Life before hearing the dreaded news “You have Cancer”!
Let’s start in 2010. The beginning of 2010 was starting off with a feeling that we have worked so hard, and we made it! We were just about to have our 4th child, living in our dream home, our boys were growing into amazing men, and life was just good! When our boy Dryden came along in May of 2010, Darren and I looked at each other, and knew this was the last puzzle piece to complete our perfect little family of 6. I was, and still am, so proud being the mama bear to my five amazing men. Darren always tells me that there is only room for one queen in our family, and that is how all my boys make me feel. Nothing brought me more joy then coming home to all those smiling faces waiting to give me the biggest hug. We truly felt we hit the lottery in life! Yes, we both worked hard to get here, and we sacrificed a lot. People thought we were crazy for the decisions we made on how we lived our life but we didn’t care. When we would doubt our choices, all we had to do was look at those four blonde babies of ours. We would look at their innocent smiles, their eyes that were infectious and their spirits that sparkled, and we knew we were on the right path. Everything, every choice, every decision was always based around our boys!
The arrival of Dryden is truly where our journey began. Shortly after Dryden was born, I just sensed something wasn’t right. When the 4th child comes along, you are just so relaxed about things. This time maybe I was a little to relaxed. When I went into labour with Dryden, I really didn’t want to labour in the hospital. I wanted to do most of it at home. Finally, early in the morning I knew I was ready to go in, but I still had so much I wanted to do. Darren got $500’s worth of speeding tickets (that is another story for one day) and finally got me to the hospital. He drove to the front door of the hospital; a nurse came running as Dryden was on his way out. Eight minutes later, Dryden made his grand entrance. He was just perfect. I was ready to go back home to introduce Dryden to our other boys, and I didn’t want to stay in the hospital. I told the doctor that I know legally I only need to stay 6 hours, so at 2:00 p.m. I am out of here! My doctor, who delivered all our babies, knew there was no point trying to change my mind. Darren, myself, and Dryden left he hospital to go get our 3 older boys from school, and started our journey with our complete, perfect, little family. A couple days in, when I just knew something wasn’t right, I took Dryden to the Stollery. I was a zombie from sleep deprivation and didn’t know why I was actually taking him in, I just knew something wasn’t right. As soon as I got there, they took him from my arms and rushed him to the back. At this point I knew it was serious and broke down as to what this could mean. Dryden was born with Bacterial Meningitis. The odds are 1 in 10,000 for a baby to get Bacterial Meningitis during delivery. We waited eagerly for 24 hours to see if the antibiotics were going to work. Thank heaven above, they did. We were in the hospital for over a month, but for me it was perfect. It forced me to slow down. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I started to question this fast-paced life of how women can have it all. That was me, I was superwomen! I could handle any situation my career would give me, climb to a new level every two years, raise four amazing boys and anything else you would through my way. I could do it all! Was I really doing it all, or did I just not show my stress, my worry, my exhaustion? Spending the first month of Dryden’s life in the hospital gave me time to reflect. Dryden was and still is a fighter. The doctors told me that if I would have waited any longer, he probably wouldn’t have made it. Dryden came home and we continued his IV treatment at home. My grandma hadn’t had the chance to meet Dryden. I wanted to get home so I could take Dryden to meet the most important person in my life. I would not be the women I am today if it wasn’t for my grandma.
That fall of 2010, I was offered the job that I was striving for my entire career. It almost sounded too good to be true. Darren knew how hard I worked my entire career for this job, there was no way we could turn it down. My first day on the job, in my beautiful office, looking over the river, I remember calling Darren and telling him “Babes, we made it”. We had our 4 boys and created a life where Darren could stay home to give our boys security that we so desperately wanted for them, I was at the height of my career, we were living in our dream home, and had everything we wanted. It was a feeling of, WE DID IT! This was such a pivotable point in my career. I went from an inventory clerk to the executive as the CIO for Service Alberta. Not to mention, my field being in technology, it was a male dominant field. It felt like all my schooling, hard work, finally paid off! It was a moment I will always remember. The career I worked so hard for, was pulled from my fingertips when I got the news, I had cancer! February 1, 2011, I heard the “C” word. Life as we knew it, was forever changed.
How did I find my cancer?
Prior to going back to work, I started a new workout routine. I was loving it, but always felt pain under my right arm. In the bath one night, Darren poked his head in and said that I should probably go get it checked out. Don’t know why he would say this, but he asked me if I had checked for lumps. I was a little taken back as he has never asked me something like this before. I thought ok, so I started to feel around. Sure enough, I felt this gulf ball size lump. My heart literally stopped. In my mind I started to think of all the things it could be and cancer was not one of them. I thought it could be a plugged milk duct from nursing, dense tissue. I put it aside in my mind. I eventually made an appointment with my doctor, who wasn’t in, so I saw a different doctor. She felt it and told me I had nothing to worry about. You can move it, it isn’t that hard, you have no cancer in your history, it is probably from nursing, go home and try not worry. Luckily, my family doctor who is amazing, saw that I was in. He called me to tell me he didn’t feel comfortable with not doing anything and scheduled a Mammogram for me.
Myth: If you feel a lump and you can move it, still get it checked. Don’t believe the misconception that if it is cancer, you wouldn’t be able to move it around.
