How I Went From Isolation to Baring it All…

By finally accepting that I was worthy of help

Header + Photo Credit: Wendy D Photography

My name is Maria João Cruz. I was diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer in July 2021. I kept the news to myself for a few hours and then I convened a round table of my closest girlfriends and broke the news over an Indian feast. It did stay surreal for so long, even though my first month was a barrage of appointments and tests including multiple biopsies. The diagnosis went from stage 1 with a lumpectomy to stage 3 with definite chemotherapy and a possible mastectomy following – in just a few weeks. My 77-year-old mother didn’t believe me at first when I told her – my Portuguese-Canadian family doesn’t even use the word – cancro. They say the equivalent of “that awful disease” instead. As if by naming it, they too may catch it. So began the questions of myself – am I to blame? What did I eat or drink too much of to deserve this? Was it stress? Doing too much? Not enough? People of perfect peak health still get cancer, so it’s not my fault, right? Right?

I live alone in Vancouver – no partner, no children, no roommates. I balance a job in education with a career in the arts. I have always chosen the creative path eschewing any financial security and as such, I have little savings. Even in Canada, I had no idea the kind of financial impact having cancer would have on a person. How much time I would need off work? What kind of benefits do I have towards that? Almost a month after my diagnosis, when I had my first chemo treatment, my friends paid to get my iconic waist length hair chopped off into a very short cut, while a few friends started floating the idea of making a GoFundMe. I was profoundly uncomfortable with this idea of asking people for money because I had cancer. Who was I to ask people to help me? I have always taken care of myself – borrowing from Paul to pay Peter, but always keeping afloat – able to have a social life within an artistic circle and prioritizing travel and friends over societal must-haves such as the house, the car, even the partner. 

Photo Credit: Wendy D Photography

It took my dear friend months of talking me into it – now deep into soul crushing chemotherapy treatments that completely transformed my appearance – to finally accept that I could share the GoFundMe site she had created, but only privately, with a few discrete groups. Close friends wanted to share my campaign on social media, but I refused – keeping it to a curated email list only. I am not exactly sure what I was afraid of at the time… What repercussions awaited me by admitting I was sick and needed help. And that, yes, financial help is very much a part of that. When the donations started to come in – sometimes from the most surprising people – I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that I could make rent and be able to treat myself to a few things. That I could create and be safe in my own healing space. I realize now that somehow it also meant I was just as deserving of a “good life” as those who chose to attain the house, the car, the partner and here was the proof! It was finally okay to breathe. I deserved more than half the salary that my leave from work allowed to see me through this. I deserved to feel safe financially to get through this. 

Then, it took me until contracting Covid and falling into a deep depression in December to finally “come out” as having cancer on my Instagram in January – almost 6 months after my diagnosis. The isolation and lack of transparency was affecting my mental health. It was quite literally a huge weight off my shoulders. The support was so heartfelt and again – surprised me. I did a public post not because everyone needs to “know my business,” I am historically private, but I finally understood that I cannot go about any business without occupying an authentic space and being real about my current experience and my needs as a result. AUTHENTIC became my word for the year. No, you don’t need to know everything, but I will no longer be hiding anything either. It has been the hardest year of my life, but I’m here – finished chemotherapy; post double mastectomy and multiple infections; still receiving immunotherapy until November and about to start endocrine therapy. Not to mention the myriad of mental health challenges and physical side effects my treatment has brought me.

Taking more time off work than I anticipated to heal as much as possible has been the best decision I could have made. To allow myself to rest is the greatest gift I could have given myself on this journey. — Maria

The following poem is a gift to fellow breast cancer survivors and thrivers – only we know what we’ve been through and how it has changed us.


I lie 


Again, and again and again and again.

Will there ever be enough repose to feel whole?

Or will there always be holes where those pieces of me used to be?


Close my eyes and swim away

Under waves of grief crashing over me in public spaces.

Keen with me now – bow your head and clasp your hands to your breast.

How can you know if you’ve never been put to my test?


For tomorrow may bring joy.

It’s not quite clear, but I think I hear my ancestors clapping on the decks of the

Sagres ships that carried them across. 

It’s not time for me yet.

I’ve got much more to grow, show, know, GLOW

Under the luminescence of many more full moons.


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