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I have always felt so lucky on Mother’s Day.  Lucky to have a mom who has always made me feel so special and loved, someone who reminds me that everything will be OK when life is rough, and shares in my joy when life is good.  I think about the women I know who have lost their moms and appreciate how blessed to have mine with me.

When I was diagnosed with early stage Breast Cancer five years ago, fertility preservation was not top of mind. The doctors didn’t seem too concerned with it and I was too overwhelmed to think beyond my treatments.  I underwent a lumpectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy, and radiation. I was always hopeful that I would recover and be able to have a child one day.

Three years after my treatment ended, my husband and I decided to try to have a baby. My oncologist sent me for testing to assess my fertility. After reviewing the results, the fertility specialist told us that it would be very difficult for me to conceive.

It seemed so unfair that after everything I had been through I may not get to have the baby I wanted so badly.

My husband was more optimistic: difficult, but not impossible, he reminded me. So we tried. I took my temperature every morning and began seeing a Chinese medicine doctor every week for fertility acupuncture. A few months later, to our complete surprise, we found out I was pregnant! After all my body had been through I was a little amazed it was going to do this for me. After so many years of unpleasant doctor’s visits to discuss cancer, it was so nice to sit in a waiting room with other pregnant women to talk about a new life that I was carrying.

This past August I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl we named Zara. She is eight months old now, a little miracle with tons of energy and a huge personality.  This perfect little person I love more than I thought was ever possible. Not a day goes by that I don’t look at her and think of how blessed I am to be her mom. I pray that I will be as good a mom to her as my mom is to me.  I look forward to sharing my first my first Mother’s Day with my little miracle and my amazing mom.

Happy Mother’s Day

– Janelle Blair

Unfortunately, some young women are not as fortunate as Janelle and experience many issues when trying to conceive after breast cancer. The Baby Time research will provide patients and doctors with more information and the ability to make informed decisions when wanting to become a mother after breast cancer without increasing the risk of recurrence. Please DONATE TODAY to help make the Baby Time research possible. 

Most of us have a strong female in our lives that we admire, someone who’s persevered in the face of enormous odds. For me, that person is my mom.

She has survived losing her father, her mother, her husband, and now breast cancer twice. The illness I’ve seen both my parents go through has been particularly gruesome, and to witness cancer ravage someone’s body to the point of almost death and see them come back from it is something so awe-inspiring it’s hard to put into words. I’m going to try my best, for mother’s day I wanted to share the story of my mother’s survival and why I’m thankful that she did.

My mother was only 30 the first time she had breast cancer. Caught early, she was treated via radiation and partial mastectomy. Since she was so young, she was tested and found to carry the BRCA1 mutation. It made sense, almost every woman on her side of the family—as far back as we could find—had been diagnosed with a BRCA related cancer.

In 2012, she was in a minor car accident and in the following weeks after she fell ill, thinking she had the flu…until her right breast started growing rapidly in size. The shock of the crash had actually caused the BRCA1 mutation to go off like a gun she developed a rare, aggressive form of the disease, which behaved as inflammatory breast cancer. Her oncologist was confused by her cancer and didn’t treat her properly—I could write a book about her horrific journey through our health care system. Her tumor which had shrunk during the first-round of chemo, grew back during the second round, the cancer didn’t respond to the steroid based treatment. She was 5’11” and 110lbs and 5lb of that was the tumor. She couldn’t eat, was using a walker at 52, and could barely even make it to the bathroom three steps away. We ran out of options. A radical mastectomy was our last ditch effort. I kept putting myself in her shoes. How did she deal with the thought that she might not wake up the next morning, that the surgery had less than a 20% chance of working, or the fact that she was helping plan her own funeral?

I was late getting to the hospital the morning of the surgery. I burst through the doors of the surgical wing, as they were rolling her in, the idea that she might not have seen me before the surgery, and how scared she must have been, how scared I was that I might not get to say goodbye to another parent so soon. She had suffered so much, she deserved so much better than what she was facing. Luckily, her sheer strength-of-will pulled her through, she clearly felt the same way. It’s been three years, she’s defied the statistics of her diagnosis. She gets stronger every day, enjoys living, every day, and I remain in awe.

If you were inspired by this story, help us to help other young women become moms here.

