My Ten-Year Cancerversary
Ten years ago, October 2005, I was diagnosed with Stage II triple negative breast cancer. I couldn’t let this cancerversary pass by without taking the time to pause and think about the past 10 years. The good and the bad. And with Thanksgiving and my birthday having recently passed, this feels like the perfect time to reflect and give thanks.
I’m thankful for:
Evelyn and Aidan, my children, who were only 4 and 2 when I was diagnosed. They have grown into amazing humans, each with their different passions, but both with a zest for life. They bring me joy every day… along with a decent helping of teenage frustration.
Mike, my husband. It’s been 24 years and I couldn’t ask for a better partner in life. Since my diagnosis we’ve had great times and some really tough times, but we’ve gotten through them all and always come out on the other side.
My siblings. No one quite gets you like your siblings do. Just last week my brother, David, commented on remembering my ‘mod’ days back in Carlow. They have a history with you that’s incomparable. We lost my youngest brother James in a motorbike accident at the beginning of August 2009 and I still feel that loss as if it was yesterday.
My parents. Having two children, I’m in awe of anyone with more and certainly have no idea how they managed to work and raise five children ‘back in the day’. My mom passed away from breast cancer a year before my diagnosis and we all still miss her terribly.
Extended family in Ireland and Canada. Especially Jimmy and Margaret who are like grandparents to my kids, and Nick and Steph who are like an uncle and aunt.
My friends. I have come to value and appreciate my friends more and more each year. And I’m extremely lucky to spend time with wonderful ladies through bookclubs, running, knit pickling, synchro, moms groups and a million different ways. Some I see only once a year, others every week, but some of my favorite moments have been sharing a glass of wine or cider, discussing books, or more often our kids, and putting the world to rights.
My neighbors. I know big cities like Toronto have a reputation of being unfriendly, but that couldn’t be further than the truth on my street where we have coined the phrase ‘Mayfield Marauders’ to describe the inhabitants, and ‘The Spice Bags’ to describe the ladies, specifically. As we Irish say, I could ask any of them for the shirt off their back and they’d give it to me. Our annual performances at our street party are always something to see… what we lack in talent we make up for in costumes and enthusiasm. One of our original Marauders and very good friend Dea passed away from lung cancer nearly a year ago. It was shockingly fast and she is hugely missed on our street and the wider Bloor West Village community. Dea will always be in our thoughts and we all keep a watchful eye on Matthew and Sarah.
Rethink Breast Cancer. More than just where I work. I was one of the participants in the first Support Saturday group. This group was specifically for young moms who had just had a breast cancer diagnosis. There I found a group of women who totally understood what I was going through. Rethink has changed how it delivers its message throughout the years to keep up with the times, but its commitment to supporting, educating and advocating for young women has not wavered. If anyone wants to make a donation (which would be great, I’m thinking multiples of 10!) you can do so here.
And most of all, I’m thankful for just being here. Then and now.
As for my breast cancer story…
A triple negative diagnosis in your thirties is not good. It’s aggressive and there is no ongoing treatment such as tamoxifen. So you’re throwing everything you can at it at the beginning as options are limited past that. I decided to hit it as hard as I could and requested a double mastectomy. Apparently, this wasn’t my decision to make so Dr. Ali, my wonderful first surgeon at St. Michael’s, got approval from the powers that be and I was scheduled in for the surgery three days after my diagnosis.
During my recovery I was inundated with pink as it was Breast Cancer Awareness month. I remember being asking if I wanted to donate my Bay points to the cause while shopping for post mastectomy clothes; I don’t think the poor shop assistant saw my answer coming.
Next step was chemotherapy. My oncologist, Dr. Bresden, recommended a protocol of FEC/Taxotere which was having good test results but hadn’t yet been approved by OHIP, although she was hoping it would be by the time I was to take the taxotere (FEC/Taxol was the alternative). Unfortunately the approval didn’t come through but she managed to get one dose from the manufacturer and I went to Ireland for a month for the other two treatments. FEC/Taxotere became a standard protocol in Ontario two months later. Taxotere is really tough and I had a severe allergic reaction during the treatments but I wanted what Dr Bresden recommended so I was pumped full of steroids and managed to finish the treatments.
Not too surprisingly I found out a few months later I have the BRCA genetic mutation. Probably through my mom’s side of the family as she and her sister Maire had both passed away of the disease. But it’s also on my dad’s side so I won’t know until someone else on either side gets tested and that hasn’t happened yet. Again I wanted to be as aggressive as possible and scheduled a complete hysterectomy with oopherectomy as there is a much higher risk of ovarian cancer as well as breast cancer. And I was thankful for my double mastectomy decision earlier!
All of this happened within the first 18 months post diagnosis. It was a whirlwind of appointments, treatments, surgeries, recoveries. Fighting cancer is a full time job. I would say I spent the first five years on tenterhooks expecting it to come back. I was doing a lot of reconstruction surgery as my first attempt was a double free diep and the right side didn’t take. That was the side that didn’t have cancer – yep, payback time I think. So I was in and out of the hospital a lot and in a strange way that gave me comfort as I felt if there was something there they’d find it. Not really how it works, but it made me feel better.
And now it’s been over two years since my last surgery and since I did any scans or tests. I met both my oncologists at a recent event and they dismissed my suggestion that I should come in, as a triple negative recurrence tends to present within the first three years. Would I say I’m cured? That seems a big statement for breast cancer which has a nasty habit of lying in wait for a long time. But I’m not obsessing about every ache and pain. I have a ‘normal’ life back, which is good enough for me!
I look forward to the next ten years and posting my 20 years of thanks (although I’ve realized I’m way more comfortable with numbers!). Thanks for reading 🙂