I became obsessed with feeling the “lump”! I would feel it and think it wasn’t that big, then the next time I felt it, it felt bigger. All the mind games. The worry became darker when I found a 2nd lump, way up under my arm. It felt the same and was just as big. They both were each bigger than a golf ball. My mind could think of nothing else but those lumps. When I went for my Mammogram, they always had to take more pictures after seeing the doctor who reviewed them. The last set of pictures, I could see it on the technician’s face. I asked her questions, and she just didn’t know what to say. She could tell, I was not the type to just let this go. She put her hand on my shoulder and asked me if I wanted to talk with the doctor. The doctor came in, and he was direct, in telling me it is cancer. Of course, we wouldn’t know until a biopsy is done, but he told he was 90% sure. He told me that I reminded him of his wife, and he could tell I was trying to be so strong. He then told me to come with him and he should me the images. He explained to me what a typical mass would look like and how cancer looks. He showed me all the little tentacles that were spreading out. He also told me not to waste time, get the biopsy scheduled ASAP. I got it scheduled and then it took all my might to run to my car and hold it together before the tears started. There I was, by myself, in my vehicle, no one around me, knowing that it is cancer. I didn’t want to tell Darren. I cried for almost 30 minutes before I called Darren and then my best friend Mary. They both told me there is nothing to worry about, the doctor shouldn’t have told me that, there is cancer nowhere in your family, all will be ok. I then did, what I do. Took all this information and packed it away in a nice little file in my brain and went to work like nothing happened. The only people who say my weaknesses were Darren and Mary. No one else, ever. Went to work, handled some very difficult contract negotiations where everyone in the room knew I wasn’t going to lose.
MYTH: Just because you have no breast cancer in your family history, doesn’t mean you can’t get breast cancer. Only 5 – 10 % of breast cancers diagnosed are hereditary. That means 90 – 95 % of all breast cancers are due to a mutation of cells from external lifetime triggers.
The day of the biopsy Darren came with me, and we spent the day together. The next couple of days were awful. I couldn’t stop looking at statistics, the types of breast cancer, the odds of survival. My mind could not stop. The day came. My assistant at the time, was a gift from God! She knew I was expecting my doctor to call. She came and got me. I went into my office, shut the door, and picked up the phone at 4:24 p.m. My family doctor of over 20 years, knew I would not want any small talk. He just said “Kim, I am so sorry. It is cancer”. To describe the feeling of being punched in the gut by the strongest person you know, is an understatement. He then told me I should be getting a call from the Cross Cancer Institute in a few days. I stared outside my office window. I don’t know how I drove home that night. I just remember falling into Darren’s arms when I walked through our front door. We both just cried. Then came the task of telling my mom and dad I have cancer. It was so difficult, as I knew I had to be strong for them, when I had nothing in me to be strong. Being a parent now, I understand the horror they must have felt. My mom had already not been doing well for the last few years and I knew her processing this information would be detrimental to her. Every time I would talk with her, she would always just say cry. She would squeeze my hand so tight and whisper to me that she can’t lose her only girl. That I was everything to her. When I had no strength for myself, I knew I always had to find strength to tell my mom that everything will be ok. I would tell her this, but on the inside, I was a wreck. In my family of men, the only two women I had was my mom and Grandma who I could lean on. My grandma and I would talk about what to tell mom and what not to. My Grandma was the only person I could be honest with my consuming fear of dying. Staying with my grandma as a little girl, we would have the most amazing conversations. She would always tell me that she is ready to go to heaven. That heaven is so beautiful and has no pain. My entire life I would always think of the comfort this brought me. When I had to face my mortality head on, my grandma and I deepened those conversations. She would give me comfort in telling me I need to believe I am going to live, but to also not fear death. That death is beautiful, and I should welcome it, not fear it. My grandma would tell me that yes; me dying would hurt everyone I would leave behind especially my four precious boys, but that I have the most amazing husband who would make sure my boys are always taken care of. My conversations with my grandma, I held close to my heart. To this day, as soon as I feel fear, I hear the whispers of my grandma and I can feel the softness of her tiny little hand, gently squeezing mine and wrapping me in love that was so gentle, but strong.
The next few weeks were like a whirlwind. It was very clear with how aggressive my cancer was, I did not have time on my side. Then came the task of telling our four blonde babies. A moment that is engrained on my heart and one I will never forget. I just suddenly told Darren we must do it. Let’s rip of the bandaid. We sat on the floor in our bedroom. Dryden was crawling around, and Darren began to say, “Mom and I have something difficult to tell you”. We were told by a nurse not to use the word “sick”. Don’t tell your kids you are sick when you have a cancer. Every time you say you are sick; they will think it is cancer. Darren told them that I was diagnosed with an illness that is going to make me sick for a period of time, but we know how tough mom is and she is going to fight with all of her being. I asked the boys if they understood what Dad was saying. This part still kills me! Dawson couldn’t get the words out of his mouth before he started crying uncontrollably. He tried so hard to get these words out “You have cancer”! He had overheard me talking on the phone. He carried this fear and worry in his little heart until that moment, when he let it all out. We all started to cry. Dono and Deegan didn’t fully understand what was happening, as Cancer was just not a word that was used in our home. There was no cancer, of this degree, no where in our families. That moment in time, all of us sitting on the floor crying, nothing else mattered. My career, our dream home, our future how we planned it, the vehicles, the trailers, the boats, NONE OF THAT MATTERED. In that moment in time, we would have given up everything, I mean everything, to just know I would be ok, that my boys will have more time with their mom. All the things that you spent so much of your life working on; the time, the energy, the planning you put into a life you thought you wanted, was ripped out from beneath you. Everything you ever thought you wanted, didn’t matter! We no longer cared about the things we thought we so desperately wanted. The house, the career, the vacations, none of it……………. I just wanted to live! Darren just wanted a wife. My boys just wanted a mom. I just wanted a few more years with my boys.
Accepting the fact that I have cancer
Within a few weeks of being diagnosed I had a CT scan, Bone Scan, and Ultrasound. These were so scary. These tests show you if your cancer is contained or if it has metastasized. I will never forget my Bone Scan. The technician could tell how worried I was, and I couldn’t stop crying. She finished the test, left the room for only minutes, and came back to tell me I am good to go. I looked at her strangely, as it was usually come back and take more pictures. I went and got changed and was walking out thinking that the cancer must be everywhere. The technician stopped me, and she said the doctor wanted me to pass on a message to you. She said the doctor told me to tell you to have a good weekend as there is nothing for you to worry about. I looked at her in shock. I just stood there. She winked, smiled at me, and walked away. That was the best present anyone could have given me. I wish I knew who the doctor was, as I would like to tell them what he did for me. He gave me hope when I had none.