When I think of a cancer diagnosis and then I think of mental health, I have often looked at it as a mind-game.  Really, our minds want to make sense of why this diagnosis, why this disease? And then there is the piece of what can I do differently to control the outcomes of this disease; these are the ‘what ifs’ that play in the mind.

The reality is that no one knows, truly, for sure and this uncertainty can cause a lot of emotional turmoil, which can sometimes lead to fluctuations in mood, and eventually depression for some.  Many of the therapies and treatments that young women with breast cancer face also involve hormonal therapy. Early onset of menopause including symptoms like mood instability, hot flashes, and changes in sexual function can all play a part in causing women with breast cancer to feel anxious or depressed.

That said, there are things you can do to aid maintaining mental well-being and staying on top of your mental health when cancer has come to play a part in your life:

Find a supportive circle

Whether you are newly diagnosis, living with cancer or are seen as no evidence of disease, to have a supportive circle is integral.  When I say supportive circle, I mean everyone – from family and friends to medical professionals.  You want to know that everyone who is supporting you, is truly with you – they are understanding of your decisions and they are helping (even when it is hard to ask).

Take ownership

So much of cancer treatment is determined by doctor’s appointments, treatment schedules, side-effects. Taking ownership could be choosing to shave your head rather than waiting for hair to fall out; doing things to make you feel good when you are able – going out with your girlfriends, doing things that bring you joy. Also, there are so many decisions that can come with cancer treatment. Try to consider the decisions you are making with the lens of looking back at this time in your life in a number of years, how do you want to feel about your decisions and how you handled a cancer diagnosis.

Make it not all about cancer

So much of cancer diagnosis and living with cancer becomes all about the cancer.  A great thing you can do is shift the focus.  If you are going to a chemotherapy treatment, radiation, blood test or whatever, consider not only taking one of your supportive peeps, but make it fun. Yeah, fun, one of my best chemo days was when I went for lunch with one of my besties – no I couldn’t really eat, but it was something we would typically do and it made all the difference in the day.

Consider venturing into mindfulness practices

Mindfulness practices have been shown help people with pain management and with anxiety Many of the supportive organizations for people living with cancer offer some form of meditation, yoga or mindfulness practices (see list below and check out Rethink’s video here!)

Being body aware

After cancer diagnosis, it can seem that we can become hyper-aware of our bodies; however knowing our bodies, knowing what seems normal, what is a bit different; knowing what discomforts tend to pass and what is something new; tuning into what our intuition is saying to us, all are ways to care for ourselves and our bodies. Further, to take the step to love one’s body after cancer – scars and all, despite the feeling of betrayal of cells, is ever so important.  Consider exploring practices that encourage body awareness.

Seek out groups

There are a few different sorts of groups to consider.  There are support groups for young people who have had a cancer diagnosis – this helps breaks the isolation and why me factors.  Then there are the social groups where you are with others who have been diagnosed with cancer but not doing things directly cancer-related – like art workshops, yoga, fitness programs. These are great to take a break from “cancer world” and yet can allow you to just be or you can chat without much explanation with others who have been there and “get it”.  Then there are the groups for the general public which are all about integrating yourself back into life after the bulk of treatment is completed.

Here are some organizations that provide programs for people living with cancer:

Young Adult Cancer Canada: retreats, conferences and monthly social activities (Localife)

Callanish which offers retreats, support groups and art therapy to young adults in the Greater Vancouver Area

Wellspring has a wide variety of programming from cancer-specific support groups to yoga to nutrition to writing classes.  They have locations in Calgary, Edmonton, southwestern Ontario and Toronto.

ART for Cancer Foundation: art workshops for people living with cancer and their caregivers in the Greater Toronto area

Maplesoft: various programs offered in the Ottawa area.

If you live in a more remote part of Canada or want more flexible access to support, please consider connect to others through something like Cancer Chat Canada or peer support through Rethink Breast Cancer’s Young Women’s Network.

For more information on Mental Health Week and how you can get involved click here.

Photo Courtesy of Catherine Hudon/5Mphotographie

 

 

My name is Melissa and I’m 29 years old. I was diagnosed December 12, 2015 with triple negative breast cancer. I tested negative for the gene mutation and I have no family history of breast cancer.

I’ve decided to have a double mastectomy just because it’s one less stress I need to be worried about after completing treatment.

