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The Best Tips for Working from Home

Working from home is the dream for many office workers, but it isn’t always what it seems. Working from that home office brings a variety of new challenges with it. Overcoming these challenges is important to maintain the new at home status. Follow these tips from people successful at working from home to make sure you never see the inside of a permanent office again.

Continue the Commute

This seems silly, but consider what happened during that morning commute. You were able to think about your day and spend some time inside your own head. Taking away this part of the day might actually be harmful. Take some time before and after work to switch from home life to work. Go for a walk and think about your tasks for the day, then go back outside at the end of the day to unwind. This transition period is essential in separating work from home and vice versa.

Get That Office

The images of people working poolside from home just aren’t realistic. You need a dedicated office area for your work. This will tell your brain that it’s time to work and allow your psyche to switch to work mode. This is part of switching from home to work; stepping into that dedicated space is symbolic of stepping into work.

Maintain Your Relationships

If you start working for days without seeing another human being, make sure you change that. You need to maintain friendships and other relationships to balance yourself. No one survives on work alone. Make sure to get out at least once a week with some friends or other social group, such as a book club or local church. This also includes work-based relationships whether it’s networking, sub-contractors, or those who hire you. By keeping in touch and building these relationships, you will gain new and diverse work opportunities.

Manage Distractions

One of the biggest surprises for first-time stay at home workers is the number of distractions. Remember that you are still in your home, and you might think it’s only a minute spent changing the laundry or washing the dishes. Avoid this temptation. Reduce other distractions by sending the kids to a sitter, taking care of pets outside work hours, and ignoring the doorbell if it rings. This will help you maintain your productivity.

Maintain Strict Hours

The bane of working from home are the people who think you are now free to do whatever you want during the day. Make it clear that you still have work hours, and you are not free during these hours. Be strict. Do not answer personal calls during this time, and do not answer the door. This will help people learn that you will be devoted to work. If a person would not walk into an office downtown, then he or she must be expected to not walk into your home office.


Lucy Wyndham spent over a decade in finance as an advisor, but on starting a family, she decided to take a step back and pursue her love of writing and sharing ideas.

The Stretch Heal Grow retreat was exactly what I needed during a time of so much uncertainty in my life.

I started articling at a law firm exactly one month after I had finished treatment in July 2016. I was so focused on moving forward after my ten months of treatment, that all I wanted to do was start working again. It was challenging but every week I was building up more stamina. The day after I finished articling, in May 2017, I was required to have major surgery to fix my reconstruction. I felt like I had taken a huge step back in my healing because I was unemployed and sick again.

Fast forward a few months and it was time for Stretch Heal Grow. My retreat started with a three-hour car ride to Muskoka from Toronto carpooling with three other women. The car ride flew by with continuous discussions about all our similar experiences. We already felt comfortable with each other after only a few hours.

The retreat was filled with everything I needed to heal physically and emotionally – healthy food, beautiful landscape, yoga, meditation and sharing with other women who just “get it”.

The mornings began with yoga led by Leo. She was so knowledgeable and knew exactly what stretches were best for us, taking into account the trauma we experienced and the ongoing side effects, especially what would help with lymphedema. The perfect way to start each day.

After yoga we had meditation led by Jil. Throughout the last couple of years, I have tried to meditate but I find it so hard. I wanted to experience the entire retreat though, so I went to her sessions with an open mind. I left feeling rejuvenated and more connected to the other women. Jil was a great facilitator who explained that meditation is not just about having a clear mind, but rather, acknowledging your thoughts and feelings. Once I understood that, it became so much easier for me to enjoy. I still use the techniques Jil taught us in my everyday life.

The retreat occurred at a time when I needed it the most – a year post active treatment and yet still dealing with the emotional after-effects. A cancer diagnosis, and the repercussions of that, don’t just end when treatment ends – I will forever be impacted. The women at the retreat understood this, creating a comforting and supportive community that will hopefully last a lifetime. I am so grateful to have been a part of something so meaningful. I left with a full heart.

Emily Piercell

Want to learn more? Click here for more information about Stretch Heal Grow and to sign up for emails about our next retreat.

