15KM for my 15th Cancerversary
15 years ago in October 2005, I was diagnosed with Stage II triple-negative breast cancer. Fast forward to today, I am training for the HER Running Series 15km run. With COVID-19, the run (along with everything else) is ‘virtual’ but I’m still planning on completing it on September 18th and wanted to mark the 15 years with a few thoughts along the way.
The first 5KM – a breast cancer diagnosis at 36
Even with what I knew of my history (both my mom and her sister had passed away from it) I still felt I was ‘too young’ to get it. That first year seems like a blur now. A whirlwind of appointments, bilateral mastectomy surgery, chemotherapy, and trying to be present for my children Evelyn and Aidan, who were 4 and 2-years-old at the time.
I found out that I had the BRCA genetic mutation, which wasn’t too surprising given my family history. So, there were some decisions to make, which, as I had two beautiful children, were easier for me than most. I scheduled a complete hysterectomy with oopherectomy as there is a much higher risk of ovarian cancer as well as breast cancer. And I was thankful for my double mastectomy decision made earlier.
Then, I started the reconstruction process… the original Diep surgery (covered by OHIP) was not a success, so I ended up back in the hospital taking out the right side and getting pumped full of antibiotics to fight an infection. Unfortunately, that was the start of many revision surgeries involving expanders and implants. I finally took a break from the process about seven years ago and haven’t gotten back to it. There’s always next year 😉
During this time, I discovered Rethink Breast Cancer. I was one of the participants in the first Support Saturday group, specifically for young moms newly diagnosed with breast cancer. There I had found a group of women who totally understood what I was going through. Rethink has changed how it delivers its message throughout the years to keep up with the times but its commitment to supporting, educating and advocating for young women has not wavered. It is a special organization to be part of—then and now.
Running uphill – life can throw other s*** at you
I had another huge shock in 2009 when my youngest brother was killed in a motorcycle accident while he was working in Bermuda. It felt like our family was just starting to heal from my mom passing away in 2004 and then my diagnosis a year later, so James’s accident just about crushed us. He was such a great guy. He was super smart, fun and generous to a fault. He is missed by everyone.
The cruelty and randomness of cancer was brought home to me again in 2014 when my fabulous neighbour Dea was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that May and passed away the following November. The speed that this awful disease moved through her and the tough treatments that she underwent were a brutal reminder of how horrible cancer really is.
Just passed halfway – 7.5KM or that 8 year marker
Triple negative breast cancer means that your tumour is not hormone receptive. So, hormone blockers such as tamoxifen and other ongoing treatments are not an option. You really have to throw all the chemo and surgery you can at it and the risk of recurrence within the first 2-3 years is very high. On the flip side once you get past that 8 years post-diagnosis you can begin to relax, try to put that fear behind you and enjoy all that life is.
Running downhill – what makes life easier
Family! My husband, Mike and Evelyn and Aidan… they’re just the best. Watching Evelyn and Aidan as they become adults and find their way in life is truly a joy. My siblings and our shared history (they know me better than anyone), is something special and of course, my parents who gave me a great childhood. This even includes my extended family, especially those here in Canada, Jimmy and Margaret who are like grandparents to my kids and Nick and Steph who are like an uncle and aunt.
I have come to value and appreciate my friends more and more each year. From Bon Jovi concerts to pickling to bookclub and everything in between, I can always find some partners in crime for the best time. This includes the neighbours on my little street—our street parties, pub crawls and most recently socially distancing drinks—are so much fun.
The home straight – highlights and what’s next
Mike and I celebrated 25 years of marriage in 2016! That was the one year we managed to swing Evelyn and Aidan being at camp at the same time, so we grabbed our chance and went to the Dominican Republic for a kid-free break.
October 2018 also marked my 50th birthday. It’s an age a lot of people struggle with but to me, each birthday still seems like an achievement and this was certainly no exception. I decided to throw a little party to thank family and friends who had been there for me and supported me throughout the years.
I know I’ll have to deal with the reconstruction problems eventually. I had pushed myself to finally make an appointment with my plastic surgeon, which was scheduled for March 20th and it was cancelled because of COVID. I’ll admit I wasn’t too upset.
It’s impossible to think of what’s next without talking about COVID. Our world has changed so dramatically from six months ago. We’ve had to change how we socialize, work, play, exercise and for anyone currently in treatment or needing surgery, it has been an even more stressful and challenging time. Our kids have had the longest March break ever and are now going back to school dealing with a lot of uncertainty.
For my family, being together unexpectedly this summer was a COVID blessing that included a lovely week in Muskoka. We all ramped up our exercising and pushed each other to improve and celebrate our personal achievements. This encouragement helped me decide to train for the HER 15k. Having this goal helped me get through the past few COVID months and I hope the weather cooperates so we can be outside for as much as possible this fall.
For the future I want to make sure my loved ones are OK and so I’m hoping for a vaccination or cure soon. With everything it’s hard to plan much more than three months at a time so let’s be kind and considerate to one another and keep on keeping on, or to paraphrase Dory ‘just keep running’. – Maura Young