When I first met my oncologist, Dr. Joy, he was the one who had to tell me the bad news of how aggressive my cancer was, that it had spread, and that they needed to go in with the strongest treatment possible to even give me a chance of survival. He didn’t want to tell me the odds, but he knew very quickly that I was not going to let it drop. He finally told Darren and I that we should get our affairs in order. The odds of making it to the end of the year were not in my favor. Unless you have heard the words you have cancer, you just can’t understand how it feels. It feels like an out of body experience. I could see my doctor talking, but I couldn’t hear it. The journey began of having to tell friends and extended family. This was so difficult, and it was so shocking to many. Accepting your future is now in a long-term relationship with cancer, is not an easy thing to do. Whether you are Stage 1 or Stage 4, Grade 1 or 3, it doesn’t matter, cancer will always be there in your mind rearing its ugly head at the most unexpected times. The plans we had for vacations, were now gone. Rushing to get our kids registered for sports as we don’t want them to miss out, now didn’t matter. Having to deal with everyone calling, messaging, and asking some of the most ridiculous questions. Better yet, they call and don’t know what to say, so they go with common things people say.
“You’re a fighter, you will get through this”
“It will be all okay, I just know it”
“You don’t even look sick”
“Attitude is everything”
“I will pray for a miracle for you”
“If anyone can beat this, I know you can”
“You are only given what you can handle”
“Just be positive”
“Is it terminal?”
“Do you know your prognosis?”
The best yet is when someone comes up to you and asks you “How you are doing?”. Standard question, but no matter how you answer they then say “no really, how are you doing”? I just got told I may be dying; how do you think I am!!!!!!! Please don’t get me wrong. I know every person who said one of those comments truly didn’t mean it in a bad way. I know it was coming from a place of love. In my mind saying something, anything is better than what many do. Every person that has gone through cancer can relate to this. You are always so amazed as to who sticks by you through your cancer journey, and how the people who you thought would be there drop off the face of the earth. Darren and I lost many friends, and we would here; “You have changed”. Yeah, we have changed. Do you not understand the magnitude of what we have been through? Of course, wewe are going to change! As hard as it was, and how much it hurt, it was a blessing to lose the friends and family that we did. It was so clear that as soon as I was no longer beneficial for their life in their way, they had no time for us. They had full lives that we no longer fit in. It was so painful, and to this day I wonder why, but I have accepted it. There were so many more people that wanted to be part of our village and help anyway they could. They truly showed up in the most loving way imaginable. It was the first time, besides my husband and Mary, where I felt unconditional love. Servant leadership. They just wanted to serve my little family with cleaning our home, making meals, driving our kids around and anything we needed. They didn’t judge, they just served. It was the most powerful experience and something I knew I wanted to be part of.
One of the hardest things I had to accept about my cancer, was losing my hair. My hair, just like my title at work, defined who I was. It was such a big part of my identity. Going to pick out wigs was one of those experiences that I will never forget. I was still so mad I had cancer, and now my hair is going to be gone in less than 3 weeks! NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Cancer you have already taken so much, and you continue to take and take and take! Thank god my hairdresser of 20+ years was there to help me along with amazing friends. They tried so hard to make the experience light, but there was nothing they could do. I was mad! Why me? That’s all I kept saying over and over. Why me? Why me? Why me?
Dr. Joy clearly laid out my treatment plan. This point in my life, natural solutions were not even on my radar. Fill my body with as many chemicals you need to kill my cancer was my attitude. I honestly didn’t care. Just get this cancer out of me. I was not open to any solutions from what I called my granola eating friends.
The plan was as follows:
- 8 rounds of aggressive chemotherapy
- Double Mastectomy. The protocol was for a Lumpectomy – which I wasn’t willing to accept. More on this later.
- 25 Rounds of radiation.
- At least 5 more surgeries over the next 2 years.
- This is all we got! Whether this gets all the cancer or not, it is the maximum we can do.
Many decisions for your cancer are made independently of each specialist. This can be so frustrating when timing is not on your side. You have the right to demand that all specialists need to sign off on your treatment plan. They put this on the patient, which is completely unfair. You are still trying to accept you have cancer, and they expect you to play doctor. We have so much progress we need to make in how cancer cases are handled.
When diagnosed with cancer, there should be three doctors assigned to your case. You should have a:
- A medical oncologistthat treats your cancer using chemotherapy or other medications, such as targeted therapy or immunotherapy.
- A surgical oncologistthat removes the tumor and nearby tissue during surgery. He or she also performs certain types of biopsies to help diagnose cancer.
- A radiation oncologistthat treats your cancer using radiation therapy.
These doctors make decisions independent of each other, unless you demand that they all need to agree and understand your complete treatment plan.
Accepting my own journey of what the next year would look like was hard enough. I cried enough tears that I truly thought I had no more. What happened next, is something, till this day, is hard to believe.
We’ve gone through everything together. We don’t need to go through breast cancer together.
My amazing Mary, my best friend came over immediately when we knew what we were facing. She hugged me and just kept telling me it is all going to work out. That I am strong, and the doctors will take it all out, and you will be fine. I remember one night I was so emotional, crying in my bedroom. We really tried to protect our boys, so when I couldn’t control my emotions, Darren would go outside with the boys or something. This one-night Mary came into the house and came up to my bedroom. She just kept saying “It will be ok. Come on Kim, be strong. You are going to be just fine”. The next time Mary came over, our lives were changed again, in a way we never thought possible!
Mary was over, she asked to feel the lump again. We laughed because here we are feeling each other’s boobs like it was nothing and we could see on Darren’s face how awkward he felt. This time was different. As Mary felt around her breasts, she took my hand and said, “Feel this”! It was like a ball of something, but closer into her back, not in her breast tissue. We just laughed and said there is just now way. Mary made a physical with her doctor and as her doctor was finishing up Mary told her about this lump towards her back. The doctor told her it is nothing to worry about. I really isn’t in your breast, you have no history, but lets me on the safe side and get it checked out. This was a female doctor, doing a yearly physical and would have never known it was there unless Mary told her.