Catherine, 31

Living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) makes me mad, and soon it could make me gone. I want to be with my husband till both our bums are wrinkled. I want to live despite the cancer. I want to be free of it.

In the time I’ve been MBC, I have pushed. I’ve taken my dream job, published my novel and travelled to Europe for a summer or two — but can we ever get enough of life?

Whenever I’m told a treatment is no longer working, it’s crushing. It’s like my hope in something keeps getting kicked away from under me. What really gets me, though, is that sometimes I can feel it working. Maybe my breathing improves or something. But then they see spots in my liver and that means treatment is over because it spread. This is such a big guessing game, and I hate that.

Progression to the brain was the hardest news to take. When another treatment fails, I cry like an idiot and get depressed for a few days. Then I move on.

I’m now in palliative care, and it’s like I’ve become a wilting flower. Apparently, there are no more treatments, no more possibilities. The helplessness makes me mad. I want, quite simply to keep on living.

They say 2020 is the year to beat cancer, but I wish it was now. That’s just really, really far away. Still, I like to imagine I am at that New Year’s Eve party nevertheless. My dress would be all sparkles.

Catherine passed away 10 days after writing this post. She was fearless and passionate about sharing her story so that others could understand the desperation of people living with metastatic breast cancer. 

Take action. Sign our petition to ensure that the voices and values of women with MBC are represented when decisions about their health and care are made. 



If you had asked me last year about my self-care routine, I would have responded with a blank stare. The concept was too indulgent, too ubiquitous, too hippie-dippy-hipster-y for my strong-willed, feminist identity to handle. I had shit to do, thank you very much.

But you know what came next.

Breast cancer is like a bomb that goes off on your life, effectively destroying everything in its wake. Once detonated, it has the ability to take not just your boobs, but your hair, your ovaries (or any hope of reproduction), your estrogen (because cancer just loooooves that lady juice), your finances, your family life, your energy, your libido (buh-bye sex and self-lubrication!), and ultimately, your self-esteem and self-worth.

After fighting like hell for your health, all that’s left are the scars, the hot flashes, perhaps the ongoing physical pain plus a few extra pounds—and a constant reign of terror that the cancer will return.

Which isn’t to say that friends and family aren’t of any help. They are. More than I can ever adequately express, except to say that when my life fell apart, they wouldn’t let me fall apart with it.

But they also couldn’t protect me from the cancer. I had my #squad, but I alone had to suffer and survive it. It was only then that I gave myself permission to care for my own welfare and put my emotional and physical needs first. The one thing we women always, always neglect is ourselves.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]But it’s just a fact: you cannot save your life if you’re not taking care of yourself. [/perfectpullquote]

So began the uncomfortable work of self-discovery, constructing a separate self and replacing my old, super judgy, internal monologue with a new and more empathic message. Sure, I engaged with the traditional notions of self-care that for better or worse, can come off as pretentious luxury items that reek of privilege.

These included but were not limited to:

  • Bath bombs and rose-scented Diptyque candles;
  • Regular appointments with my acupuncturist, chiropractor, naturopath and therapist;
  • Decorating and Marie Kondo-ing the crap out of my spaces;
  • Netflix binging with my fair share of rosé and Chardonnay;
  • Beauty rituals like face masks, makeup, haircuts and blow outs, plus the purchase of fabulous new shoes;
  • The occasional yoga, pilates, barre and Soul Cycle sesh;
  • Sweet Jesus ice cream and Uncle Tetsu’s matcha madeleines (muchos gracias and arigato!).
  • Crystals (b/c it’s all about the ‘gram).

But crucially, self-care doesn’t require excess money and resources. For me, that’s manifested in things like meditation, journaling, walks through the woods to and from radiation treatments, listening to my body when it sends me distress signals, and choosing naps or swims in the ocean over stressors like dealing with my divorce (also, coincidentally, not a recipe for a healthy psyche).

