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The man’s widening eyes tell me what I call “the long stare” is coming: his gaze darts up and down Brett’s body, side to side to take in Sam and me, and then up and down Brett again. It’s creepy. It’s always creepy when this happens. I don’t know if people who give our family this eye treatment realize how gross and rude they are being or if they simply don’t care.

When I can, I will stare back at the long stare giver with my arms crossed and an expression that asks, “And what do you want?” Inevitably, the person will catch me staring back and then usually look away.

However, we are in the middle of walking through a plant-lined atrium on the way to my latest Herceptin infusion at the hospital, so I can’t do this. Brett’s heels patter with a pleasing loudness on the tile floor as I look back at the man.

He’s still staring at us, but now he does something I’ve never seen anyone do to us before: he goes up to someone he seems to know and points for her to stare at us as well. He is actually pointing and staring at us as if we are a freakish spectacle.

This man is wearing a hospital employee uniform, and the person to whom he points us out is in a volunteer one.

I come to this hospital regularly for surgeries, cancer treatments, and check-ups. I am at my most vulnerable here: unconscious in anesthetic oblivion, cut open, sewn up, recovering from procedures, filled with sometimes volatile yet vital medications, and staying here multiple nights while recovering from an infection once and twice from post-surgical sickness. Sam and Brett are here, too, for all of this stuff and have spent too many hours in this place that’s familiar enough to the three of us to be a second home.

Sam tearfully holds my hand when he finds out I’m too sick to come home after surgery. December 18, 2015
Sam tearfully holds my hand when he finds out I’m too sick to come home after surgery. December 18, 2015

Despite these vulnerabilities, today is the first time I’ve felt unsafe in this hospital.

Today is the first time I worry about my little family’s safety in being here. The man’s uniform indicates that he does maintenance for the hospital, so I know he would never be directly involved in any of my treatments. But the word “unsafe” floats across my mind in stark black letters.

My wife is gorgeous and a lithe 6’2. She’s spectacularly outfitted in a black and white clingy dress with ruching. Her medium-length light brown hair and makeup are perfected after many months of figuring out her look. She’s also trans.

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We have done nothing in this atrium but be our usual selves by all holding hands and chatting together, things that would seem unremarkable in families where everyone appears to be cisgender but often attract stares for us. Welcome to being visibly queer in public.

If it weren’t for Sam’s presence, I would turn right around and ask the man what his problem was. I haven’t fought through cancer and to hold onto life to let anyone crap all over what and whom I hold dear. Instead, I take in the man’s physical details to report him to patient relations while Sam happily chirps away and bounces between my and Brett’s hands.

Mama going to the hospital so often can be distressing for our then-six-year-old boy, and I refuse to allow someone’s ignorance to upset him.

Sam is a vital part of my surgical team! March 22, 2016
Sam is a vital part of my surgical team! March 22, 2016

One of the reasons that I’ve felt we are safe at the hospital is all the staff we’ve dealt with during my various cancer things have been nothing but respectful to us. We’ve been stared at on occasion by hospital staff we pass in the hallways, but it’s never been more than a few seconds of the long stare and never before accompanied by pointing.

Until now, the most I’ve ever had to do is politely correct someone’s pronoun usage or say that Brett is my wife, not husband, and update hospital records to indicate this.

When Brett officially came out during my treatments, staff we knew gave us congratulations. Brett has received enthusiastic compliments from staff and once a bit of hairstyling advice.

“How do you do that with your hair?” Brett asked a chemo nurse as I was getting a Herceptin infusion. The nurse had fashioned a stylish twist to one side of her hair with a bobby pin.

“Oh, I’ll show you,” the nurse replied cheerfully. She took Brett’s bobby pin and deftly twisted the side of Brett’s hair in the same way.

Brett looked in the mirror in my chemo alcove with a smile on her face. She always dresses up as nicely and fashionably as she can on my hospital days because she knows seeing her like that makes me happy. Seeing her smile at learning a new hairstyle filled me with warmth that belied the chill of the Herceptin in my veins.