Fact: You have breast tissue all around your chest into your back. A tumour can form anywhere there is breast tissue. You can also get Breast Cancer and have no primary tumour. There are many other signs of Breast Cancer, besides a lump in your breast. Some of them are a change in skin color, dimpling of the skin on the breasts, blood from nipple, increased warmth of a breast are only a few of them.
A few short weeks later Mary heard the same words. “You got cancer”! When she phoned to tell me, it was utter shock. Yes, we have done almost everything together, but we don’t need to go through cancer together. Then came the waiting game to hear if her cancer had spread. While we were waiting for her results, I had my first chemo treatment. When I am asked how to describe it, there truly are no words. I expected the worse as I heard about the “Red Devil”! A type of chemo that almost kills you, and that it did. When the nurse came up to me to hook me up to the Red Devil. She paused as she told me how she needed to double up her gown and gloves and that she needed to inject the Red Devil syringe, by syringe. She looked at me casually and said “If we were to put it in a regular IV Drip, it would eat away the tubing before it got into your body. It was in that moment; I knew this was not going to be fun. I came home from my first treatment feeling like this is not bad. I went up to my room to lay down and it hit me later that day. There is no way to describe the nausea, the pain, the sweating, the shakes. Darren tried so hard to comfort me. He got so scared watching me in the fetal position on the floor rocking back and forth, moaning that I can’t do this over and over. He was so scared he wanted to call 911. I convinced him to call the 24-hour line at the Cross Cancer Institute. They paged Dr.Joy and he told Darren, this is what it is going to be like. He told Darren to help me anyway he can to get me through this. He also told Darren that It will be like this for around 3 days, and then it should subside intime for her next treatment. The pain in Darren’s eyes is something I will never forget. He tried so hard to protect the boys from all this ugliness, but the boys wanted their mama. They just wanted to know I will be ok. Darren carried me in his arms to the bath and just kept pouring warm water down my back. The boys peeked in and explained how I had my first treatment that is going to help mommy get better, but it will also make her a little sick. Like mommy has the flu. How else do explain this to your children. Darren kneeled beside the tub for hours. He kept saying to me over and over “We will get through this. I love you unconditionally. I meant the words I told you on our wedding day. In sickness and in health. I will hold you together and be your strength as long as you need”.
As sick as I was, I was so worried about Mary. About 2 weeks after my first treatment, I decided to go to the grocery store. I had called Mary a million times that day. She didn’t answer. I knew it was not good. She finally called me back and told me to go home, go be with Darren and I will call you back. I was so mad, I just wanted to know. She was so worried about how I would react. She called Darren ahead of time and wanted to make sure he was with me when she told me her news. I just knew it wasn’t good. She said “Kim, it is Stage 4. The cancer is in my spine.” I was in disbelief. I was so sick from my first chemo treatment, but I didn’t care, I needed to go be with her and her family. There we were. Best friends, at the age of 38, looking over research papers to decide what are the best options. It was so unfair!!! The sadness that still comes over me thinking about it, writing this, still makes my heart hurt so bad. This is so unfair!!! What did we do! There I sat with my newly bald head, holding the hand of my best friend, both of us so scared, there were so many unknowns. The only thing we knew, was that we were on this journey together. When you look at your life and you look at how or why certain people come into your life, it was this exact moment we knew why we became the best of friends, from the moment we saw each other in the university auditorium. God knew neither one of us could go through this alone. We always thought it was so weird how we were the only two from our high school to get into this university, and we had the exact same schedule! God knew it was not only that I needed Mary to help me pass my first year of Business, but that we would need each other 20 years down the road. I was so mad and bitter for so long that this happened to me, to us, to our families. If it wasn’t for Mary constantly reminding me that this is just our journey, that we will get through it together, that one day we will look back at this time and see two strong brave women who fought with every ounce of energy they had. Was she ever right! I not only look back and think that, but I also have feelings of so much gratitude for what Cancer brought into my life! I say that God had to give me this big, hard journey. God knew that it had to be something of this magnitude, to stop me in my tracks to question my life and how I was living it. My entire life, when there was a problem that made me scared and nervous, my coping mechanism was to always say “Be grateful, you don’t have cancer. No one in your family has cancer. Be grateful”. In my mind cancer was the bottom of the bottom. Nothing in my world was as bad as getting cancer. God knew, it would take me facing cancer to face my decisions in life and how I had been living life. I needed to get cancer to be open to a world and a way of living that was just not in my DNA. A world with green juices, meditating, journaling, feeling your feelings and of course essential oils. It made me question my career and to be opened to creating a type business that I once judged. Living the life Darren and I are living today, is because I heard those treaded words.
Life during treatment
How do you even begin to describe your life during treatment? It truly is a 3-week series of events until you have all eight treatments. This is what it looked like:
- Go sit at the hospital for 4 – 6 hours while they inject toxic chemicals into your body.
- Go home and puke your guts out for 7 days.
- Give yourself an injection to help support your white blood cells so you can get your next treatment.
- Once you feel a little bit alive, you try and eat food, but it hurts so much as your mouth is full of blisters from the chemo.
- Try to deal with the pain of electrical shocks through your bones hoping your white blood cells produce enough so you can get your next treatment.
- Try not to look in the mirror as the only thing you see is your eyes sunken in with dark circles around them. Your skin looking so grey and deathly. You wonder if your eyebrows and eyelashes will ever grow back. Honestly! Why would you want to look in the mirror when that is what you see!
- Get scans to see if the treatment is working.
- Get your blood drawn.
- See your oncologist to tell him everything is good, and you are doing great as you don’t want him to lower the dose or prolong your next treatment. In my corrupt way of thinking, I was ready to handle anything. I wanted him to make it stronger. I would do anything if it gave me a better chance.
- Start over again to go through the entire process again. Every three weeks for 8 treatments.
