How My Home Became My Refuge During Diagnosis And Treatment
“How do I make this beautiful?”
I was lying on my living room floor one afternoon, post-diagnosis, fresh off the news that my treatment for triple negative breast cancer would include eight rounds of aggressive chemo, and a double mastectomy. I was safe at home, having come from what felt like one of the hundred thousand medical appointments that follow that kind of treatment plan, literally screaming in raw agony.
I was screaming as I realized this was so much bigger than me, but would be MINE to carry, mine to process, mine to live with. I felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness and powerlessness. I lay there just begging God for answers, as the weight of “treatment” started to sink in: all I could picture was those awful photos well-intentioned family members post of women in treatment, laying in hospital beds, sickly and emaciated, giving a half-hearted thumbs up.
I felt ill as I pictured myself lying in a terrible bed in terrible lighting pretending it was ok. I felt ill as I imagined my beautiful long blonde beach waves reduced to baldness, my gorgeous soft breasts replaced with a scarred flat chest, and how this would create uneasiness or even fear for my kids, future partners, and me.
THE TURNING POINT
“That’s. Not. Me,” I kept thinking. None of it felt like me, and still I knew it was mine to carry and make my own. As a mindset and success coach, I know intimately the power that comes from changing your thoughts – because when you change your thoughts, you change your behaviour, and when you change your behaviour, you change your outcome – almost instantly.
So as I lay there collapsed under the weight of diagnosis and treatment, begging God to help me, guide me, show me how the hell I was going to do this with dignity and grace, I whimpered “how do I make this beautiful?”
The answer, when I came down from the panic and got quiet enough to listen, was the stunning Elsie de Wolfe quote I love: “I am going to make everything around me beautiful. That will be my life.” In an instant it became piercingly clear that while I had to relinquish control over the treatment method, I could ABSOLUTELY choose to make it my own. MY. OWN. My way.
At the next hospital visit, waiting for an MRI, I texted photos to friends of me in my blue patient gown and leopard Jimmy Choo’s. I had my kids pick out a rose gold bag to keep my anti-nausea meds in, and together we labelled each one with unicorn and mermaid stickers. I packed the coffee cozy that my eldest daughter knitted, for my waiting room coffee to go cup. I organized all my medical papers and info. in a water-colour paper folder. I hosted a head shaving party for my family, friends, and daughters’ friends to make it a joyful – not tragic – experience. I bought a gold water bottle, a pink marble shell for my laptop to write my first 98-page book proposal during treatment. I started to re-language all things medical into all things LW: chemo became “healing elixir, detox, curative medicine.” I made sure all my thoughts aligned with this and repeated them aloud, daily: I chose this treatment, I’m happy with the direction, I’m confident moving forward, I believe in the power of my choices.
Suddenly it felt like ME. Mine. Beautiful.
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
And when I came home, I was sure to keep my space peaceful and real: time with my kids remained a priority sharing good food at our family table, listening to the Star is Born Soundtrack on vinyl, setting up sleepovers for all four of us in my room, fresh flowers weekly. We did a professional photo shoot for a design mag feature that showcased how – even in the thick of a massive life change – we were managing together, navigating the experience in a bespoke way with beauty and grace.
My home – which has always felt cozy and special – became a total retreat space. Before we moved in, I renovated it in shades of pink and gold, and made it feel like a place truly our own. The energy it carries is palpable from the moment you walk in the door: it’s lived in, real and unapologetically our own. Described by my photographer friend as the “lovechild between Domino magazine and Gloria Steinham,” it has a carefully curated, feminist centred feel, with an underlying current of “come home to yourself” while you’re here.
And just like I renovated my home to make it mine, I was keen to reframe my treatment to make it my own – and amazingly, it followed suit: while the first round of chemo was challenging, the last eight went incredibly well. I look great bald, and am at a place of deep peace and body positive self-love regarding my choice to have surgery without reconstruction. And all the while, my cozy home was the backdrop, providing rest, joy, retreat, and the kind of beauty that comes from radical acceptance, and the ability to change your outcome by changing your thoughts.
TAKE A TOUR OF LEISSE’S BEAUTY-FILLED HOME
Leisse Wilcox is a life + success coach who works with women one on one to find the clarity in what they want, confidence in who they are, and the courage to stay true to both. A mom of twins plus one, she can be found near the water of her tiny beach-front townhouse. Follow her story @leissewilcox and leissewilcox.ca