Cancer Showed Me My Real Priorities
August 17, 2017, the day before my 40th birthday, the day I heard the words, “It’s cancer.” My world stopped. But I think deep down I already knew. I had felt the lump myself a month prior to the biopsy, but I was on holiday and there wasn’t anything I could do.
It’s amazing to me the amount of strength you can conjure up during a time like this. The few days after the diagnosis I had a very strange sense of calm come over me. I had accepted that I had cancer and I was ready to meet it head-on.
After my diagnosis, it was a complete whirlwind. I met my surgeon with my little entourage to make sure I had as many ears as possible to take in the information we were about to receive. My surgeon was amazing, he completely set the tone for what was to come with my medical team. Within two weeks I had my surgery. I was given two choices from my surgeon, to have a full mastectomy or to have the tumour removed (a lumpectomy) and then chemotherapy followed by radiation. I opted for the lumpectomy as my surgeon explained that it would be the same result as having a mastectomy, so I chose to keep my breasts. It was a pretty painless surgery and I healed very quickly.
Five weeks later, I started a very intensive round of chemotherapy which would last six months. This is what I was most scared of, the unknown. I envisioned myself throwing up all the time and being confined to bed. I was petrified to lose my hair because it’s the first sign you have a serious illness. I was told by my doctors that it would start to fall out around day 17.
I remember the first clump vividly. I was at my son’s hockey practice and I ran my hand through my hair and there it was. I tried it again and another clump came out. My whole body felt hot with anxiety and I was worried other people would see the clumps of hair in my hand. At that point in my treatment I still looked, for lack of a better word, ‘normal’.
The next day, we decided to do a family head shave. I didn’t want to have to deal with my hair coming out slowly and to be honest, it hurt. My scalp was so sensitive that I just wanted it off. We shaved our boys’ heads first and then asked them if we should shave my head as well, they answered with a very enthusiastic yes! I would highly recommend shaving your own head to anyone facing hair loss through chemo, it gave me a sense of control in a situation where there is very little of that to go around.
Having cancer truly puts things into perspective, you look at the world in a different way afterwards and my priorities shifted. Prior to having breast cancer I was an elementary school teacher for 15 years. I loved my job and found it to be so rewarding, but the last few years, especially after having my own children, I also found it to be quite stressful. I missed special occasions with my children at school and wasn’t able to be there for them. So, I decided after my treatment, I wasn’t going to go back.
I have shifted gears to still educate and work with people, but in a different capacity. I took what I learned throughout my treatment in regards to nutrition and how to take care of our bodies and got my certification as a Holistic Cancer Practitioner so I can work with other women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have become the person in my world that everyone reaches out to when they have a friend who was newly diagnosed with breast cancer, to ask advice on how to support them or to put us in contact. I realized how fulfilling this was for me to help these women on their journey and share what I learned that helped me along the way. I have walked in their shoes and know better than anyone what they are going through emotionally, mentally and physically.
I read a book after I completed my treatment called Picking Up the Pieces: Moving Forward after Surviving Cancer by Sherri Magee and Kathy Scalzo. In the book, they use the analogy of people as vases that have been shattered by cancer and now have to put the pieces back together again. We will never be the same, but we can be stronger and more beautiful because of it. It is not an easy road to go down, but the lessons I have learned have made me a stronger person and for that, I am grateful. – Caley Wolf