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Today is National Cancer Survivors Day. We are all about showing appreciation, respect and admiration for those who have faced cancer, but not everyone  identifies with the word “survivor.” In fact, some are alienated by it – particularly those in the metastatic cancer community. So we asked our Rethink Young Women’s Network what term resonated with them, if any. Here’s what they had to say:

Billie says:

My son was 3 when I was diagnosed, I explained how I had to fight the sickness, he replied “you warrior mommy” and this is how I have identified myself since then, as a warrior.

Krystle says:

I struggle with this. Especially since people always ask what’s next and where I am at. Because I’m still having Herceptin I don’t feel like I’m at the survivor stage but I feel like I’ve earned that title too. I guess I’m still a fighter, and likely always to be.

Deanna:

Cancer is/was just a shitty thing that happened to me, but I don’t identify with it. I’m just me (bad humor, wife, mom, etc), I just happened to be all those things while also going to chemo.

Alina says:

My friends call me a warrior goddess. I’m just barely a week out of treatment, so I still see myself as a patient. I don’t really identify with survivor as I’m too scared of a relapse if I dare cross the line from realist to optimist and start calling myself that any time before the 5 year mark.

Emily says:

Well I’m currently in chemo (1 week left!) and my sister gave me this clever card that had a chemo ninja on the front of it. Then it became this running joke that I was a chemo ninja because I often startled my mom unintentionally by appearing in rooms throughout the house without her hearing my footsteps. So I’ll go with chemo ninja for now.

Val says:

I’m not a fan of the word survivor. I’ve been saying I’m a Cancer Veteran; I fought my own war in 2016 and won. I’m strong, I am breathing, I’m healthy, I have scars, but I am ready to move forward.

Ashley says:

Recently diagnosed, about to have 2nd round of chemo….I mainly feel like a ‘fighter in a showdown match I know I am going to win.

Ange says:

Right now I’m a fighter, a chemo warrior. I don’t love the term survivor, but don’t know what else I’ll use?

Maja says:

I am currently receiving chemo and I feel like it’s a battle everyday so I would call myself a fighter/warrior. Sometimes it feels like I’m fighting a war…

Lainie says:

I just started radiation (after surgery and chemo). The title I’m feeling most is “badass!” I definitely identify with being a patient but also just trying to live my life as mom, wife, colleague, friend…

Libby says:

I don’t like the fighter/warrior/battle terms myself, so I guess I’m going with survivor, though it’s more like I’m surviving, because survivor feels like it’s over and done with… (2A in 2016, er/pr +, her-2 neg, lumpectomy, chemo + rads)

Miranda:

I struggle with this, too. I don’t identify with survivor and I’m trying to thrive…. But have never called myself a thriver. In conversation, I stay away from labels and just say I had cancer or experienced cancer treatment. Every day it seems the width and breadth of impact cancer has had on my life increases (even though I’m nearly 4 years post diagnosis), so maybe I am a something.

Libby responded:

Trying to thrive, me too. Thriver seems like just a catchphrase, they all do! It’s more complicated than one word.

Julie says:

Survivor. You’re surviving the second you are diagnosed. I’m stage four but still just go with survivor. I also refer to myself as the mythical unicorn because I’m a young adult with cancer and people still don’t understand that young adults do get cancer.

 

For a cancer patient, the day you hear the words “You Have Cancer” is a day you’ll never forget.  After hearing the three words no one wants to hear, author Alana Somerville shares her story on finding meaning after a life-changing diagnosis.


“You have cancer”

The day that I heard the words “You have cancer” was obviously life changing, but it’s not actually where my story begins. That was the day that I had to accept what I was already thinking, and begin my battle.

The moment I found my lump was a defining moment in this journey, and it could easily be given the prize for the day that “actually changed my life.”

You see, there is a period of time, a process, during which your mind mentally prepares itself for those fateful words, “You have cancer.”  For some people, this time frame is shorter, and for others it’s longer. Usually tests need to be done in order to actually confirm a diagnosis. Although people often know something is wrong with their body, it may take months or even years for that positive cancer diagnosis.

My “waiting period” was about three weeks. Three weeks from feeling that lump, and wondering if it was cancer, until I heard those dreaded words.