But what finally made me understand my needs as a human being was well, an animal. I had been a volunteer foster parent at the Toronto Humane Society for years before the diagnosis, taking in and helping countless dogs find their forever homes. I’m not really sure why I stopped, but then I read a story by Elizabeth Gilbert recalling a woman who was stressed out and broken and desperately seeking advice on how exactly self-care works in action:

“Pretend you’ve just adopted a dog from a kill shelter. You don’t know anything about this animal’s history—and you don’t need to know. You can see she’s been abused, and she’s afraid of being abandoned or hurt again. Now imagine this: It’s your first night home alone with that dog, and she’s trembling in fear. How would you treat her? Would you scream at her and tell her she’s an idiot? Would you kick her? Would you lock her in a dark room all alone? Would you starve her or let her binge-eat a bunch of garbage? Would you let her stay in an environment where other dogs attack her every day?

You would offer her a warm and safe bed, right? Healthy food. A cozy environment. Walks in the sunshine. Fresh air and clean water. Careful socialization with other animals—nice ones that don’t bite. Naps. Tenderness. Affection. Playtime. And lots of patience. You need to stop thinking of yourself as a human being and start treating yourself like the traumatized little animal you are.” 

Now, I’m not suggesting that you go out and adopt a pet, or even foster one. But the dumpster fire that is breast cancer demands so much of us that too often, we end up neglecting, what poet Mary Oliver referred to as, ‘the soft animal of your body.’ I have learned so much about myself along this journey, including that within each of us, there lives a frightened, defenseless creature in need of a little tenderness. And when I forget, I will turn to my newest foster dog to teach me how to take care for her, and she’ll in turn continue to show me how to care for myself. Fiercely. 

Self-care is important for everyone, whether you are facing breast cancer or not. One of the ways us Rethinkers like to practice self-care is with a warm cup of tea during or after a long busy day, especially if it’s our favourite brand Tea Pigs. For more self-care and retail therapy options, check out some of Rethink’s amazing partners.

I was sorry to hear that Olivia Newton John, whom I’ve always loved (and even met at the opening of a clothing store she used to own called Koala Blue… I made my parents take me specifically so I could meet her!), has had a recurrence of the breast cancer she had 25 years ago, with bone mets.

I’m sharing this article because it’s informative and thought-provoking. It’s come up several times for me that I don’t really have a “five-year date” and although I seem to be “cancer-free”, I’ve never heard those words.

Sometimes I feel like people think I’m being negative, or dramatic when I say that. I’m not, I’m just being honest.

I certainly try to stay positive, live my life the best I can (and fully intend for it to get better and better). Undoubtedly, the further I get from cancer and treatment the easier that will be to do physically and emotionally… However, I’m well aware that the kind of cancer I had can come back, and can come back anytime and anywhere. This article explains that better than I ever could!

Sometimes it’s a bit hard to live with, this idea that my cancer could come back. I’ve never really felt convinced that it’s not going to come back. As a young cancer survivor, I expect that I have a lot of years of life left, but I’ve never really believed I’m going to get to the end of them cancer free. I’m learning how to cope with that fear though. I remind myself that I’m healthy now, and I owe it to myself and my family to enjoy my life as much as I can.

Nobody ever knows what’s around the corner anyway. That is no more true for me than anybody else. But my experience has made me more aware of it.

I really try to do my best to have a good life, and be a good person, with every day. I remind myself how much cancer research is changing all the time. Even the treatments I’ve had now are not the treatments I would’ve had if I’d been diagnosed 5 years ago. That means that with a risk of recurrence there is more hope for longer survival times.  If the cancer does come back, especially a few (or many) years down the line, there will probably be more and more treatment options and better and better prognoses.

A lot of people complain about all the money that is put towards breast-cancer; that there are so many other kinds of cancer and other illnesses. I don’t deny that. It’s why I will not be doing the run for the cure again this year. I felt very uncomfortable doing something that raises funds for only one kind of cancer when there are so many out there. And I do continue to fundraise and support a lot of other causes even after having breast cancer myself! However, breast cancer does remain the most common cancer among Canadian women and the 2nd leading cause of death from cancer in Canadian women. Breast cancer, especially metastatic cancer, still needs MORE.

