By Rethink Breast Cancer October 8 2019
Rethink is honoured to be the guest editor for Wildfire Magazine’s MBC: Young and Stage IV October issue, which is dedicated to highlighting the voices of those with Metastatic Breast Cancer. Here is Vesna’s story.
I have metastatic breast cancer. I spend my time with other people who have a diagnosis of breast cancer too. This life altering diagnosis – whether early stage or metastatic, is like being on a ship that’s just hit an iceberg and is slowly sinking. Everyone is stunned and confused and scared; scrambling to save themselves in a mad dash to the rescue boats.
The ship is mostly filled with women; a few men are there, but not many. As people scramble for safety, the chivalrous men lead the women to safety first.
There’s not enough room on the rescue boats for all the women. Most can make it on, but two or three on each side of the sinking ship are left in the water, grabbing for any little piece of anything to keep them afloat.
Some of the women on the rescue boat are so relieved to have made it. They see the coastline and cheer and clap and congratulate each other for getting to the boat on time. But there are others on the rescue boat who’ve noticed that not everyone made it, and they try so hard to reach out their long arms, beckoning those in the water to hang on.
Those of us in the water know we are in a bad spot. The ship is almost completely sunk and the rescue boats are moving farther and farther away. We swim towards each other, and as our floating lifesavers get heavy and waterlogged and start to sink, we find something else to hang onto, so that everyone stays afloat. We encourage each other and say things like ‘Come on! Hang on, friend!’ but know we can only float for so long. After awhile, a few of the women who were on the ship are gone, lost to the depths of the dark, now calm waters.
I am hanging onto a branch, drifting along and watching all the activity in all the directions. I’m at the mercy of the waves that take me closer, then farther away from the coastline. It’s too far away to swim. There’s so much activity going on and I am mesmerized by it all.
Those I love are on the coast. They were waiting for me to arrive with welcome signs and hugs and love. They saw the ship go down and are scrambling to help. They yell encouraging words and throw things and plead for those on shore to find more boats. They feel helpless, but they try and try and try.
Some of my friends pull together and toss large tree trunks that float effortlessly to those of us in the water. We are so relieved. Others can only manage to toss the smallest of branches that barely leave the shore before they’re destroyed by the endless waves. I know they mean well, so I smile and yell ‘Thank you!’ but sometimes the wind catches my words and sends them in the opposite direction.
There’s a shipyard nearby. I can just make out the activity going on. It’s a very busy place, with people moving about like busy little bees working on their next masterpiece. I’m hoping and hoping that they build the new ship faster. Forget the trim and paint and fancy flags! Just get the ship in the water! We can only hang on for so long!
But when I squint, I see the shipyard a little clearer. And then I feel some dread in my belly. The new ship? Well, there’s no bottom to it. In an effort to please all the villagers, the ship workers thought it would be a good idea to build the ship from the top down. That way, all the villagers will see how hard they’ve been working. They will see the mast and the flags and be like, ‘Wow! Look at our new ship! This will be the best ship ever!’ And the ship workers know that the hull is the hardest part to build; it is laborious and slow and takes far longer to build than the villagers expect. So they work on the hull little by little, but keep making new, colourful flags, and swing them around whenever the villagers start to ask questions.
The rescue boats are even farther away now. I can see some of the women still celebrating, but there are others huddled together in the corner of the boat, wrapped in safety blankets, shell-shocked and in a daze trying to process what just happened. From my vantage point, I can tell one of the boats is tipping to one side, and some of the women are going to fall out. I try yelling to them, but my voice is hoarse from the cold water and effort to stay afloat. It is barely a whisper. Before my eyes, a woman loses her balance, and SPLASH, she’s in the water too. The rescue boat barely notices and keeps on going, desperate to get to shore and safety. So those of us already in the water quickly swim to her and tell her it’ll be okay; we encourage her to focus on the coastline and all the people trying to help. We tell her to hang on.
The water is cold and I’m tired from trying to stay afloat, but I’m not ready to give up. I’m hanging on, but I don’t know how much longer I’ve got this. Please send help.
Vesna Zic-Côté is a member of Rethink’s Metastatic Breast Cancer Advisory Board. Initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, Vesna is now in active treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) since early 2017. She uses her strong voice on social media platforms to educate, support and fundraise for programs and initiatives that support those living with breast cancer, and more recently, MBC.
Vesna is a founding member of “Ottawa Monthly Gatherings” (O.M.G.), an Ottawa-based grassroots group of young women diagnosed with breast canner in their early adult years. Through her committee work with O.M.G., Vesna promotes peer support, education and community by helping to organize monthly face-to- face gatherings.