For three weeks, those words played over and over in my head, and so, in a way, it almost wasn’t a shock when I heard the official diagnosis. For three weeks, I had prepared myself for that moment, while hoping and praying the whole time that I would hear instead that everything was fine. But somehow I think I just knew.

Similar to the grieving process, there were many stages during this three-week period that I went through.

First stage was denial

Of course, the first stage was denial. However, my denial didn’t prevent me from going to get the lump checked out.

Sometimes people are afraid. They have something called “Ostrich Syndrome.” They bury their head in the sand, so to speak, and figure that if they simply don’t go to see a doctor, they won’t get any bad news. But that’s just extending the process and delaying a diagnosis—sometimes resulting in the diagnosis coming too late.

After denial, came anger

After denial, came anger, as I was entirely frustrated that I was dealing with such a thing. Even though I hadn’t been officially diagnosed, I was angry that I had to deal with it, and angry that I didn’t have all of the answers right away. I bargained with myself—a lot. I told myself that if I didn’t end up having cancer, I would clean up my act. I would be healthier, from that moment forward. I would exercise more, eat better, and de-stress regularly. I told myself that this was just a close call, and I would make sure it didn’t happen again.

Then there was an acceptance…

I had spent three weeks worrying and wondering if it actually was cancer, and when I found out that, yes, it was, although I was upset, it was almost a relief. I felt as though now I could do something about it. I had spent three weeks imagining this moment in my head, and here it was.

I am impatient. Waiting was difficult. Not knowing was tough. At least when I heard the words “You have cancer,” I could then do something about it.

And I did.


About the Author

ALANA SOMERVILLE

Alana Somerville is a mother of two, teacher, and real-estate sales representative. Never one to sit still, when she isn’t teaching, she can likely be found with her children at a hockey arena, dance rehearsal or soccer field. Her children are her number one priority, and her drive for life is greatly inspired by them. Holding on to Normal is her first book. Visit her at AlanaSomerville.com or follow her on Twitter @AlanaSomerville.

THIS IS CANSWER HIVE.  TIPS AND INSIGHTS SHARED DIRECTLY FROM RETHINK’S YOUNG WOMEN’S NETWORK (RYWN)

“Breast reconstruction is not for the faint of heart” is something we’ve heard from breast cancer patients. Unless you’ve already been through it, many patients don’t know what the process actually entails.  So we asked the CANSWER HIVE what they wish they knew about reconstruction before going through it.
Dee says:

Scar tissue adhesions take almost 18 months of consistent massage and acupuncture to avoid ending up in massive pain and limited mobility.

Desiree says:

Reconstruction is a long process. Double mastectomy with reconstruction was 6 surgeries, over 15 months, for me. You need several months healing time between each surgery.  Reconstruction will never be “perfect.” You will be uneven, and maybe single breasted for a long time, while waiting for the final results. Nothing is a quick fix.

Maja says:

Implants can cause back pain!

Jennifer says:

Reconstruction may not work after radiation. It’s not as simple as just getting implants. Also, reconstruction is NOT cosmetic surgery.

Stacey says:

Not having reconstruction is a reasonable option too. A lot of people assume you will automatically opt for reconstruction, but there’s nothing wrong if you don’t.

Lindsey says:

Get a hospital bed for home!

Sarah says:

You will be lopsided unless you have even more surgery done. It takes a long time for the implant to settle and feel like part of your body. Also, physiotherapy is your friend.

Kathleen says:

I think it’s really imperative to have an open dialogue with your plastic surgeon. Ask to see images of previous surgeries and be selective. I have had shoulder pain, verging on a frozen shoulder, and a torn rotator cuff since surgery. Massage, a Chiropractor and physiotherapy are my “new norms” for maintenance.

Lindsay says:

Your doctors tell you that you will be healed from surgery in this many weeks, in this amount of time. What they don’t tell you is that you may not have open wounds, but, your body will need adjusting for 1 to 2 years. You need time accept the new change.

Erica says:

The implants will always feel cold.

Beatrice says:

I would have almost no feeling in my chest after reconstruction. The temperature of my chest where the implants are can be significantly colder than the rest of my body.

