ever since I did my grade 5 project on this beautiful country so my husband and I are planning to make it happen this year. Life’s too short and I’ve learned to live in the moment now while I have my health and happiness.