This was our life for 18 weeks. When I went in after my 7th treatment and waited to get the go ahead for my 8th and final treatment. My doctor finally saw through me. I got a real bad lecture and was told there is no way my body can handle another treatment. I was done. I was so scared. I begged for that 8th treatment, and he said there is no way. This still plays mind games with me today. During this time, I was able to find out if my cancer was genetic or environmental. When the doctor tells you that the choices you made in your life from what you ate, to what you put on your body, the air you breathed in, caused the perfect storm, and caused my cancer. It wasn’t one or two things. I was 20 + years of different variations of toxins in my body.
Finishing my treatments, it was now time for my surgery. This was a battle within itself. Where I live, they prefer to do lumpectomy’s if possible. From the time I was diagnosed, I did nothing but my research for every single decision. I knew my odds increased for survival if I got a double mastectomy. I finally found an amazing surgeon who spoke to me like a human. He knew I had my facts and that I did my research. He finally agreed to not only do a double mastectomy, but to also work with a plastic surgeon to do the reconstruction at the same time. Something that was not done where I live. I met so many women who had their lumpectomy or a single/double mastectomy butchered and no longer could be reconstructed. This took massive coordination as they wanted to start radiation as soon as they could. I will never forget what the radiation oncology doctor told me. When she found out I got reconstructed, which was against her opinion, she said to me the first day I met her, “Obviously your looks are more important to you than your life. When you are done fussing around with your reconstruction, let me know, and I will start radiation”. I did not know what to say. There I was with tubes hanging out of me from my surgery, no strength, no energy. I just broke down in the hallway outside her office. I called my plastic surgeon asking him what I am supposed to do. Thankfully with some phone calls to people I know in high places I got a call the next morning from her. She apologized for making me feel the way I did, that was not her intent, and if I could come see her to make a plan to start my radiation.
Starting to feel a little better with not having chemo, dealing with the impacts of radiation was an entirely different ball game. I needed to go every day for 25 days. We are now into seven months into my treatment. My granola eating friends were so tired of all my questions. Mary and I started reading so many books and watching so many documentaries about how to eat when you have cancer, how important it is to reduce your toxins, eliminate stress are key factors to keeping your cancer stable or preventing a reoccurrence. We wanted to learn everything we could.
TIP: You oversee your health. Run your health like a business. Promote yourself to the CEO of your health. You make all final decisions. Every single doctor, specialist you see, you are interviewing them to see if they deserve a position in your business. You are in charge, and you need to let them know it!
I started doing Yoga through my treatment. It was hard as I felt everyone would stare at my shiny bald head or see the port lines hanging out of my chest or read my expressions that I was terrified I was going to die. It was my 23 round of radiation. I was driving home from Yoga thinking I have only two more treatments to go. My mom was so happy as the following week we had a date to go to Red Lobster, my mom’s favorite restaurant. I was going to finish my treatments and start to feel better. My mom seeing me so sick was so hard for her. She so desperately wanted this to all be done, and always just wanted to hear from me that I am cured. It was so hard for me to be brave for my mom, but I would tell her what she wanted to hear. It was so hard because the words I was saying to her, were the words I prayed for every night that I would hear one day soon from my doctor. As I pulled up to our house, I could see the look on Darren’s face. I knew it was bad. I quickly ran through all my doctor’s names, which one called, what could the bad news be, is it something about Mary. Darren was holding Dryden in his arms and put his arm out to grab and hold me. I just kept on saying “What, What, What…..What is it? Tell me”. I could see the look on his face was so full of pain and he had no idea how to get the words out to tell me. His eyes filled with tears and he so gentle and softly said “I am so sorry sweetheart. Your mom died”! I remember this moment in time so crystal clear. It was the first time I ever felt the legs beneath me give out. I fell to my knees and screamed “NOOOOOOOOO! Why! Why! Why!”. Darren sat on the floor with me and just held me. I don’t remember how long we sat there. I just remember calling Mary. She left work to come get me. The next few days were a blur. I went for my radiation treatment the next day feeling so numb. The nurses were so concerned and when I told them what happened, they didn’t leave my side. The next day, that doctor that was so mean to me at the beginning, called me to offer her condolences and re-assured me we can pause a few days to allow me to put my mom to rest.
My mom’s funeral was so beautiful, but one of the hardest things I had to do. Yes, I was raised with three older brothers, but I had the responsibility of the world on my shoulders. The conversations a dad has with their daughter are so much more then with their sons. I was daddy’s girl, and I knew what my dad wanted. Those dumb things people say to you when you have cancer, I think I heard each one a couple times that day. Everyone knew I was at the end of my treatment, not knowing what the future held, and there I was goodbye to the most loving, caring mother a person could ask for. In less than a year I lost the only two women I had in my life. My grandma and my mom. My grandma was everything to me and helped me deal with mom and her illness. Loosing these two women left me feeling so alone. In 1 and ½ years I had given birth to a son that almost died, lost my grandma, diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, my best friend diagnosed, 8 months of cancer treatments with an unknown future and then my mom died. How is this fair? Every day I asked God why me. What did I do to deserve all this hurt? My mom dying, broke me. I was numb. The thought of me dying was easier than the thought of figuring out how to live.
There is nothing more we can do! Go enjoy and live your life!