Even though reading about Newton John’s recurrence was a bit scary for me, I reminded myself that she’s had 25 YEARS without cancer.

That’s a long time!

If I get that long then that will be a good thing; it means I will get to see my children grow up and possibly get married and have children, and that I will finish my career and retire, before I have to deal with cancer again. Still, I’m hoping to soon hear that Olivia Newton John is stable and back to performing!

And, with that, I feel compelled to emphasize: Ladies (and men) please be aware of your bodies! Go to the doctor if you notice any concerning changes, and try to live a healthy lifestyle that minimizes risk! It’s not fool-proof, but – for now – it’s the best we can do.


– Jill

I was in remission for four years after my stage 2 diagnosis and then, nine days before our wedding, I found out the cancer was back and it was metastatic.

I was lucky enough to get signed up for a clinical trial that has kept me stable for the last 21 months. The clinical trial starves my cancer of estrogen of which my particular breast cancer ‘feeds’ off. The active drug has just been approved by the FDA in the States as a first line of defense for advanced breast cancer. As my husband says ‘you helped make that happen.’ It’s a pretty great feeling.

Less than six months after my stage 4 diagnosis, my brother and his girlfriend nominated me to be the Toronto Blue Jays Honourary Bat Girl. To qualify, you had to have ‘gone to bat against breast cancer’ and be a Toronto Blue Jays fan; I qualified. I didnt win but the woman who did, a fellow Rethink Breast Cancer advocate, Michelle Riccio, also had stage 4 breast cancer and so I was thrilled that young women were getting exposure regardless of if I won or not. The crowd was seeing a face that didn’t resemble our grandmothers’.

This year, my husband Keith nominated me. Thanks to the people who surround me and love and support me – I like to refer to them as ‘Team Katie’ – I won. I was this year’s Toronto Blue Jays Honourary Bat Girl.

When MLB called from New York City to tell me that I won, I couldn’t contain my emotions. I cried for most of the conversation. So many of my days are spent at the hospital, attending appointments, having procedures, or on the phone with doctors. Knowing that I got to be part of the Toronto Blue Jays organization, if even in an honourary role, was pretty astounding.

We all know what the pink ribbon represents but very few women under the age of 50 think it applies to them.

I tell women, if your doctor says you’re too young to have breast cancer, tell her about me.

Being diagnosed at 26, more than half the age of the average, presents different challenges, including financial burdens (I had just graduated university with 3 degrees and had student loans), I hadn’t made a name for myself in the work world, and cancer robbed us of having children. Needless to say, it presents different isolating issues than women diagnosed in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.

This contest made the isolation, that I as a young woman experience, such a miniscule part of my day as complete strangers were messaging me, supporting me, and sharing their own stories related to cancer. It was empowering.

I was recognized on the Rogers Center field and my story was told to thousands sitting in their seats about to watch the Jays take on the Seattle Mariners. I was presented with flowers by Jays pitcher Marco Estrada, given an MLB jersey, watched the game with my family from a suite and have memories that will last a lifetime.

After the game, about 30 of us headed over to the Amsterdam Brewhouse for dinner and drinks to celebrate the big day. I had emailed them a few weeks before, explaining the day’s events and asking if they could accommodate our large group. They emailed back explaining how they would love to host and just like that we had a place to convene after the big game.

What I didn’t know was that while I was preparing for the game, Amsterdam Brewhouse was doing some homework on me.

As Keith and I walked into the restaurant, and as my family and friends rose to their feet to clap and cheer, I noticed all of the servers had pink ribbons pinned to their uniforms. I gave some hugs, had some quick conversations and sat down across from my mom at the end of the table.

Not long after ordering some water, one of the restaurant managers came over to introduce himself. He started by telling our table that the pink ribbons that I had seen were in honour of me. The restaurant had seen some of the advocacy work that I had done and referred to me as an inspiration. He continued by saying that the pink ribbons were meant to help spread awareness to their customers about the disease and young women with breast cancer. This is when my mom’s tears started falling. He also said that the staff at the Amsterdam Brewhouse were donating money throughout the night and once they had collected everyone’s donations, the organization of my choosing would receive the funds in my name. I hopped up from my chair and hugged the manager and thanked him profusely. What a generous act of kindness and thoughtfulness.