On our way back after the incident where I felt we were unsafe, we pass by the man again. This time, his eyes widen and then he deliberately looks down at the equipment trolley he is pushing and not at any of us. I realize he must have caught me looking back at him earlier. I feel vindicated.

Patient relations deals with my complaint promptly. I get a follow-up call the next morning from a kind lady at patient relations who is aghast at and apologetic for what the man did. Then I get another call from the fellow’s manager, who also apologizes and promises that she will follow up with all of her employees to remind them that they need to be respectful of everyone and that she will speak privately to this man in particular.

The hospital goes back to being a safe place for all of us after this. I hope that I helped make it safe for other LGBTQ people as well. Since I spoke up, my family hasn’t received a single long stare from any hospital employee.

-Beatrice

More from Beatrice here.

 

 

We all have different ways of doing things, so if you are interested, keep reading to see what I try to do everyday that makes me feel better physically and emotionally while facing a pretty tricky and life threatening disease.

  7:30 AM 

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Morning Cocktail

My morning starts with a shot of lemon and ginger – no vodka 🙂 They (whoever they are) believe there are so many health benefits by drinking a glass of lemon water first thing in the morning – alkalinizes and cleanses your liver, so I say why not concentrate it and just make it a full on shot with freshly squeezed lemon juice.  I also add freshly grated ginger, because they say that is really good for you as well.

  8:00 AM 

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Tea Time

Next I drink  a cup of dandelion root tea.  They say this actually kills cancer cells.  It doesn’t taste horrible, so I say why not?!  Again, I’m going to refer to the never seen group of ‘they’, so feel free to look this stuff up yourself and see if this works for you.

These first things are all happening while I get my son’s breakfast ready – a delicious warm waffle with maple syrup and to make me feel like I am offering him a healthy meal, I also make sure he eats a full fruit.

  10:00 AM 

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Rebounding (not the relationship kind)

After walking him to school, I walk back home (that counts as some exercise, correct?) and rebound on a small trampoline for 15 minutes, while watching the Food Network or Blue Jays in 30.  Rebounding apparently gets your lymph system moving.  This system doesn’t have a pump like our circulatory system does so we need to do some sort of exercise to get your lymph moving and therefore improving your immune system.  They say rebounding is one of the best ways to do this.

  10:30 AM 

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A Yoga Quickie

Next I do some very simple yoga for about 10 – 15.  I find it relaxing and easily stretches me out.  My favorite pose is Shavasana – you know the one where you get to just lie there 😉

  11:00 AM 

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Dry brushing (not my teeth or hair)

After that, I dry brush (look up on youtube how to do this).  This is another great way to get your lymph system moving – plus your skin becomes so soft!

  11:30 AM

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Sauna treatment

I’m very lucky to have a near infrared sauna in my house, so I hop in there for 20 minutes.  They say these rays penetrate your skin somewhat and can kill cancer cells.  As someone who is always cold, I just love going in there to warm up, but after 20 minutes, I am drenching in sweat!  Thank goodness I don’t have much hair (thank you chemo) or my head would melt!!

After that, I obviously shower – nothing cancer related to this, just trying to practice proper hygiene 🙂

  12:00 PM

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#ChemoMonday(not to be confused with #MotivationMonday, #MusicMonday or #MossMonday)

If it is a Monday I then head to the hospital for blood work and if all is good, I get my chemo.  I get it every week for three week and then I get an off week.  I have been on this chemo for almost a year and for those of us with metastatic breast cancer, we stay on a treatment as long as it is working.  While we continue to live on this Earth, we are never done with treatment.

  3:00 PM

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Juicing

In the afternoon, I go and grab a green juice from my local Raw restaurant. It has kale, celery. cucumber, lemon, parsley, and romaine lettuce.  I have acquired a taste for this, as I’m sure many of you are reading this and thinking “how can you drink that?!”  Actually if you get a lot of lemon in it, it is actually tasty!