I have really dense breasts to begin with and I’ve always been prone to cysts. Any slight lump or anything suspicious on the other breast (good breast) would be very worrisome for me especially now after being diagnosed with breast cancer at such a young age. This doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be less stressed because I’ll always be worried about reoccurrence.

Removing the cancerous breast means the other breast will never look the same after reconstructive surgery.Being able to do reconstructive surgery can really boost my self esteem in the sense that they look the same at the end. I’m very aware that having the double mastectomy can have its side effects, like infections, scarring numbness in the chest, etc. However what I’m going through right now with chemo and later radiation all have their own side effects. These are the measures we need to take to get better.

I believe the decisions some of us make to have a double mastectomy helps us slightly heal mentally. In our mind, it becomes one less place in our body we need to worry about getting cancer.

To read the full Washington Post article click here.

Do you have to make a difficult choice about breast cancer treatment? Check our our Care Guidelines for Young Women with Breast Cancer.

LIVING WITH METASTATIC ILLNESS / CHRONIC ILLNESS:

Parents are pretty incredible. Raising kids can be challenging but awesome work. Metastases is complicated. There often are few true answers to questions about living and dying that arise in your own mind, let alone those that arise in the minds of kid’s.

The best way to help your kids cope is to ensure that you have the help you need to cope. Whether it is through a formal doctor or therapist, or through connecting with a community of young Moms facing metastatic illness, you need to find what works for you. You partner parent may need to do the same thing and find the right support for their needs as well.

Once you have found help for yourself, you can concentrate on the kids and their coping needs. Accessing professional support can assist you with this. There are skilled child life specialists, social workers, councillors and therapists that can help kids understand and find ways to cope. Some professionals are available through the hospital where you are receiving treatment, while others can be found in the greater community.

CONSIDER THIS! A list for Parents: 

  • Focus on the Living
  • Acknowledge dying
  • It’s ok to say “I don’t know”
  • Expect questions – repeatedly. And then again……
  • Forgive – kids often say and do things impulsively and repeatedly, including asking, saying and doing things that may seem inappropriate or insensitive about chronic illness, death and dying.
  • Save your energy – finding a way to balance your energy level can be hard! Try to focus your energy on quality time and experiences with children, family and friends.

METASTASES & CHRONIC ILLNESS: Kids, let’s talk… 

OK guys. Chronic or metastatic illness can be hard to understand – even for grownups. These strange words mean a few different things.

One is that the cancer has spread and there will be no more treatment to CURE Mom’s cancer. Sometimes these cancers are in the original place where they started, like the breast, but more often they are in a different place in Mom’s body, because the cancer did not completely go away when Mom received treatment. The cancer has spread. It also means there will be more treatment to help manage Mom’s cancer where it has spread. The doctors want to keep trying to shrink any cancers that are still in Mom’s body, and this will hopefully help Mom to feel as good as possible.

The medical team includes doctors, nurses, scientists and researchers that are working very hard, everyday, to improve the treatments they provide to Moms with metastatic illness. This often helps Moms feel well most of the time and will allow them to do many activities and things you both like to do together. Moms may need to make sure they get enough rest, while still staying as active as possible, and a lot of Moms try to make healthy choices about what they eat and drink.

HELPS is a cool tool for kids to check on YOU, how you are feeling and if you need information, hugs or support.

– How am I feeling? Have I shared my feelings with anyone?

E – Explain – do I need more information about Mom’s cancer? Do I need information repeated?

L – Love – do I need a hug from someone I love?

P – Play – did I play today? Am I able to find time and enjoy my favorite activities and games?

S – Support – Do I need support? Do I have someone I can talk to?

Find someone you trust and feel comfortable talking to. This could include a parent, family member, friend, teacher, coach, doctor, nurse, social worker, child life specialist or counsellor.

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Read the next blog, Transmission Feelings



Sign up for our Rethink Newsletter to learn more!

Morgan Livingstone is a Certified Child Life Specialist who offers home support to families going through cancer. To get in touch or find out more info contact morganlivingstone@rogers.com or Tweet @ChildLifeMorgan 

 

 

CHANGES IN THE ROUTINE AND ENVIRONMENT: 

Appointments, treatments and exhaustion can really interfere with your child’s usual routine. Be transparent about how their routine may change and also what they can do to help.

