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.