  3:15 PM

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More meds…

Oh yes – I can’t forget all the pills I take throughout the day – some are from my oncologist including calcium and vitamin D and a bunch of others from my naturopath.  I keep them both informed on what I am taking to make sure no interactions.

  3:30 (and 2-4-7)

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Mom-ing

It is now time to pick up my son, either take him home, to swimming or piano lessons.  Usually piano and swimming involves some sort of protest, but I can’t give in even though many times I also want to just go home and turn the TV on – even if it means watching Bubble Guppies or Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Then it is your typical evening as a parent to a 4 year old: make and eat dinner, a little time for play, and then get ready for bed (bath, brush teeth, put PJs on, which surprisingly takes a long time when you have a boy who likes to run up and down the hall in his birthday suit, read story and then my son, who is a diva, likes his back and head scratched followed by his hands rubbed.  I actually love this moment with him and just feel calm and at peace for those last 10 minutes of his day.

  10:00 PM

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Bedtime Routine

Once I say good night to him, I may tidy up or I may just say eff it and sit on the couch.  But my day is still not done – I take an injection of mistletoe.  This is subscribed by naturopath and apparently improves your immune system.

I then take cannabis oil.  I know controversial, but this helps me sleep and may have anti-cancer properties, so again, why not!

Then good night!  I turn on my cancer killing guided imagery and somewhere in between the 20 minute recording, I fall asleep 🙂

I have to be honest, I don’t do all of this every day, as I get sick of doing these things. I may get in a slump for a few days, but then I get back in the groove.  This may not be for everyone or anyone at all, but it makes me feel better and I think even if none of this stuff is working, if I feel better mentally, it just means I am in a better place for  my husband and son for as along as I am here on this Earth.  Remember we aren’t stamped with an expiration date like a carton of milk, so I say, why not get myself into a position where I feel as good as I can for as long as I can.

-Michelle Riccio

You can hear more from Michelle on her blog here or watch her video on metastatic cancer here.

As my year of cancer has come to an “end” I find myself in a state of limbo. Getting my life back to “normal” has been fairly easy but just when I forget about all the hospital visits, my scars, my life without hair, I catch myself and feel the need to remind myself..”you’re not normal, you had cancer”! I find myself working more and getting excited to take on more in my life but then I’m crippled with the sense of fear…what if I’m pushing myself too hard too soon and what if I get sick again?

As I was chatting with one of my best friends about this feeling over text, she was compelled to write. Then this email popped into my inbox. And that was the moment that my friend put my year, my feelings, my experiences and the things that were already fading from memory into words. BEAUTIFUL AND POWERFUL WORDS….

I think the day I found out Dory might have cancer was the most scared I’d ever been. I’d felt the pain and dread of losing someone before, but this was somehow different. This would be more awful and even less fair than anything I’d seen before.

I remember jumping ahead to all the worst case scenarios.  I remember the anger… the sheer bitter anger that the world was dealing her this hand.

The next thing I remember is sitting on her couch, with hand written notes, trying to be an active supporter as she made decisions that could and would affect the rest of her life. In what order does she have her breasts removed, or be pumped full of poison for months? Does she have one breast removed or both? Does she have her goddamn eggs fertilized in the hopes that she can still have kids even though her and her boyfriend had just recently moved in together?

Then there were the unknowns – What would this do to her financially? Would this affect her career? Would there be terrible lasting side effects of treatment?

Somehow the past year flashed by as though it was a dream… except it wasn’t. She had to be brave, she had to be sick, she had to be in pain. And it was messed up and awful. And there were also moments of laughter because she is hilarious and has a twisted sense of humour. There were tender moments like carefully washing her hair. And beauty in the way her boyfriend looked at her differently, like she was the most magnificent thing he’d ever seen… not in spite of how she looked but because of it – it represented her strength.