TIPS FOR PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS: 

  • Acknowledge that changes can be hard to experience and manage – for all family members!
  • Try to use a small group of familiar faces/people whenever possible for routine events like, school drop off/pick up, lessons, sports, meals and bedtime rituals.
  • Try a daily plan to help kid understand what to expect each day. Simple daily routines help kids feel comfortable and help them cope better with change.
  • Explore new simple medical materials, objects and places together.
  • Introduce kids to any medical staff visiting the home – such as community nurses and doctors.

Tool for kids to help them GO WITH THE FLOW!

F – Fun – can I try to think of this change or these changes to my routine as an adventure?

L – Live, Laugh, Learn, I may not LIKE this change but I can live with it, laugh about it, and learn from it.

O – One – since thing are often changing, take on One task at a time, and focus on One day at a time.

W – WOW – find something that you love to do and find some time to do it! This could include listening    to music, dancing, playing a sport, playing a game, doing a craft, or even cooking with someone you love.

Helping Out – TEAMWORK!

Parents, kids and helping family members can come together and work on ideas and tasks for how everyone can help out during Mom’s Breast Cancer treatment. So put on your idea pants and imagination hats and let’s see what cool and interesting plans you can make at home!

Here are some starter ideas for positive changes you can make in the home that will help everyone face changes in a positive way!

Create a “kids” snack cupboard or shelf – This should be in a place that is easy for kids to access, like a lower shelf or open cupboard in the kitchen or dining area. Inside here you can include kid-safe dishes, like bowls, cups, waterbottles and small plates that are easy for kids to handle. Next, pick a favorite but simple snack food, maybe one that Moms would like even if they aren’t feeling that great, something like crackers! Encourage kids to be independent and “prepare” snack for themselves and other family members!

Art corner – It is fun AND important that kids be able to draw, colour and create using art as a way to express themselves, their feelings and experiences. Make sure you have washable crayons, markers, pencils, paper, stickers and other simple creative arts supplies available in a special box or drawer that kids can reach when they are feeling creative.

Quiet activities – Some days Mom may need to rest and have some quiet time in the home during and after treatment. Plan and prepare a few special quiet activities that kids can choose from when Mom needs quiet. This may include some special books to read or look at by themselves, a simple building or Lego project to complete, some fun and interesting puzzles, or even a simple craft project – like beading, painting or working with play dough.

Quiet activities together – When Moms want to rest but ALSO wants to spend time with kids, this may be a good time to find a favorite movie to watch or TV show you both enjoy together. Depending on how Mom feels, you may want to snuggle in the bed or on the couch together. It can also include some books that you can read together, or a board game or card game that can be played in bed or on the couch.

Planning outings – create a list of people, places and things kids would like to do OUTSIDE the home. Some ideas are: trips to the library, play at the park, visit a friend, go for a swim, or go to a movie – the possibilities are endless! Then see who can help take the kids to these outings, a parent, family members and friends may be happy to help with these outings!

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Check out the next blog, The Black Dot Returns



Sign up for our Rethink Newsletter to learn more!

Morgan Livingstone is a Certified Child Life Specialist who offers home support to families going through cancer. To get in touch or find out more info contact morganlivingstone@rogers.com or Tweet @ChildLifeMorgan 

 

Name: Beatrice

Age: 37

City: Calgary

Occupation: Stay-at-home mom

Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: 36

Breast cancer type: Triple-positive invasive ductal carcinoma in left breast

Breast cancer stage: 3A

Treatment: Double mastectomy with reconstruction, six rounds of chemotherapy, 28 radiation treatments, tamoxifen, ongoing treatment for lymphedema

 

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer.

I love classic British literature! My favourite authors are Jane Austen and Ann Radcliffe. I also love great sci-fi and fantasy. This past summer, my spouse and I introduced our six-year-old son to the original Star Wars trilogy, and for Halloween this year, I dressed up as Dr. Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

What’s your go-to pick-me-up song?

“Long Life (Where Did You Go)” by Great Big Sea always reminds me to be hopeful that I’ll make it out okay through this arduous journey.

How did you discover your breast cancer?