As my treatments came to an end, and all the scans were done and all as I needed was my oncologist to give me the okay to go back to work. As much as I questioned my job, and the worry of what the stress would do to me, I just wanted to go back to what I knew. I had no drive to change, to do anything. I was broken, I was numb. The same oncologist who was so rude to me the first time I met her, truly saved my life. I waited in the small room, with my papers for her to sign, with no emotion. I had no more tears, no emotions, no feelings, just numb. She came into the room, sat on her chair, and came right up to me and asked me how I was doing. It was one of those looks like, don’t lie to me, and tell me you are fine. It was one of those how are you really doing kind of looks? I just wanted my results and her to sign my back to work papers for insurance. It was clear I was not getting out of that room until we chatted. She asked me what my plans were for back to work, how are the boys, how is everyone doing with the loss of my mom and so many more questions I didn’t want to answer. I told her that my plan was to jump right into to work, that I want to feel some sense of normalcy. She then started talking about the results. After all the chemo, surgeries, and radiation there was still two nodules on my lungs and that there was still cancer in my lymph nodes, but the doctors believe with the removal of the 32 lymph nodes on my right side that they got it all. I sat there with no emotion, as she explained to me my odds of survival. She then went on to say that with everything I have been through this past year, all the loss, she is not approving me to go back to work. At this point I don’t remember if I said this out loud or in my head. It was something along the lines of “Who the F@#k do you think you are?”. She could tell I was mad, and that I needed to understand her reasoning. She explained with environmental cancers how much we can control but also how much we can’t. That my job was just not any job, it was a job with a lot of responsibility and stress. She told me that I should think of maybe taking a lower position, going part-time, or take the time to find an entirely new career. After a long discussion, it was left that I needed more time off to heal emotionally and physically and in 3 months I can return to work, but at a level that did not have as much responsibility and stress. I walked out of the Cross Cancer that day and I left with so much anger. I remember thinking that this doctor made my life miserable from the beginning and who does she think she is telling me what I should do with my career! I was no longer numb, I was mad. What was I going to do for the next 3 months? If only I could have seen at this moment what my life would look like in 10 years. If I would have only known, her decision changed the direction of my life, and that she saved my life.
It took many therapy sessions, many discussions before I could release the anger, I felt following that appointment. As I was coming to terms, things were still so uncertain for Mary. So many different treatments, blood transfusions, until Dr. Joy got her on a trial. Dr. Joy was our medical oncologist, not the radiation oncologist I mention above. One of my first appointments with Dr. Joy I cried uncontrollably with him about Mary. Dr. Joy is the best in his field. He told me to tell Mary to get on a trial if she can. He said that if anyone I ever know going through cancer is offered a trial, to take it. I couldn’t wait to get out of that room and call Mary. Before we knew it, we were both in the hands of one of the top breast cancer medical oncologist. He knew when we both would show up at each other’s appointments, there was not chance he was winning any discussion. He would know when we needed him to be stern, and to tell us not to listen to the odds, but to also be gentle when we just needed to hear we will be ok. Whether that was true or not, didn’t matter. He taught both of us early on how important your mindset is on a cancer journey.
TIP: When a treatment is offered as a trial, it is an opportunity to receive the newest treatment and to have the additional care and attention from the clinical trial staff. My personal tip is to research and find a trial, even if a different country. There are many trials your doctor may not even know about. Be the CEO of your health.
These three months were the beginning of our new life and transformation that we feel incredibly grateful for today. At the time, and even the next couple of years, we had no idea what was ahead for us. We no longer planned; we didn’t know if tomorrow was going to be the day we would hear “I am full of cancer”! We were just so grateful for each day. Grateful for each Christmas, each birthday. I was starting to become open to alternative treatments. I could not let go of the fact that almost 90% of hormone-based cancers are due to our life choices of what we eat, what we use in our homes, the food we eat, what we put on our body. I knew that if I truly wanted a fighting chance, we needed to change everything. As I was starting to let go of my anger, and fill my mind with knowledge, the path that I needed to go down started to be so clear. I had a husband by my side that fully supported any change I wanted to make. Little did he know the degree of change that was coming.
Trusting my intuition to go learn from other countries how to fight cancer.
My thirst for knowledge on how we reduce the chemicals we are exposed to become my new passion. As Mary and I learned the diet changes we needed to make, it became clear I couldn’t learn this by just reading books. My thirst for knowledge kept leading me to Dr. Kate Reardon, that practiced in Indonesia and Australia. At this time, I was started to learn how the universe will bring to you what is meant to be, but you need to be open to seeing it. I knew that Dr. Kate Reardon, of Natural Instinct Healing, coming up on all my searches was no algorhythm, it was the universe trying to tell me something. After several discussions, an application process (as they don’t take just anyone) and the love and support of my family, friends, and co-workers I booked my flight to Bali, Indonesia! The healing centre that gave me my wings back to fly and soar to live the life that was meant for me, not the one I planned, but the one that was meant for me. I had no idea what a detox or cleanse was, and why in the world anyone would want to fast, but I knew my mind, body and soul needed to release the chemicals from my chemo treatments, and the fear I was still hanging onto in my heart.
A few months later, there I am at the airport about to travel halfway across the world, and all I could think of was that I am leaving my world, my husband and four boys! It was my boys (including my husband) that pushed me to go. My husband said “I know you are in there, go find her, and bring her home. We miss her!”. With that, I went through security, and I was on my way. Landing in Vancouver for a brief stop, I was wanting to return home. I thought I do not have the strength to do this! There I am in the middle of the night, sitting in the Vancouver Airport, crying uncontrollably! I then opened a beautiful gift from some amazing people that I work with, that well always have a special place in my heart.
You see, they gave me a beautiful pink box, and when I opened it, there was a letter for each day of my journey! I thought I was crying before, now there is a pool of tears around me! With that encouragement of my first letter, I was on my way! No turning back now! Basically, the first letter said “We know you are probably crying in the middle of the airport. Put on your big girl panties, dig deep and find the strength to go”. So that is what I did! I have kept these letters and still read them occasionally. I don’t think the amazing people who put these letters together release what it meant to me.
When I arrived in Bali, I was so very nervous until I got to my resort. Becky my host came and greeted me with the most beautiful smile, and with open arms said, “Welcome Beautiful”. This was the first moment I knew I was going to be okay! At this point, the healing, fasting, juicing began! I soon met my Detox retreat members and instantly felt connected. We were all there for different reasons, but God brought us together at this very point in time to help each one of us heal! These people will always hold a special place in my heart!
As I soon learned about the program which included dry brushing, detox herbs, wonderful juices, massages, contrast baths, educational classes and so many other things, I knew this was exactly what I needed! One of the first things we did was see an Ancient Balinese Healer. He was so amazing! After he examined me, and pushed on pressure points, he said there is nothing wrong with you. “You are Healthy!” He then paused and said, “Your only problem is you doubt! Don’t doubt no more! You live and go forward! No doubt!”. I never said a word to the man! He just saw my fragile soul and told me what I needed to hear!