Help us identify the research priorities for post mastectomy breast reconstruction by participating in this survey.

As a cancer survivor of more than 10 years, I consider myself to be one of the “lucky” ones. At 36 years old, and the mom of a 7 month old baby, I was diagnosed at a relatively early stage and had my supportive family and friends by my side. I traversed the Ontario medical system, slowly learning in dribs and drabs what my future with breast cancer would look like. There were many blood tests, MRIs, surgeries, injections, cat scans and doctor/specialist appointments. My visits to the hospital in that first year seemed constant. Again, I am one of the lucky ones. What if I had to find my way to the hospital myself and spend hours alone with just my own thoughts? I can’t even begin to imagine how much more difficult that experience would have been.

A friend recently shared an article from the London Free Press (from London Ontario), where she had read about a woman, who like me is a breast cancer survivor and was helping other people going through similar stressful medical experiences. I get it, because that is exactly what I wanted to do after my experience with breast cancer. I just wanted to “give back” and help women who were going though this awful experience. To me that desire to help was just innate.

You can probably imagine my shock at reading that this woman was being punished for simply accompanying these people to their medical appointments where she used her own vehicle and charged a nominal fee of $12 for a return trip to the hospital. She would provide comfort and support while they went also through some of the most trying experiences of their lives. According to the article the London City By-Law officers concocted a “Sting” operation to entrap this woman who was illegally using her vehicle to offer London, ON  area residents a very much-needed compassionate service.  She was handed tickets amounting to $2260 for the evil transgression of breaking a city by-law for “owning and operating an unlicensed vehicle for hire.”

As I read this I was so upset. How can the city do this to this woman (who is in my opinion is an absolute Saint) for giving her time and compassion to people who really and truly need it?

Meanwhile, the people who need this service, and often can’t afford to pay market rates of taxi or Uber type services, are the ones being hurt.

People who have not had a first hand experience with a life altering disease like cancer can’t begin to know all the challenges that cancer patients face. I just wish that we, as a society, would practice compassion and support the people who are doing their very best to help ease some of the difficulties these patients go through. Maybe one day these people will be inspired to follow in this lady’s footsteps and pass along their kindness and experience to others in need. This is the type of behaviour that I want to see more of in our society and something that we should all encourage.

-Reesa

Age: 44

Occupation: Community Manager at Wisdo.com

Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: 40

Breast cancer type: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

Breast cancer stage: Stage 1

Treatment: lumpectomy, mastectomy, radiation

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer: I am undeniably sarcastic, it is almost impossible for me to not be. I crack jokes all the time because laughing is just the best. I love a good can of cheeze whiz and crackers on the beach cause let’s face it that is FUN!

What’s your go-to pick-me-up song? “My Hero” by the Foo Fighters. I just love it. I have respect for everyday people they are the true rock stars.

am4

How did you discover your breast cancer? I was in bed and rolled over and felt a lump. Having dense breasts I sort of rolled my eyes. Then I pressed it and black discharge came out. I felt sick to my stomach.

What went through your head when you received your diagnosis? Sh#*! I was more scared for my children than anything else. How was I going to tell them? How were they going to react? And my dad and husband? I had many that relied on my and I was so worried about how they would get through this.

 

What’s the craziest thing someone said to you after being diagnosed with breast cancer? “I have the cure for cancer. Come to my house I will give you 2 pills and you will be cured”. Now mind you this was a stranger who got my phone number. It was so insane to me that he thought I would actually come there and that he had the cure!

Who or what is/was your biggest source of support throughout your experience with cancer? My kids and husband would be the first answer. But truth is my support came from strangers online who I met. They understood on a level that only those with breast cancer could. I would have crumbled without them. Still I lean on them 4 years later.

am3

What is/was the most difficult part of being a young woman with breast cancer? Having my breasts removed. It is life altering. Breasts do not define you but the are part of you. I felt such a loss from having them amputated one no one prepared me for. I had a very hard time looking at myself in the mirror.

am2

What’s something unexpected you learned about yourself as a result of having breast cancer? That helping others would be my therapy. I need to help others diagnosed, show them one side to this disease that may connect them. I need to feel not alone. I thought I was the type of person that could stand all by myself when the truth is it is scary. I need them just as much as they need me.