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There were the doctor’s appointments which were scary and overwhelming and annoying and unfair. There was the surgery… that was a terrible day… except that when she got out, she was the same funny, sarcastic, social person she’d always been… but somehow more resilient now. There was chemo, which she endured like a fucking champion. There was pain and discomfort.  But there was also curiosity and determination to give her body the best fighting chance she possibly could. Then there was the hair loss and the bone aches and the exhaustion. But there was still her. She never left – she only became more of what she already was.

But, there were also the wine nights, the birthdays and the dancing and the love and the laughter and the regular stuff that went on because she wasn’t about to crumble and she wasn’t about to let cancer take over who she was or how she was going to live her life.

And now she’s “through it”. Treatment is done and she’s supposed to return to her normal life. What the fuck is normal anyway? She’s going to move on with this deep knowledge that life is short and it’s fragile and it can get turned upside down and sideways at any given moment. And that’s completely terrifying. But she also learned how fiercely people love her. She learned the strength of her own being. She learned that she and the rest of us have been wasting time caring about extraneous stuff that does not matter.

So, that’s it I guess. And she’s changed forever. And in some ways she’s just more of herself. I learned that I love that girl more than life itself… and I am grateful as hell that she is one of the lucky ones.

-Susie Ward (Dory’s friend)

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Imagine being 36 and being told you have breast cancer. It has already moved out of the breast and started spreading through your bones. When you are first diagnosed with any kind of disease, the first thing that happens is information overload. You’re alone, scared, and overwhelmed by all of the new information you’re being given because there is too much of everything coming at you at once.

It’s terminal but you haven’t been told this yet. It seems the only thing the doctors want to discuss with you at this point is what you want to happen with your end of life care.

Do you want to be resuscitated if you go into cardiac arrest? Do you want us to do CPR and chest compressions? Do you want us to defibrillate you and shock your heart? Do you want to be put on life support if it is needed? Do you want to be DNR and for us to just let you go so that you can pass away? What exactly do you want us to do? At this point, no one has told you exactly how bad the cancer is or what your prognosis is for survival. They don’t even tell you it was Stage IV in the beginning. They told you they were still trying to stage the cancer and you don’t really have any other information about your disease. All you know right now is pain. How do you make any of these decisions when you don’t even know you are dying?

It’s the end of January 2015 and I’ve finally been transferred to the Cross Cancer Institute to start my chemo treatment. The resident doctor shows up to my room the first night I’m there to check me over and prescribe my drugs for the evening. One of the first things he wants to talk about is my end of life care. [pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I’m high, alone, and scared because at this point I’m not really certain what is going on and it seems like yet again all the Dr wants to do is discuss what I want to happen right before I die.[/pullquote]

All I can think is that this Dr thinks I’m going to die in my sleep and I’m not going to make it until morning. I’m so afraid to sleep because I fear that every time I close my eyes it will be the last time and there is so much stuff I’ve left undone or unsaid in my life.

I’ve learned through these experiences that some stuff needs to be dealt with immediately and others can be put off for a later date. It’s been 18 months since my diagnosis and the cancer has spread into my brain and my last bone scan is showing that the cancer in my bones may be starting to become active again. If this is the case, the cancer could start to spread to the other organs soon and I’ve got some major decisions to make about my Personal Directive and Living Will. I’ve had a chance to think about things and talk to my family doctor about the realities of my health and medical condition. I’ve been able to make informed decisions about what I think would be best if it all comes down to making these decisions. We were able to have a good honest discussion about what my current condition is and what are some of the possibilities I can expect at the end if I do go into cardiac arrest or need to think about life support. I made some decisions about my end of life care last year but to be honest I’ve been procrastinating making anymore of these decisions because they are so final.

I have for the most part accepted that I’m dying but completing these documents makes death a reality for me.

What are the first thoughts that go through your head after you’ve been told you are dying? It certainly isn’t how you are going to pick the person that may end up being the most important person in your life.