I truly believed at this point I am going to be OK! I am healthy but I still had this weight hanging around. In a few days we visited the High Priestess, and she performed a Purification Ceremony. When she first started pouring the water on me, I couldn’t breathe. She then began to yell at me, “Let it go, stomp your feet, let it out. It is no good for you. Let it out”. At this point I could not control the emotions that came out of me. Crying with such emotion, and truly releasing everything, I was finally able to breathe no matter how much water she poured as she chanted. She smiled at me and stopped pouring the water! Our eyes met and I knew I found what I was looking for. I felt PURE again! I released the anger that for so long held me down.
Every 2nd day we would go to a beautiful spa and spend a couple of hours going between sauna, steam rooms, whirlpools, and cold plunge pools. It was so exhilarating! Many good conversations took place! Becky, Kate and Pat (our hosts) were amazing! Becky and Kate lead us through some amazing meditations. One in particular I will never forget! You see in the time of grief, you gain new friendships and family, but also lose some that meant a lot to you. When you lose these relationships, you need to grieve their loss. In this one meditation I put all my hurt and anger into a “Red Ball” and let it go! I let it all float away in that “Red Ball” with these magical words, “I love you, I honor you, but I let you go”. It was in this same meditation I realized I will never find what I had been looking for the last few years.
With dealing with an ill mother for so many years, and then losing both my Mom and Grandma in a short period of time, I so desperately wanted a mother figure in my life! You see I am surrounded by strong males. I have a wonderful father, three strong brothers, a great husband and four great boys! I love them all, but none of them can take the place of a mother’s love which I so desperately needed to feel. Going through my cancer journey, I needed nothing more than my mom to put her arms around me and tell me that it is going to be okay, but with her illness she couldn’t do this. She needed me to be strong for her. I also put these feelings in that “Red Ball” and let it go. That night, I cried over the loss of my Mom, Grandma, and lost relationships but this time I truly let them go, and realized I would be okay!
We had many enjoyable Yoga sessions, and massages throughout the 10 day transformation. I spent a lot of time in my beautiful bedroom reflecting and absorbing each moment of my experience. I looked forward to every morning opening a beautiful letter from co-workers! Each day seemed to magically fit with what I needed to hear! The educational sessions that Becky held were amazing! She helped me realize the health changes I needed to make for my family and I. She even helped me figure out lunch ideas for my boys! She took us on beautiful rice patty walks and comforted us whenever we needed it!
One of the last lessons I learned In Bali was from Made, our driver. Made, drove us everywhere during our stay and made sure we were taken care of. On the drive to the airport, I realized Made was one of the most amazing men I had ever met. His smile could light up a room. When I listened to his story about everything he is doing for his village, so that his family and extended family can have a better life, it re-affirmed my belief that it truly does take a village to raise a family. It made me really question how we were raising our boys and the priorities that needed to change to keep them grounded! That our true purpose in life is bigger than most of us realize! This is when PURE | lifebalance was born! I knew my purpose was greater than I ever imagined, and I had to share my story and knowledge to empower people to make better health choices.
As my transformation came to an end, I truly felt ready to go home! I felt light, free, and happy! I felt the old me coming out, but I knew my soul was different! It was better than ever! I felt strong and PURE! But most importantly, I knew I had my wings back! I was ready to SOAR!
When I landed back home and saw my beautiful family waiting for me, it was magical! I felt the love like I never felt before. My guard was down, and my wings were open. I was allowing myself to feel that pure love! After spending several moments in my husband’s arms, he grabbed my face and looked into my eyes and said, “Welcome Back!”. In this very moment, my new life began with a much greater appreciation for how blessed I am! I was ready to make big decisions to help our family live a more authentic life, knowing what really matters, and how we need to show up and serve the world.
To show other families how to reduce their toxins, how to properly detox and cleanse, how to eat to prevent disease. I had this overwhelming feeling that I needed to take what I learned, the tools I learned and deliver it in a way that made sense. I knew I could take my business background and my newfound knowledge for natural solutions and deliver it in a way that made sense. I knew that my medical doctors served a time and place for decisions for my health, but now I knew that natural medicine also deserved a place. That the two of these need to work together for optimal results.
Breast reconstruction journey
Breast cancer reconstruction is such a personal choice. There are so many emotional blocks you need to work through, that no one can prepare you for. Breast reconstruction is a journey.
Here is a listing of the main surgeries I had, and I still need more!
- Double mastectomy, with reconstruction using latissimus dorsi myocutaneous flaps and tissue expanders.
- Removal of bilateral tissue expanders using Alloderm graft to pockets with nipple reconstruction.
- Breast augmentation using fat grafting.
- Breast augmentation using fat grafting again as the radiation was causing havoc on my right breast.
- Removal of textured implants and did an SGAP procedure as I did not want any implants in my body. The doctor’s suspected ALCL. A form of blood cancer that is caused from implants.
- Repair some issues from the SGAP.
When people joke about how with Breast Cancer, at least you get a boob job! There is no comparison. Having a mastectomy with re-construction is not even close to a boob job. This should be added to the dumb things people say to you when you have cancer.
I wasn’t sure how to share this journey, as there is so much involved. I thought what I would do is share some key points, or decisions, that lead me down this path. People ask me would I change any of my decisions, the only one I would change is possibly the SGAP reconstruction.
Here are things to think about and consider if you are told you need to get a lumpectomy or a mastectomy.
- Unless your lump is the size of a small pea, don’t just get a lumpectomy. Advocate for a double mastectomy. Yes, doctors will say why take healthy tissue and will try and convince you to get a single mastectomy. Why would any woman want to worry about trying to get a surgeon who can reconstruct one breast that has all breast tissue removed, with another one with breast tissue. It just doesn’t make sense to me. At the time when I researched chance of re-occurrence and chance of a 2nd Breast Cancer, I wanted to do everything possible to lower that %. Also, why would I want to keep my boobs when they tried to kill me.