In one sentence, what words of wisdom would you pass on to another young woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer? Do not look back you are not going that way.

For more #YWBC profiles click HERE.

Every year, 5000 young Canadian women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their reproductive years – and 70% of those women are recommended hormone therapy for up to 10 years following active treatment to prevent a possible recurrence. For that entire period of time, pregnancy is not an option. And from our fifteen years of working with young women with breast cancer, we know that fertility is one of the most important issues to them. So important, in fact, that many are risking their lives by pausing hormone therapy to have a baby, without data or doctor supervision.

Right now, many women are faced with the impossible decision between watching their child-bearing years pass them by, or stopping treatment to try for a baby but risking the return of their cancer. Can you imagine making this decision blindly, without any statistics or examples of those who have made similar attempts?

Last year, Rethink was delighted to learn of an opportunity to bring the ‘Baby Time’ (P.O.S.I.T.I.V.E.) study to Canada. This study will guide young women through the medically-supervised process of pausing endocrine therapy to get pregnant and assess whether this can be done without increasing risk of breast cancer relapse. Pregnancy after breast cancer appears to be safe in patients with ER+ disease, but more clinical data is needed.

Rethink offers age-appropriate support and resources for young women with breast cancer to make their journey a little bit easier, and often that means empowering them with the information they need to make their most difficult decisions. Statistics are a vital source of information – providing clear, objective data and creating space for confidence when dealing with uncertainty. We want to help our young women find the answers they need.

Trials take time to get up and running, and the generosity we have seen from our community thus far has provided the support needed to get through the rigorous regulatory phase. Within the next few days, the trial team will be meeting to ensure that all centres are ready to bring on the very first patients over the next couple weeks.

It’s happening now, and it’s happening fast! For every $3000 we raise, we can enroll another woman in the study – give another woman the opportunity to make new memories by moving on from her breast cancer journey…to motherhood. Please join us by giving what you can today. Donate now.

Would you or someone you know like to take part in the trial? Speak to your oncologist about getting a referral to the P.O.S.I.T.I.V.E. study.

Name: Lara

Age: 39

Occupation: Founder, Hope Scarves

Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: 30

Breast cancer type: ER/PR+ Her2-

Breast cancer stage: diagnosed stage II while pregnant in 2007, metastatic in 2015

Treatment: chemo & double mastectomy in 2007, radiation & oophorectomy, Endocrine therapy in 2015-present

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer: 

I love to sail

What’s your go-to pick-me-up song?

Geronimo by Sheppard

How did you discover your breast cancer?

I was 30 years old and 7 months pregnant when I had  persistent discomfort in my left breast.  I assumed it was pregnancy related because all kinds of crazy things happen to your body when you are pregnant.  I told my OB/GYN about it at my 7 month check up and luckily he was suspicious and sent me in for a biopsy that very day.  Two days later we learned it was cancer.

What went through your head when you received your diagnosis?

 I was completely shocked.  I didn’t have any family history, I was super healthy.  I didn’t really know anyone who had faced breast cancer.  I was completely overwhelmed and in disbelief.  Of course, my biggest fear was for our unborn child.

What’s the craziest thing someone said to you after being diagnosed with breast cancer? 

A lot of people like to tell me about friends and family members they know who have died of breast cancer.  Although I understand they mean well, it always baffles me that they think this is helpful information for someone with stage iv breast cancer.

Who or what is/was your biggest source of support throughout your experience with cancer?

I am blessed with an amazing support system.  My husband has been by my side through all of the ups and downs and I know I couldn’t do this without him.  I also have really helpful parents and extended family.  I have never lived in the same state as my parents so friends are a big part of our day to day support system.  It really does take a village.

What is/was the most difficult part of being a young woman with breast cancer?

The facts.  Metastatic breast cancer is the leading cause of death for women under 50.  Facing this reality as a MBC survivor can be very overwhelming.  I am doing every thing I can to make my body as healthy and strong as I can to beat the odds and raise money for metastatic breast cancer research. I am holding on for science!  I believe we can find ways to extend life expectancy if we focus research on ways to stop the spread of the disease.

What’s something unexpected you learned about yourself as a result of having breast cancer?

