Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer: Building A Legacy
What does a legacy mean to you?
In many ways, I think that legacy is how we live on in other people, in the people we love and who love us. This is our contribution to the health of the community. But it’s also the work that we do, the products of our particular talents, our intellectual contributions to society.
Before diagnosis, I had an excellent job at an ENGO where I felt that I was doing the most important work I could at the time, conserving Canadian nature for the future.
My priorities shifted quite suddenly when I learned how little time I might have left. Right now, I’m drawing weekly comics at The Walrus magazine working on my forthcoming graphic memoir In-Between Days about living with metastatic cancer. It’s a chance for me to talk both about my disease and about family. I come from an amazing family full of intelligent, creative, idealistic people with a high risk of mostly breast, but also other cancers.
Did you think about legacy before you were diagnosed?
I’ve always wanted to contribute in a positive, productive way, and working in land conservation, I was always thinking about future impact, but I wasn’t thinking much about my own legacy. I believe that I thought of that as the domain of the older and more accomplished, those looking back at a well-lived life and basking in memories.
Why is it important to create a legacy or tell a story about your life?
On a personal level, I haven’t had the time to make the positive impact on the world that I hoped to, in my lifetime. Big lifetime achievements need time to build up. I was moving in a good direction, but I wasn’t even close when cancer stopped my career in its steps.
I feel really lucky to have an opportunity to contribute with the book I’m writing. It’s so much at once; a personal story about living with a disease, an opportunity to spend my time drawing and writing, and a tangible object that I’ll leave behind, something that can be held so that I can be remembered, hopefully fondly.
What are some ideas for creating a legacy or body of work?
If there are stories or memories you treasure, you can write them down and share them with your loved ones. You can tell your stories in whatever form comes easiest for you. Perhaps it’s collage, photos, video diaries, songs, letters, poems or drawing. It’s really whatever comes most naturally to you.
I set aside some time nearly every day to spend a couple hours (or more, but at least that) thinking about the work, or working on it. However you process information, I find that it comes most easily if I give it space.
How can you engage your loved ones in this process?
Maybe you can write letters to your loved ones, sharing the best memories. If it’s hard for you to write, maybe a friend or family member could help by collaborating. People often want to help, and I find that simply giving them a chance makes them so happy. I’m not very good at asking for help, but I’m trying.
I think that just by saying out loud to another person that you want to do a thing increases both the personal accountability and unexpected offers of help.
What else would you like someone to know who has just be diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer?
Breathe. Find something else to think about. When I’m working on a comic or an essay, even if it’s about living with cancer, I’m not thinking about it the same way. I’m thinking about what image to use, making a line more fluid; I get lost in the focus of the activity. This is almost as important to me as the end result. If there’s a thing that you like to do, and you are able, I cannot recommend highly enough doing it. It doesn’t have to have a tangible outcome to have an anti-anxiety benefit, at least for me.