- It is possible to get reconstructed at the same time as your double mastectomy, even if you need radiation. If you decided to do this and need radiation, make sure you find a surgeon that specializes in breast reconstruction. Also ask if they will be using Alloderm with your reconstruction. This is very important to protect your reconstruction from damage from radiation.
- If you had radiation, and reconstructed, ask your surgeon for as many fat graphs as possible. Putting fat in a radiated breast, helps soften the damage of radiation.
- If you decide to have a delayed reconstruction, still ask for a surgeon who has experience doing a double mastectomy, knowing you want reconstruction later. A double mastectomy used to have to be done by a plastic surgeon. They decided to give general surgeons a weekend course, and now most double mastectomies are done by a general surgeon, which leaves many women with not enough skin to do a reconstruction. If your mastectomy is botched by the general surgeon, it is almost impossible to have it corrected.
- If your plastic surgeon wants to use textured implants RUN!!!!!! BIA-ALCL is a type of lymphoma that can develop around breast implants. BIA-ALCL occurs most frequently in patients who have breast implants with textured surfaces. This is a cancer of the immune system, not a type of breast cancer.
- If you decide you want to use implants as part of your reconstruction, please do your research on Breast Implant Illness. Approximately 6 years after my implants were put in, I got them removed. I developed intense body pain, problems with my vision, headaches, and other symptoms. You can be reconst5ructed naturally as there are now many options. You don’t need implants for reconstruction.
- Talk to your plastic surgeon about how he will reconstruct your nipples. Ask for 3D nipples if you can. With a good tattoo artist and great 3D nipples, no one will ever know they are not real.
Breast reconstruction is not a destination, it is an ever-changing journey. This was hard for me to accept. I thought after my reconstruction, I would look like I got a boob job, and life would be great. No! If you choose to be reconstructed, just know you will need many surgeries in your journey. Be grateful that you are alive and able to make these choices. There are many women who are diagnosed to late, and don’t get a chance to live long enough to make these choices.
At the end of the day, the choices you make for your surgery are your choices. Don’t compare yourself to what other women are doing. You need to be the CEO of your health! After you have done all your research, on all your options, understand the pro’s and con’s, and evaluate the risk, sit with your decision. You need to make so many decisions, so fast, while you are dealing with being diagnosed. Therefore, you need to listen to what your heart and your intuition are telling you. Our minds are great to understand the numbers, the risk, and to make decisions based on numbers. It is in our heart and intuition where we can be guided to make the right decision. Don’t make the decision until you are 100% sure. Don’t feel pressured into deciding. Talk to as many doctors as you need to. Every decision about your surgery has consequences you need to fully understand. When you make your decision though, make your decision, and stop thinking about it. When you doubt your decision, you feel worried and scared. Those emotions serve no purpose to you when you are fighting for your life! Make the decision and don’t look back!
What is next for my breast cancer journey?
I really don’t know what is in my future. I still have so many unknowns. When I talk to Dr.Joy he clearly tells me that there is no right or wrong answer. The issue is there are not many women like my case as many have not survived over 10 years. I look ahead at my life and control the things I can, and let go of the things I can’t.
These are the things I can control.
- What I put in, on and around my body.
- The stress in my life.
- Moving my body.
- Eating a diet that keeps the body free of disease.
- Get regular massages.
- Have an amazing morning routine to ensure each day is full of gratitude.
- Spend time with the people who want to be in my life, not the ones who I think should be in my life.
- Get a yearly PET Scan.
- Deal with health issues as they come up.
- Getting Aromatouch treatments.
- Continue to build a business that brings me joy and love.
- Be an inspiration to as many as I can.
- Educate and help anyone who needs support and guidance as to how to navigate their cancer journey.
Things I can’t control.
You are probably thinking, seriously, there is a lot more you can’t control. There really isn’t. Let me explain. Everything that happens to you in life, you have the power to choose how to think and feel about it. Your mind does not know the difference between fiction and reality. Our thoughts, determine our emotions. Negative emotions create stress and worry that is extremely bad for our bodies.
Negative emotions can be described as any feeling which causes you to be miserable and sad. These emotions make you dislike yourself and others, and reduce your confidence and self-esteem, and general life satisfaction. The most important thing to know is, that negative emotions are scientifically proven to be connected to so many diseases. If your Breast Cancer is environmental; we know stress played a powerful role in creating that cancer. If this is the case, why would anyone think a thought that would contribute to the growth of their cancer!
We know our thoughts, create the emotions in our body. It is so important, if you are going through cancer, that you kick any negative emotions to the curb! Whether you have a tumour in your body the size of a football, or your doctor just told you to get your affairs in order, you choose to not believe a word they said, and to believe you are cancer free! You believe you are going to live a long, amazing life! You believe whatever you need to believe, to ensure there is not stress and worry in your body!
Is this easy! Hell no!!! But is it critical to your survival? ABSOLUTLY! If you have not read the book by Louise Hay, “You can heal your life”, stop what you are doing and go order it. Get the book and workbook if you can. You have the power within you! You can heal your life!
Therefore, I carefully choose my thoughts, just like I choose what I eat or drink.
So, when I ask myself the question, what is next in my cancer journey? I really don’t know! What I do know is that no matter what it is, I am going to be completely ok. My body is full of love, happiness, joy and peace. There is no room for anything else. I choose to be love each day, because I have the choice and so do you!
Breast Cancer – Things to Ask
When I started coaching individuals and helping them be their own advocate, I created a document that captures all the questions you need to ask. The moment you find your lump to the journey of chemo, sometimes you need to make major decisions with not all the information. I hope this document help you to ask the right questions, and to ensure you have all the information you need to make future decisions.
If anyone has any recommendations on what could be added to this document, I would love to know. Email email@example.com. In addition, if you are interested in joining myself and few others to create a community for when women are diagnosed, we can help support them with the overload of information, and potentially make change where change is needed.
Together we can empower women to take control of their diagnosis and help make the information gathering a little bit easier.
If you’d like access to the PDF, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send it to you!