Cancer opened up a doorway to me with new purpose, possibility and connection.  Founding Hope Scarves has been an incredibly rewarding experience and united me with amazing people.  I turned a scary experience into something positive to help others. Every day I am honoured to share scarves and stories between survivors and share my message of hope with the world. But, I would give it all back in a heartbeat.

In one sentence, what words of wisdom would you pass on to another young woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?

Live life over cancer- one day at a time.

Hope Scarves collects scarves and stories of encouragement from women who have faced all types of cancer.  The scarves are professionally dry-cleaned and then sent on to others facing cancer.  Survivors can share their story even if they don’t have a scarf.  Their story will be paired with a donated community scarf and begin its journey as a Hope Scarf.  Each scarf is tagged with a specific number to track where it travels.  It is their hope that if a woman wishes to she will add her story and send her scarf back to Hope Scarf to continue on its journey to someone else.  

For more wisdom on being young with breast cancer check out Rethink Breast Cancer’s Care Guidelines here.

Name:  SARA MODY
Age: 40
City:  MISSISSAUGA, ONT

What do you do when you are not changing the world with philanthropic gestures? I love visiting museums and art shows in the area, or checking out trendy restaurants. I enjoy hip hop dancing, yoga and golfing.  When I have alone time, I love reading, writing and attending conferences.
What is one thing you have re-thought in your life?  How did you approach it?
After my breast cancer experience I really made health my priority. I make daily choices about how to live a healthy and happy lifestyle. For me that means seeing my naturopath, watching my eating habits, going to the gym, attending health workshops and keeping myself informed. I especially believe in the health benefits of essential oils, meditation and laughter.
What is the most important thing to know when it comes to donating to a cause?
I think it is so important to understand why you are donating to a cause and how it makes you feel. I choose to volunteer for Rethink Breast Cancer because I have been personally affected. I now enjoy sharing my story and my experiences with people I encounter through the cause, and I want to show my appreciation by giving back for all the care provided to me through my healing journey.
A person who gives back that you aspire to:
I admire my mother more than anyone in my life. She is one of the most generous and kind-hearted women I know and volunteers for many different charities. She has always taught me the gift of being good to others and giving back when you have the time and the means, and is constantly going out of her way to help those in need.
How do you find a cause you are passionate about?
I think you have a find a cause that touches your heart and that you have a personal connection to. Volunteering with Rethink allowed me find my strength and learn new things about myself. While writing my book, I met great people attending events and focused on building a positive relationship with myself and with others.
What is innovative about the Rethink approach?
The dedication that Rethink exhibits is truly one to be admired. I loved being involved with my very first Rethink at the Races event. It is a high energy event and Rethink promotes such fun and interactive ways to raise money and awareness.
What inspires you daily?
My grade one students, the beauty of the earth, my family and friends, and travelling. I want to witness all that this planet has to offer. Every time I travel, I learn new things about the planet, animals and people.
Why should people support a cause they are passionate about?
Supporting a cause that you are passionate about allows you to give back to your community. It gives you the opportunity to meet new people and open new doors to create more possibilities. When I give back I feel grateful for life.

 

Name: Miranda

Age: 29

City: Lethbridge

Occupation: Provisional psychologist

Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: 28

Breast cancer type: Invasive ductal carcinoma

Breast cancer stage: 2

Treatment: 7 rounds of neo-adjuvant chemotherapy, left breast lumpectomy, 30 radiation treatments, 10 years of hormone therap

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer.

I’m a pretty big geek! One of my favourite pastimes is playing video games with my older brother. We’ve played everything from World of Warcraft to Terraria and we are currently attempting to stay alive in the survival game Don’t Starve Together – it’s a lot of fun and keeps us in touch, since we haven’t lived in the same city for about 6 years now.

What’s your go-to pick-me-up song?

“Sweet Nothing” – Calvin Harris feat. Florence Welch

How did you discover your breast cancer?

I was in the shower, washing myself with a shower puff when I noticed the top of my left breast had a hard lump that was painful to touch. I asked my partner to check it for me too (to make sure I wasn’t making things up) and immediately made a doctor’s appointment when my partner confirmed there was definitely something there. My physician was wonderful when I met with him and, although he didn’t think it was cancer, he sent me for an emergency ultrasound and mammogram. Thank goodness he did!