Just to clarify, I’m 37 years old, I’m single and I live alone with my lovely cat Aurora. I have no spouse that can make these decisions for me so I need to choose another family member to be my next of kin. It will be either my mother or my brother. I know it’s going to be a hard decision for me to pick one of them but it’s a very important decision and I need to choose wisely. I have to take my best interests into account as well as the best interests of the person I choose. [pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]They have to be able to live with any decision that they make when it comes to the end of my life and that decision will ultimately result in my death.[/pullquote]

My mother had to make end of life decisions with her sister in 2007 when her mother, my grandmother, was at the end of her life and died. I know to this day my mom struggles with the decision that they made and has a hard time forgiving herself. Her best friend and sister was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2013 and ended up dying on my birthday in December 2013. My father was diagnosed with Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) or small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL) in October of 2014. He has since been diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

I was diagnosed with my cancer a few months later in January 2015. My mom is still struggling with the grief for her sister and hasn’t had a chance to properly grieve her because she has had to be so involved in my treatment and care. She already has a lot going on in her life without potentially having to put this on her as well.

A parent isn’t supposed to outlive their children and I don’t know if she would be able to let me go and be able to live with her decision even knowing that it would be the best for me in the end and it is ultimately what I would have wanted.

My brother is the other person that I trust to make my end of life decisions. I trust that any decision he makes would be what we’ve discussed and what I want to happen. We can discuss and prepare as much as we can for what might happen at the end of my life but there is only so much a person can predict.

James is 39 and with him being the same age, I know that if he has to make a decision about something that we haven’t had a chance to discuss that he would be able to make an educated decision based on what he would want to happen to him and the quality of life he’d want right now. I know that he would be able to follow through with my end of life plans but like my mother I don’t want him to have to live the rest of his life knowing that he might have made the decision to let his little sister die.[/pullquote]

I decided last year that he was the best choice and would be my next of kin but it was and continues to be a hard decision.

I struggle all the time knowing that if it does come down to it in the end, he’ll have to live with whatever happens and I truly don’t know if I want that but I really don’t have any other options because someone has to be there to support me and make decisions about my life if I’m not able to.

All said and done, I don’t know what the end of my life will be like. I could very well just pass away in my sleep and no decisions will have to be made by my family. I don’t know how bad I’ll be or what my state of mind will be.[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] I need to be realistic and take all things into consideration so that in the end the decisions about my death is a little easier on me and my family. [/pullquote]

All I want my person to have to do is act on my wishes and hopefully it will ease the burden on them knowing that it was what I wanted in the end and this person will become the most important person in my life.

Originally published July 21st, 2015 here.

Cathy was 37 when she was diagnosed with metastatic cancer in 2015 just after completing her Master’s Degree. She is chronicling her journey on her blog Is My Cancer Affecting your Ears?  

Leo Mowry, Stretch.Heal.Grow. Yoga Teacher, Reiki Master, and author shares the 5 benefits of yoga.

Relaxation / Stress-management.

Needless to say, for most people, stress and anxiety go hand in hand with a cancer diagnosis. Happily, practicing yoga effectively helps to alleviate both. Studies have shown that a regular yoga practice lowers cortisol (the “stress hormone”) levels and blood pressure, and increases serotonin and endorphin production.

Improve circulation and flow of lymph throughout the body.

One of the reasons yoga is so healing lies in its intrinsic ability to stimulate blood flow and lymph flow. Being pumped through the heart, blood naturally moves more vibrantly thought the body than lymph fluid. Lymph flow relies on correct breathing and muscle motion. With its emphasis on breathing, stretching, strengthening, twisting and movement, yoga decreases tension from the body, creating more softness and space through which our bodily fluids can flow more easily.

Minimize fatigue and improve sleep.

Fatigue and sleep problems are frequent side effects of mainstream cancer treatments, and also contribute to increased inflammation in the body. Study after study has shown the benefits of yoga on sleep. Significantly, a comprehensive study showed that on average there was 57% decreased fatigue, and up to 20% decreased inflammation in breast cancer patients, 6 months after the study began.

Support.