At the end of the night, I asked for my bill for my husband and I. It was brought over minutes later with a note that read:

‘This one is on us. Thank you for coming in and being so amazing.’ The balance was $0.00.

Just to clarify, Amsterdam Brewhouse was a place I had never been before, it was chosen based on its reviews, being harbourfront and its proximity to the Rogers Center and its size, which could accommodate our large group. I wasn’t an employee’s sister or a past server. I didn’t know anyone there nor had I ever stepped through their doors. They did this essentially for a stranger.

Yesterday, Amsterdam Brewhouse donated $221 in my name to Rethink Breast Cancer who without question is my organization of choice.

I can’t thank Amsterdam Brewhouse and Rethink Breast Cancer enough for making me feel special, loved and supported through my continued breast cancer experience.


– Katie Davidson

This post is an excerpt from Don Kerr’s awesome book Riding Shotgun.

Special occasions, whether genuine or Hallmark holidays, can be challenging when cancer finds a place at the table.  I wrote the following piece on Father’s Day about 2 years after my wife Kate’s diagnosis with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer.

One of the key messages I adamantly stress to male caregivers is this – you have a choice to make at the outset of your partner’s diagnosis and one which will be revisited often as you progress through treatment. That choice is this – will you show up?

Sounds simple doesn’t it?

It’s not and there are many marriages that fail when cancer comes calling. Apart from exposing your partners to the rigours of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and whatever else she may require, cancer will expose every frailty that may exist in your relationship.

When you decide to show up you make a commitment to hang in there regardless and when it comes to your one special day of the year – Father’s Day – you may have to adopt a much different outlook.

 Mr. Mom’s Father’s Day

Samuel & Gabriel Kerr, 2013

This is turning out to be a really great day. Enhanced by the pure joy of my boys. Marred only by the absence of my wife. But then again, made joyful as she is in England spending some well-deserved away time with her best friend in the world – Alexandra Pittortou – and surprising her brother Bob with an unexpected visit and gobsmacking her own father with an ambush Father’s Day celebration.

Gabe got the festivities underway at 4:15 a.m. when he thought it would be a good idea to make sure Daddy was sleeping OK while Mommy is away. He crawled into bed with me and after a little chat, we both drifted off to dream land until Samuel thought he should be part of the parade at 5:45 announcing himself, lungs full and yelling, “DADA? WHERE ARE YOU? GABO? WHERE ARE YOU?” I retrieved him and since then we:

replanted the front garden;

visited Tim Horton’s for some much needed nourishment;

rode the tricycle;

rode the scooter;

rode the dump truck;

rode the bicycle;

threw stones into Lake Ontario;

visited Hanna at the garden store to buy a trellis and some more pea seeds;

planted the peas;

placed the trellis;

chased the neighbour’s cat;

chased the the other neighbour’s dog;

spent some nice time visiting with Silvano and his dog Cricket;

had a great chat with Joan and her dog Lily (as Gabe described it “visiting with that old woman who gives us candy!);

had peanut butter and jam sandwiches, pretzels and veggie straws for lunch;

killed another Easter bunny;

changed two poopie diapers and one wet one;

exchanged wardrobes for both boys (post-gardening necessity);

watched the Disney Channel; and,

now, Samuel is sitting on my lap asking to watch Thomas the Tank – the ghost episode.

Oh wait:

breakfast, lunch and dinner prep and feeding;

two loads of laundry, drying and folding then sorting into outfits;

cleaning up (kinda, sorta – will admit there was less disinfectant involved than when Kate does it);

get the bath ready;

play chase;

change another diaper;

wash hair, brush teeth, read stories, apply lotions and potions, scare away the ghosts, close the proper doors, turn out the lights in the proper order and descend to the kitchen – where I now sit – and contemplate pouring a rather large Martini.


So there you go. My excellent Father’s Day.