In October 2014, I was settling into bed one evening with a favourite book when my arm brushed across the top of my left breast. There was a huge new lump there. I went to the doctor as quickly as I could. She initially thought it was likely a fibroadenoma, but she sent me to get a mammogram and ultrasound. The results of those confirmed my lump was a clinical area of concern, and I had an ultrasound-guided core biopsy. On December 4, 2014, I sat numbly in my doctor’s office as she confirmed I had breast cancer. My breast surgeon told me later that if I hadn’t found the lump when I did, the cancer would have killed me.

What went through your head when you received your diagnosis?

My spouse and our son were in the waiting room, and I just wanted them there with me. I didn’t want to be alone with this news. I wanted to hold them and be held. I asked the doctor if she could go get them, and they were with me within a minute.

What’s the craziest thing someone said to you after being diagnosed with breast cancer?

Everyone in my personal life has been fantastic, but I’ve had two experiences with doctors that made me raise my eyebrows.

Just before I had the radioactive dye injected into my lymph nodes the day prior to my mastectomy, the doctor doing the injection walked into the room reading my chart out loud. He got to the part with my age and began, “And you…” He looked up from the chart at me and said rather awkwardly, “…are not old at all.” Um, thanks? “And you are not old at all” has become a bit of a running joke during my cancer treatment.

Another doctor, shortly after meeting me, asked, “Did you smoke for most of your life?” Surely I had done something to cause this was the message his tone held. I have never smoked. I’m vegetarian. I’m of normal weight and physically fit. While I ended up getting along well with this doctor afterward, I didn’t appreciate him trying to imply I had somehow done this to myself when I hadn’t.

What these experiences confirmed for me is that I’m definitely not what people expect when they meet a patient with stage 3a invasive ductal carcinoma. I often see a look of surprise on medical professionals’ faces when they meet me for the first time. I’m often the youngest cancer patient in the waiting room whenever I go for treatments or other appointments.

Who or what is/was your biggest source of support throughout your experience with cancer?

I call the people in my personal life who support me Team Awesome because every single one of them is an awesome human being. I have so many family and friends on Team Awesome who support me, and I’ll highlight some of them here.

My spouse, Brett Bergie, has been my constant source of strength. She has held me when I cry and taken care of our son and me after surgery and when chemo made me ill. She loves me and finds me beautiful with or without hair and with or without breasts. I can talk to her about anything; she provides a safe space in which I can be vulnerable.

My and Brett’s son, Sam Bergie Aucoin, has been the most chipper support I could ask for. When my hair started falling out from chemo and I went to get my head shaved, he was there. I asked him what he thought after my hair was shaved off. He broke out into a huge smile and said, “You look really cool!” That is the best compliment on my physical appearance I have ever received.

Alexis, my best friend, came down from Edmonton to Calgary several times during all of this. She sat in a tiny change room with me before my core biopsy because I was scared of what was happening. She was there before and after my double mastectomy to help us out. She’s only just a text away if I need her.

Tiffany and Naomi are two really great friends here in Calgary who have been there for me at appointments, helped me take my son to and from school, and just been there for some good fun too.

Rick and Alma are my parents-in-law; they came out from Ontario to visit us and helped us out during my roughest chemo week, which was after my first docetaxel treatment. My son had a great time with his grandparents while his mama needed to rest.

My cousin Daylene Penney is a nurse, though I call her my superhero, and she lives back home in Nova Scotia. I was having some problems with my chemo port incision not closing properly, and she asked me to send her a picture of it. Daylene told me I needed to go to my cancer centre urgently to have my port examined, and she was right. She saved me from getting an infection from thousands of kilometres away.

Nick Piers, one of my oldest friends, shaved his head in solidarity with me when I found out chemo was going to make my hair fall out. He also sent me an advance copy of his latest book.

What is/was the most difficult part of being a young woman with breast cancer?

I don’t want to leave my son without his mama. I don’t want Brett to be widowed. I want to be there for my people for as long as I can. I have a hard time accepting that I might not get to have a long life with my loved ones.

What’s something unexpected you learned about yourself as a result of having breast cancer?

I’m a lot stronger than I ever thought I was. I have this awful disease and needed to go through equally awful treatment, and I can still be myself and do most of the things I love doing and take care of my family.

In one sentence, what words of wisdom would you pass on to another young woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?

Know that even though you are scared out of your wits right now, you are amazing and can do all of the really hard stuff you’ll need to do.

For more wisdom on being young with breast cancer check out Rethink Breast Cancer’s Care Guidelines here.