Cancer can take an emotional toll on someone and it can be difficult to deal with it alone. The calming effects of yoga can provide a physically and emotionally beneficial activity you can do with friends or new friends from the community, allowing you to connect on happy and positive terms.

Manage Physical Pain.

Studies have shown that yoga can help with pain management specifically for women who are in recovery. Regular yoga practice can aid with improved circulation, relaxed muscle tension, and expand ranges of motion.

This week marks the fourth Stretch.Heal.Grow, a retreat for young women living with breast cancer, our partner Jasmin Fiore hosts each year. The retreat inspires and educates young women through yoga, meditation and healthy living workshops. It provides an opportunity for young women living with breast cancer to come together in community and support. A Big thank you to our partner Eisai for their support.

Sign up for the Rethink Young Women’s Network for more info and invites to retreats like this.

My long brown hair fell to the floor in chunks, which brought a sweet relief to the aching hair follicles on my scalp. It was 14 days since my first chemo treatment, and my hair had been littering the house like tumbleweeds for the past two days.

I didn’t look at myself in the mirror while my head was shaved in a private room at a cancer apparel boutique. Instead, I glanced at my friend Tiffany, who gave me a warm but sad smile. My son, Sam, played with a mannequin modeling a peacock-coloured headscarf.

“What do you think?” I asked Sam while my former hair surrounded the barber’s chair like a moat.

Sam looked up at me and broke out into a huge smile. “You look really cool!” he exclaimed as he came over to sit on my lap.

 Sam and I celebrate my hair’s last days during our family’s pre-chemo vacation to Canmore, Alberta, on March 21, 2015.

Sam and I celebrate my hair’s last days during our family’s pre-chemo vacation to Canmore, Alberta, on March 21, 2015.

That’s the best compliment I have ever received on my appearance. I sometimes can even believe it in my heart.

I looked in the mirror for the first time. Oh, that’s not too bad!

Tiffany snapped a picture for my wife, Brett, and my best friend, Alexis, and then I sent it off to them. Everyone was complimentary, and I kind of liked my new G.I. Jane appearance.

My badass bald look! Brett caught this candid shot of me smiling at Sam on our patio, June 19, 2015
My badass bald look! Brett caught this candid shot of me smiling at Sam on our patio, June 19, 2015.

Then it was time to put on the new headscarf that Sam had picked out for me from a selection of dozens: a cozy cap of purples, greens, yellows, and blues with two long tails to tie up. With this armour chosen by my son, I felt ready to conquer the year ahead of intense cancer treatments.

Brett has been growing her hair out for the past several years of her gender transition. After my head had been shorn, I graciously bestowed upon Brett the family title of “The Hair.” This was a joke that had started several years ago when my youngest brother, Scott, wore his hair a bit longer than I usually did. After Scott cut his hair short, the title was given to me. And now that I had very little hair, I felt it was Brett’s time. Her hair is a shimmery blend of light brown with many blond highlights and sports a natural, beautiful wave. She is gorgeous and definitely “The Hair” of the family.

A few days after my head shave, even the cute G.I. Jane look started to hurt my scalp. So I got the shaving cream, my razor, and a towel before proceeding to carefully shave off the buzz cut in front of the bathroom mirror.

After my head was shaved; my face is bright red from chemo side effects, April 17, 2015
After my head was shaved; my face is bright red from chemo side effects, April 17, 2015

Shaving my own head is the most badass thing I’ve ever done. Even after the body dysphoria started, I still felt this to be true.

I caught a flash of a bald head in my bedroom mirror. Who is that? I momentarily wondered. That’s when I remembered that this bald head belonged to me, but even after a few months of being hairless, I failed to recognize myself.

When I would see Brett with her beautiful hair and feminine appearance, I would think about how I get, as much as a cis person can, what it must be like for some trans people to look in the mirror and not see their true selves. I always knew it was me with my headscarf on, but I didn’t know this weirdly ethereal creature who was completely hairless, and that’s why I never once recognized her at first glance.