Oh. Forgot. Got to do FaceTime with Mommy and friends.

Regardless – that was Father’s Day. In other words, I did today what my wife does every day with one exception – I didn’t engage with cancer in my body.

I didn’t do a 30-minute, 5K jog on the treadmill.

I didn’t do my 45 minutes of mindful meditation.

I didn’t do any Yoga.

She is remarkable.


About the Author: Don Kerr

I am a husband and a father. I am a believer in work/life integration. I am a professional writer and branding consultant who also writes about everyday events on two blogs and several social media sites. I try always to maintain a childlike sense of wonder and curiosity. I sometimes succeed. I often fail. I always keep coming back for more.

I live happily in Burlington, Ontario, Canada with my family.



To hear more from Don or to purchase any of his amazing books visit his professional website or check out the Riding Shotgun website.


Check out how fashionista Aya McMillan’s fabulous shoes have been [literally] walking her through her cancer journey.

Diagnosis Day

I was diagnosed in March wearing Manolo Blahnik BB pumps. It was still freezing outside but, as I was picking out what to wear to my results appointment, I remember thinking how badly I needed a lift. I had already been knocked down this year by the loss of my dog and before that, the disintegration of my decade-long relationship, so Elvis Presley’s lyrics kept running through my head: “Well, you can knock me down…do anything that you want to do. But don’t you step on my blue suede shoes.”


Surgical Consult

My first meeting with my [female] surgeon so something solid was in order. Enter my oxblood hued, block-heeled boots by Celine, a brand that has always embodied effortlessness and singular female strength. They’re basically the footwear equivalent of the fist bump emoji saying, I’ve got this.


Double Biopsy

Following the diagnosis, the follow-up MRI had picked up four(!) more lumps, two of which needed to be biopsied. My initial biopsy was brutally painful and this time I had to climb back in the MRI tube and stay still for over an hour whilst my boobs were smooshed between plastic walls, and needles were inserted in tandem on each one all without the assist of my dear friend, Ativan. Good thing I armoured up with Valentino’s spikey Rock Studs. They’re oldies but goodies and can always be counted on to bring the bad-assery.


Surgery Day

My lumpectomy thankfully only required day surgery but coming off the general anaesthetic, there was still no way I could wear stilettos home. And as with any operation, you’re told you can’t wear a stitch of makeup, nail polish or jewellery but my silver and gold jacquard backless Gucci loafers more than made up for them. (Bonus: They also saved me from lace ups or anything else binding. #winning)


Surgical Follow-Up

I had every reason to believe my surgery was a success (clear margins, nodes negative!) and the pain had diminished enough that I could finally raise my arms, so I celebrated by busting out my never-worn monogrammed Prada pumps.


Oncology Consult

The first truly hot day of the year and I was a ball of nerves in anticipation of whether I will have to undergo chemo, so bright orange Azzedine Alaia lace-up sandals, obviously. PS the nurses looooooved them.


Radiology Consult

Friday before the long weekend so out came the vintage tasselled-to-the-max Christian Lacroix heels. I ended up having to wait over three hours to see the radiologist and the resident man-spread across the entire width of the examining table as he explained my treatment—but I didn’t care because I had a party on my feet.

Final Treatment

Day 21 of radiation therapy… just your average hospital shoes. A pair of feather festooned footwear for my FINAL treatment.

-Aya McMillan

Mother’s Day has discomforted me for years. Post-cancer, my family issues are more complex.

I never had a burning desire to have children. I was too busy with school and my career but I thought one day I might change my mind, especially as I got older. When cancer came, I wondered whether that burning desire might show up. It didn’t. I was too depressed to focus on but enduring each day. My post-cancer journey led to a number of heart-wrenching life changes. I lost my job, left my husband and my home, took care of my dad through a heart attack and triple bypass surgery, and now have been diagnosed with PTSD triggered by my cancer experience.

