A Tall Price To Pay — A Wildfire Story

I’m not sure if other people are like me, but I like to count how much something costs in terms of how many hours it took me to earn that amount of money. This shirt cost me two hours of work. This lunch cost me three-quarters of an hour of work. It’s a fun little way to justify purchases and also work on those simple math skills. This game changes significantly for me when it comes to calculating the cost of cancer.

Today, I have had Metastatic Breast Cancer for 853 days. I wish that I could easily calculate how many hours I have lost waiting in waiting rooms, waiting in hospital beds, waiting in scan rooms, and waiting in chemo chairs. I don’t even want to think about all the time I have spent in the bathroom, or sleeping off the drugs running through my veins, or Googling everything from my prognosis to new treatments and side effects in the middle of the night.

But there is one item that I didn’t even think was a possible cost. The one thing that I could never imagine as being the price I pay for this diagnosis: my height. Since my cancer spread from my breast to my spine and caused significant compression fractures in seven vertebrae, I have lost a total of four inches or 10 cm (for the Canadian friends) off my height. Now, it may seem like an odd thing to even count as a cost, but that is a significant amount of height to me. I think it would be significant to anyone! I used to be 5’6” (a respectable average height) and now I am a tiny 5’2”. Shock! No shade to anyone that is short but imagine my disappointment when I finally realized the reason why the world looked different to me when I could finally take a good look around. A truly revealing moment.

You may ask yourself, what could possibly change for a person that is now short? The shelf I previously decided to put my coffee mugs on, is way too high to reach. The fence that I could look over before, is now an obstructed view. My closet that was perfectly set up to easily get dressed is now another source of daily frustration because I can’t reach my shirts. Also, my friends are now all looming giants. Those four inches are enough to impact so many things. Suddenly I am fitting differently in the world. Even something as trivial as a hug is affected. The embrace from a loved one is different. My husband and I used to be close in height, and now I am the much shorter spouse.

I am constantly dealing with many different side effects of the cancer and treatments, but everytime I grab that step ladder or stool, it is a constant reminder of the price I paid. And if you think a simple suggestion is to just wear higher heels, there is the fear of falling and breaking further weak bones. I hope the cancer can put those four inches to good use but I really miss them.

Margaret Loniewska • MBC patient board member at Rethink Breast Cancer. Diagnosed at 40. IDC, Stage IV, Triple Positive. A genetic test showed a mutation in the CHEK2 gene but it is currently of “no known significance.” Margaret was diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) while pregnant with her only child in October 2019. Margaret was born in Poland and grew up in Northern Ontario, Canada. Margaret completed her doctorate degree in pharmaceutical sciences and was working on a certificate in pharmaceutical regulatory affairs at the time of her diagnosis. She joined the Rethink Breast Cancer MBC Patient Advisory Board in 2020 to help advocate for MBC patients, including more MBC research, access to treatment for MBC patients and to ensure MBC continues to be an important part of the breast cancer conversation. Rethink runs the MBC Ally program to give a voice to MBC patients and those that support them. They are always looking for more allies to raise MBC issues. Margaret currently lives in Toronto, Canada with her supportive husband, 2-year-old daughter, and rescue dog, Lucky. @mbc_in_toronto

This piece has been republished with permission from WILDFIRE Magazine, the “Canada’s Young Survivors” issue, published originally April 16, 2022. More information available at  wildfirecommunity.org    

WILDFIRE Magazine is the only magazine for young women survivors and fighters of breast cancer under 45 years old. Headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, WILDFIRE is a beautiful, story-based bi-monthly magazine published on different themes relevant to young women survivors, from stage 0 to stage IV. Beautiful and ad-free! Visit  wildfirecommunity.org for more info.

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