CHEMOTHERAPY AND RADIATION:

The idea of chemotherapy and radiation can be confusing for a child. It can be helpful to explain to children how these treatments can help make the cancer go away, but how people can lose their hair as a result.

A NOTE FOR PARENTS:

Treatment is different for each individual. Your medical team will discuss the plan for treatment, and go over approximate timelines with you. You can talk to your kids about your diagnosis even before the whole plan is complete. Once you know what type of treatment will come first, you can introduce and explain that treatment. Some kids desire more information, and might want you to give them the information about all the types of treatment you will likely receive, while others may want to digest smaller pieces of information about treatment one at a time. You and your children can decide what will work best for them.

TIPS FOR PARENTS:

  • Check your knowledge BEFORE you share – what am I getting, why am I getting it, how long will it take, and where and when will this happen?
  • Use children’s books and resources to help you explain treatment – there are lots of wonderful books out there. Find the one that works best for you and your family.
  • Face hair loss discussion early – some kids are fine with hair loss, while others are not. Make a plan that considers their feelings about hair loss.
  • Acknowledge that plans may change – give kids information that you have about treatments now, and update them regularly, especially if they change.
  • It’s ok to say “I don’t know”. You don’t know before treatment starts how your body will react, so do your best to explain what you expect will happen.

Websites and Games about Chemotherapy and Radiation:

ReMission 2 by Hopelab – includes 6 interactive video games for kids to “fight” cancer using Chemotherapy, Radiation and other treatments. Also available in the APP STORE

Kids Health – information about chemotherapy

Kids Health – information about radiation

Read the next blog, HELP Squad



Sign up for our Rethink Newsletter to learn more!

Morgan Livingstone is a Certified Child Life Specialist who offers home support to families going through cancer. To get in touch or find out more info contact morganlivingstone@rogers.com or Tweet @ChildLifeMorgan 

 

WHAT IS CANCER?

Kids may need help to conceptualize what cancer is and what it does in the body. It can be useful to explain to them how someone with cancer may feel quite sick, and how special cancer doctors, oncologists, work hard to help those with cancer get better.

TIPS FOR PARENTS:

Plan it out – create simple scripts you can practice about what you want to say and how you want to say it.

Keep it simple – give kids small amounts of information at a time. Repeat regularly.

  • Give kids time to digest the information.
  • Encourage questions – kids can be curious.
  • Permission to play – kids need to play while they think about and process something new.
  • Different feelings are normal and ok – fear, sadness, anger and happiness may follow this news about Mom’s breast cancer.

TIPS FOR KIDS:

  • Be the best listener you can be.
  • Take time to think about this news. Ask for breaks if you need it.
  • Ask questions.
  • It’s ok and normal to feel a bunch of different feelings.
  • Find ways to “play-it-out” doing activities and games you like and that help you feel good.

HELPS is a cool tool for kids to check on YOU, how you are feeling and if you need information, hugs or support.

H – How am I feeling? Have I shared my feelings with anyone?

E – Explain – do I need more information about Mom’s cancer? Do I need information repeated?

L – Love – do I need a hug from someone I love?

P – Play – did I play today? Am I able to find time and enjoy my favorite activities and games?

S – Support – Do I need support? Do I have someone I can talk to?

Find someone you trust and feel comfortable talking to. This could include a parent, a family member, a friend, a teacher, a coach, a doctor, a nurse, a social worker, a child life specialist or counsellor.

Websites and games for Kids about Breast Cancer or Cancer in general:

Kids Health – includes information about breast cancer in child-focused language

ReMission 2 by Hopelab – includes 6 interactive video games for kids to “fight” cancer using Chemotherapy, Radiation and other treatments.

*Also available in the APP STORE as Nanobots Revenge

Read the next blog, Operation Rescue



Sign up for our Rethink Newsletter to learn more!

Morgan Livingstone is a Certified Child Life Specialist who offers home support to families going through cancer. To get in touch or find out more info contact morganlivingstone@rogers.com or Tweet @ChildLifeMorgan 

 

Name: Josée Daoust

Age: 23

City: Toronto

Occupation: Soon-to-be teacher

Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: 22

Breast cancer type: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, ER+, PR+, HER2+

Breast cancer stage: Stage 1

Treatment: Lumpectomy, Chemotherapy, Radiation, Herceptin, Tamoxifen

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer.