Now with a new partner I understand that not wanting children was partly about my husband. If things had been different with my husband, if I had been with my new partner earlier, or not had cancer, I would have tried to have children. It is too late. I am too old. I am too menopausal from Tamoxifen and chemotherapy. My OBGYN says it would be a “miracle” if I got pregnant. In fact, I am considering a prophylactic bilateral oophorectomy because of my uncertain BRCA1 status.

I cannot talk about my feelings with my own mother. My mother is alive, but in many ways I haven’t had a real mother in least a decade. In fact, now in therapy, I realize another reason why I didn’t truly consider having children was because she instilled in me the message that her own children – myself and my brother –  seriously hampered her career achievements. Children or career; I internalized that message. In 2008, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and received a lumpectomy and 15 radiation treatments. She does not – or perhaps does not want to – understand how her 100% curable stage zero cancer is comparable to my stage 1-2 cancer, treated with the ‘deluxe package’ as I call it:  lumpectomy, SNB, 19 weeks of chemo and 50 shots of Neupogen, 37 radiation treatments, cording and lymphedema, 10 years of Tamoxifen, and now PTSD.  Why “can’t you get over it” she asked one day, “like I have?” The hurt, misunderstanding, and perhaps denial, those words convey is immense.

I have other sources of comfort thankfully, including my new partner who also didn’t discover he wanted children until it was too late.  I visit a lot my friend’s adorable three-year old little girl and look upon her as my niece. Looking at her smiling face reminds me how simple things and being in the moment can bring joy.  I enjoy spending time with my almost adult god-daughter who is a funny, smart, and mature young woman. I have always thought of her as ‘my own.’ Perhaps ironically, my father can be the most understanding. My father, who wanted children so badly, he tells me that nothing else mattered in his life, and who, with his own history of mental health challenges, supports me in my struggle back to happiness.


Wishes do come true. But only if you make them happen.
It was late evening on March 21, 2012. I was standing on my front porch, surrounded by the chill night air, and listening to the melting creek bed whispering notes of spring. I had just left the hospital and my MRI and there was nothing to do now but wait, and live in this moment.
I stared up at our second storey windows. Inside, my children slept soundly, oblivious to the turmoil in their mother’s mind. I turned my head to the baby’s window. She stirred. There would be no nursing tonight, the MRI’s contrast agent coursing through me had nixed that. At 15 days old, she was already getting used to my not being around. I wondered if this was to become a pattern. Would I be there to hear her first words, to see her first steps, and to watch her enter kindergarten? I was angry and determined to do away with most, if not all of these unknowns. I didn’t know how I would do it, but I was going to give it my all.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Inside, my children slept soundly, oblivious to the turmoil in their mother’s mind. I turned my head to the baby’s window. She stirred. There would be no nursing tonight, the MRI’s contrast agent coursing through me had nixed that.[/perfectpullquote]

Of course, I failed miserably. One does not simply “remove” unknowns, they are inherent in life. But I did learn to live alongside them. We actually became best buds, me and “wtf is going to happen next?” Of course this was doubly fun as there were the cancer unknowns coupled with the newborn/third child dynamic unknowns. It was pure chaos at times, pure joy at others, and somehow, some way, we made it to this day.

Today is March 21, 2017. Imogen turned five this month, and I’ve reached my five-year Cancerversary, a day that seemed a distant wish that night on my porch. I often wondered what I would write about on this day, should it ever come. In the end I thought it might be fun to record a through-the-years snapshot of my cancer experience in relation to Imogen’s first five years of life, and how we adapted to our unique set of circumstances.

Year One

Family focus: Corralling a newborn, a toddler and a 4-year-old. 
Medical focus: Active treatment “Poison – slash – burn” (chemo/mastectomy/radiation).
Side effects: Many, all of them covered in my previous posts. Bottom line: I sucked it up because I had kids to raise. It was The Littles against me, and I was severely outnumbered!
Activities: Hospital visits, scans, blood work. Extreme hand-washing. Friends. Blogging! Ditching my home-made baby food and esteemed cloth diapering practices for store bought food and handier, enviro-arch enemy disposable diapers. Le sigh.
What I learned: Check your guilt at the door. Guilt was something I let go of very quickly. Except on the day that I started chemo and had to stop breastfeeding. That day almost did me in.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]We actually became best buds, me and “wtf is going to happen next?” Of course this was doubly fun as there were the cancer unknowns coupled with the newborn/third child dynamic unknowns. It was pure chaos at times, pure joy at others, and somehow, some way, we made it to this day.[/perfectpullquote]