Okay, Beatrice. Breathe. Just breathe. It’s not the worst thing in the world.

In my hands I held my beloved headscarf, which now sported a rather large hole running along the seam after I’d taken it from the dryer. The hole would create a gap where my unruly medium brown chemo curls could sprout through. I sat in the dark on the bright white linoleum floor in my parents-in-law’s laundry room. Sam, Brett, and I were visiting family in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and if I needed a new scarf, I had no idea where to get one.

me, Brett, and Sam at the Hamilton airport at the start of our Ontario vacation, June 21, 2016
me, Brett, and Sam at the Hamilton airport at the start of our Ontario vacation, June 21, 2016

My chemo curls felt completely wrong to me, and sometimes I had distressing pulling urges as my hair was growing back. The trichotillomania I’ve battled on and off since my earliest childhood memories threatened to come back in full force if I went too long with my head uncovered. Trichotillomania and the dysphoria kept me wearing my headscarf long after the point many cancer patients would have stopped wearing any sort of cancer-related head covering.

Brett and me on our way to a wedding on June 25, 2016; this was shortly after I found my headscarf had a hole in it.
Brett and me on our way to a wedding on June 25, 2016; this was shortly after I found my headscarf had a hole in it.

Fretfully, I walked from the laundry room to the mirror at the front entrance to the house. My mother-in-law, Alma, passed by me in the hallway, and I don’t think I sounded as panicked as I felt when I mentioned to her what had just happened. The sunlight gleamed through the windows along the door as I anxiously slid the scarf over my head and tied the tails to cover the hole. There, now you couldn’t see the hole. You couldn’t see this first dent in my armour against trichotillomania and body dysphoria. But I knew the dent was there, even if no one else could see it.

That’s when I decided after we got back to Calgary from Ontario, it was finally time for my first post-chemo haircut.

Check out Beatrice’s last post here.

 

Name:  Karyn Stowe
Age:   45
City:   Toronto

What do you do when you are not changing the world with philanthropic gestures?

I am a mom to 3 amazing kids (ages 14, 11 and 10) and a cuddly Labradoodle named Alfie.  I took quite a bit of time off work with my kids but I’m returning to the classroom as a French supply teacher in the fall.  I love going out for dinner with my husband and friends, as well as volunteering in our community.  If I could hop on a plane every weekend to travel and explore the world, I would!  Sadly, that’s not my reality so I take whatever travel opportunities I can get!

What is one thing you have re-thought in your life?  How did you approach it?

Definitely my career.  I had very specific plans and goals for myself before I had breast cancer…but after I was diagnosed, suddenly I was re-thinking my priorities.   I definitely felt the need to ‘give back’ and help other women and families facing a breast cancer diagnosis, so with funding from Rethink, I wrote on the book, The Kid’s Guide to Mommy’s Breast Cancer.  I had an incredibly talented team working on it with me and I believe we created a reassuring, honest, and helpful resources for families.

Very quickly, I also realized that spending time with the people I loved most was increasingly important to me.  I also recognized that I needed to heal both physically and emotionally.  Taking some time after my diagnosis to reposition myself in my “life plan” was not only necessary, it was an amazing opportunity for self-growth and a deepening of meaningful relationships.

What inspires you daily?

My son.  He struggles with some anxieties and phobias and he continually pushes himself to live beyond them.

What is the most important thing to know when it comes to donating to a cause?

I think it needs to be meaningful to you and you need to know that the money is going to be used in a way that makes you proud.

How do you find a cause you are passionate about?

I look at the struggles and challenges that my family and friends have dealt with.  I always think that if there could be a cure or an easier solution for them lurking around the corner, then it’s worth the contribution.  For our family, we also try to choose a local, national and international cause to support.

What is innovative about the Rethink approach?

I’m really excited to see how the Rethink approach reaches the people who need their support.  I also love that women can access their educational videos and information whenever and wherever they may be.

When I give back I feel… like part of a greater good.