My life has revolved around hockey since I was a little girl. I have been playing and watching hockey for as long as I can remember. My favourite place to be is most definitely in a hockey arena!

What’s your go-to pick-me-up song?

My latest favourite is ‘Confident’ by Demi Lovato.

How did you discover your breast cancer?

I was removing my bra and happened to feel a lump on my right side. I figured it was probably nothing, but my University housemates encouraged me to have it checked out just in case. One of the University doctors had to tell me the diagnosis – She took much longer than usual to enter the room, and I could hear them whispering outside the room, so I had a pretty good idea of what was coming. I actually felt bad for the doctor because they are probably not put in that situation very often with such young patients.

What went through your head when you received your diagnosis?

I honestly don’t really remember. I went to the doctor alone because I figured I was going to be fine, so the doctor called my mom and put her on speakerphone. She said “your daughter is being very stoic”, because I was just sitting there. Since I didn’t feel sick at all, I don’t think it really hit me right away. She kept asking me if I understood what she was telling me. Oh I understood, loud and clear! Actually, she never said the words you have cancer – she said, “Your results were not inconsistent with carcinoma.” Despite the double negative, I got the message. I asked to leave and they refused to let me go until a friend came to get me. I was away for school so my parents were not in town. Once my friend arrived, we (naturally) went to get McFlurries. I remember my thoughts more at my post-lumpectomy appointment with my surgeon, because that’s when I found out that they recommend that I do chemotherapy. That’s when I was most upset, because the thought of chemo scared me.

What’s the craziest thing someone said to you after being diagnosed with breast cancer?

For the most part, people were pretty good with what they said to me, and when they said crazy things, I kept in mind that I would probably say the same things if I hadn’t gone through it. My favourite was probably when my best friend said, “I am so jealous of how easy it must be to maintain your hair.” I told her to go out and shave her head then! She realized it was probably not the best thing to say, but we laughed about it. Another friend asked me if I had a hair elastic on my wrist that she could use… I just looked at her until she clued in that I would have no reason to have a hair elastic handy. She continued on to say, “Well this just became awkward…” and we laughed.

Who or what is/was your biggest source of support throughout your experience with cancer?

My parents were easily my biggest source of support. My dad was at the majority of my appointments, and my mom was very helpful in keeping me positive and helping me get through the worst of treatments. She was always making me healthy foods or smoothies, reading up on symptom management, offering massages when my lower legs were in a lot of pain, etc. She ensured that I was very proactive in avoiding symptoms (being on top of my pills, doing anything the doctor suggested for prevention). My mom’s baseball league came together to provide us with meals on a weekly basis, which was an enormous amount of help to my family. My best friend was also a big source of support – she is currently living in Vancouver but made sure to call me everyday to keep my mood up.

What is/was the most difficult part of being a young woman with breast cancer?

Superficially, during treatments, the most difficult part was losing my eyebrows and eyelashes. However, as treatments are nearing their end, I am realizing other difficulties. Since my friends and I all just graduated from University this year, they all started their full time careers. It’s hard to watch people get on with their lives, when your own life is on hold. As soon as you are done treatments, you think “Finally, I can get on with my life”, but it’s easier said than done. Everyone, including yourself, expects you to start big things, and it all becomes so real and scary at the same time. A year ago, I was prepared and willing to start my career, and now it’s intimidating, as a result of having done so little over the last year because of treatments. Going from school to a job is a natural progression where you stay busy – going from cancer treatments to a full time job is daunting!

What’s something unexpected you learned about yourself as a result of having breast cancer?

I think most people would expect me to say that I learned how strong I was, but I’ve always thought everyone is strong; you just need to be put in a situation where you have no choice but to use your strength. Therefore, I wouldn’t say I necessarily learned anything unexpected about myself, but more so about others. It amazed me to see the generosity of others and the way that people will come together in order to make your journey a little bit easier. It reminded me that being there for someone, no matter how small the act is, can really make someone’s day.

In one sentence, what words of wisdom would you pass on to another young woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?

The thought of cancer treatments is scary, but on your worst days, know that there are good days ahead because the symptoms will not last!

For more wisdom on being young with breast cancer check out Rethink Breast Cancer’s Care Guidelines here.