Year Two 

Family focus: Potty training while chasing rapidly mobile warp-speed toddler.
Medical focus: Endocrine therapy (Tamoxifen – med which blocks estrogen to reduce risk of recurrence).
Side effects: Fatigue fatigue fatigue. Memory loss. Crazy mood swings. Anxiety, is that you?
Activities: Brain fog workshops. Yoga. Nutrition classes. Belly dancing. Camping. XC skiing. Peer support. Reading French books to kindergartners.
What I learned: It is totally OK to let her stay in diapers a little longer. It’s not first-across-the-finish-line. A contained bum makes for a happy mum, and I was happy not to be cleaning up messes while functioning on 10% energy stores.

Year Three 

Family focus:
Twos which were not so terrible, but sibling rivalry in full force to even things out.
Medical focus:
Oophorectomy (ovary removal to further reduce estrogen levels). New endocrine therapy meds (Aromitase Inhibitor)
Side effects: Sudden, forced menopause. Osteoporosis. Debilitating bone pain. Morning immobility from the meds (“90-year-old syndrome”). Further memory loss and inability to multi-task. Anxiety creep.
Activities: Back to work! (wonderful timing); Myriad medical appointments for primary and complementary therapies. Camping, XC skiing and nature hikes with the kids.
What I learned: Don’t be bullied by your disability insurance company. Don’t go back to work before you are ready. I had some solid measures in place on the road to recovery (exercise, chiro and physio, mental health activities) and had to stop/reduce all of them to go back to work. Le double sigh.

Year Four

Family focus: “Threenager” enters household and achieves Herculean strength just as I reach an all-time physical low.
Medical focus: Endocrine therapy continues. Calcium and Vit D to combat the bone loss.
Side effects: Everything from year three upped a notch. Thinning hair. Swearing. Feeling like a bit of a fuckwit at work.
Activities: Endless appointments in vain attempt to find source of mystery ailments (cardiologist, respirologist, psychologist, sleep study); Girl Guide Leader! Young Breast Cancer network community organiser.
What I learned: Netflix used wisely is an effective strategy for taming the threenager.

Year Five 

Family focus: All three kids in school! Separated from spouse.
Medical focus: Endocrine therapy (continued). Biphosphonate recommended to combat osteroporosis – resisting this but it may be futile. CPAP machine!
Side effects: Everything from year three and four. Increased memory loss, loss of taste, chills, hypothyroidism. Sleep apnea. Insomnia. Mental health waning. Working harder with fewer results. Feeling like a total fuckwit at work.
Activities: Working single mom of three. Girl Guide Leader and Young Breast Cancer Networker – wait, am I still young? Mindfulness practice.
What I learned: Cancer’s wrath doesn’t end after treatment, nor after five years. Be at peace with this. Look to nature for calming. Focus on your children and loved ones, who make life beautiful.
Looking back, it has been a very full, very long five years that stretched on forever then passed in the blink of an eye. Then suddenly, it was Imogen’s 5th birthday. I watched her close her eyes, make her wish and easily blow out the first four candles. The fifth and final was stubborn, and she repeatedly huffed and puffed to no avail. In stepped her siblings, her mother and her friends, and together it was extinguished.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]What I learned: Cancer’s wrath doesn’t end after treatment, nor after five years. Be at peace with this. Look to nature for calming. Focus on your children and loved ones, who make life beautiful.[/perfectpullquote]

Our story is not ours alone. It is the human story, that of the spirit and strength of so many who surrounded us with love and support, despite what was going on in their own lives. Today I celebrate all of you, and five years of knowing what a remarkable difference people can make in each other’s lives.

My wish came true.
– Ellen
Ellen’s post was originally published here on her blog. For more stories from young women with breast cancer click here.