My mother, Angie

Being a mother comes with many incredible moments but also many challenges and sometimes they hit you at the same time.

My mother Angie taught me everything I need to know about love, survival and never giving up. She was my mom and lucky for me one of my best friends too.

When I was eighteen Angie was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Even though she tried to downplay it,  I knew on the inside she was terrified. You see, she had lost her mother to cancer when she was seventeen and her mother was only thirty six. It left a mark on her in many ways but from it she became the strongest woman I have ever known.

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My Mother, Angie

Mom went through treatment for her first occurrence of breast cancer with a positive outlook and lots of hope. Things went well. Then 4 years later a new cancer emerged in her uterus and she had to go through treatment all over again.  In fact, she ended up facing cancer several times over the next 15 years. She kept on going with a smile and an incredible love for life, her family, travelling, helping others and eating good food. She was to me, the true essence of a survivor.

In 2008 when I became a mother and she became a grandmother, our relationship deepened. I understood things I didn’t get before. I felt things I had never felt before. Once I became a mom myself, I truly began to respect and understand my own mother more than I ever had. All of a sudden I had so many questions I wanted to ask her about how to be a good mom, when really I already knew how because she was my example.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011.  Two weeks later,  Angie went into palliative care and three months later while I was going through chemo,  she passed away. It shook my world and turned it upside down. I didn’t have time to even think or really process it since I was in the middle of the fight for my own life and still trying to be mommy and grieve my mommy at the same time. What was I going to do without her? It put me to the test in so many way

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Losing her has made me very aware of what kind of mother I want to be. It has shown me that I can make it through treatment and still enjoy life. She blazed a path before me.  Even though I would never wish it on anyone, being by her side as she went through her treatment several times,  somehow made my diagnosis less scary for me because I knew I could get through this and survive.

Things I learned from my mom:

1. When you think you don’t have it in you to go on, keep trying and don’t give up. She taught me to take some time to sit with it, process it, cry, swear, be angry, be sad, but then sleep on it. Then remind yourself how many blessings you still have and what you are still able to do and pick yourself up again and again and again if you need to.

2. Do the things that make you happy and help others find what makes them happy. Being a teacher made her happy and she helped so many students along her journey. Her desire to be of service taught me how important it is to use your gifts to help others.

3. Don’t be afraid of your pain, physical or emotional. Acknowledging your pain takes away some of the power it has over you and gives you clues on how to help yourself through it.

4. Love is everything. love for family, friends, animals, people in need, nature and our planet.  Spread love to as many people as you can. Give and receive love and all the healing it offers.

5. Cultivate a healthy love for learning, growing and exploring.  Treatment and medication complications didn’t stop her from travelling, learning and trying new things. When I feel tired I just think of her and how much she packed into each day for as long as she could and it reminds me to embrace every moment of life.

6. Remember to ask for help when you need it and to let your friends and family help you. This one can be tricky for those people who are used to being incredibly self-sufficient. Give it a try and you’ll see how it can really help lighten the stress.

Our daughters give me daily opportunities to put this into practice and I am so thankful for that. They keep me and my hubby on our toes, always learning, problem solving and seeing the world anew each day. When I was first diagnosed, the only thing I could think about was my daughters and how unfair this was to them. But then I quickly realized that I had no choice but to enjoy life with them and fill it with love and as many new adventures as I can. I hope I can pass along to them some of the strength, positivity and love for life my mom instilled in me.

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So on this mother’s day, give some thought to what you have learned from your mom. Give some thought to what you want to teach your children or nieces and nephews.  Take a moment to thank your mother, grandmothers, mother in law and aunties for their wisdom and strength – yes even their unsolicited advice!

Everything they teach us becomes a part of us and we in turn can choose what we hope to pass on to our children. Now, I seriously hope you taught them the importance of getting breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day and maybe even the chance to take an afternoon nap!

Happy Mother’s Day!

– Jasmin Fiore

If you would like to support young mothers, like Jasmin, who are facing breast cancer, you can make a donation here.

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.