What went through your head when you received your diagnosis?

That I was going to die, plain and simple. I kept thinking that it was just my luck that something like this would happen to me, considering I have a crippling fear of death and my life over the past year was already complicated with other, personal issues. I worried that it would have spread and I would be given a short amount of time to live and that would be that.

What’s the craziest thing someone said to you after being diagnosed with breast cancer?

“You’re so young!” How many times do young people diagnosed with cancer hear this? And what is this supposed to elicit in response? I think it’s a crazy thing to say, especially to someone you don’t know (which is where I’ve heard this from), like we don’t know that we are young and that having cancer at our age is unusual. I never know how to respond to this, so I just agree.

Who or what is/was your biggest source of support throughout your experience with cancer?

Easily, my partner and my mom. My partner was the one I could have serious, emotional conversations with, or I could just cry on his shoulder about how scared and overwhelmed I felt. He was, and continues to be, my invaluable emotional support, even though I know it can be hard for him to understand exactly where I am coming from sometimes.

My mom was the practical support throughout treatment. She came and stayed with us in Lethbridge for most of my chemotherapy treatments, surgery, and the end of radiation. She cooked all our meals, cleaned our house, and kept me company while my partner was at work.

What is/was the most difficult part of being a young woman with breast cancer?

The way cancer interrupted my life, right when I needed things to be stable. I was in the middle of finishing my registration to become a psychologist, looking for work, and moving to Lethbridge to finally be with my partner after many years of long-distance, when I was diagnosed. Now, several months after treatment has ended, I still feel off balance; I’m still recovering, physically and mentally, from treatment, have yet to finish my registration process, and am still not working. I feel like I’ve lost 1.5 years of my life and I’m perpetually behind where I wanted to be, but also scared to move forward.

What’s something unexpected you learned about yourself as a result of having breast cancer?

That I have created connections with many more people than I expected throughout my life that came out of the woodwork to provide supportive words, time, finances, and love. For example, I received the most incredibly beautiful bouquet from someone I went to highschool with, completely out of the blue, just because she wanted to. I have been astounded at people’s generosity and the impact my story must have made on them, even if we haven’t kept in touch.

In one sentence, what words of wisdom would you pass on to another young woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?

It’s ok to be scared and overwhelmed, there is nothing easy about this experience.

For more wisdom on being young with breast cancer check out Rethink Breast Cancer’s Care Guidelines here.

Name: Beatrice

Age: 37

City: Calgary

Occupation: Stay-at-home mom

Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: 36

Breast cancer type: Triple-positive invasive ductal carcinoma in left breast

Breast cancer stage: 3A

Treatment: Double mastectomy with reconstruction, six rounds of chemotherapy, 28 radiation treatments, tamoxifen, ongoing treatment for lymphedema

 

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer.

I love classic British literature! My favourite authors are Jane Austen and Ann Radcliffe. I also love great sci-fi and fantasy. This past summer, my spouse and I introduced our six-year-old son to the original Star Wars trilogy, and for Halloween this year, I dressed up as Dr. Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

What’s your go-to pick-me-up song?

“Long Life (Where Did You Go)” by Great Big Sea always reminds me to be hopeful that I’ll make it out okay through this arduous journey.

How did you discover your breast cancer?

In October 2014, I was settling into bed one evening with a favourite book when my arm brushed across the top of my left breast. There was a huge new lump there. I went to the doctor as quickly as I could. She initially thought it was likely a fibroadenoma, but she sent me to get a mammogram and ultrasound. The results of those confirmed my lump was a clinical area of concern, and I had an ultrasound-guided core biopsy. On December 4, 2014, I sat numbly in my doctor’s office as she confirmed I had breast cancer. My breast surgeon told me later that if I hadn’t found the lump when I did, the cancer would have killed me.

What went through your head when you received your diagnosis?

My spouse and our son were in the waiting room, and I just wanted them there with me. I didn’t want to be alone with this news. I wanted to hold them and be held. I asked the doctor if she could go get them, and they were with me within a minute.

What’s the craziest thing someone said to you after being diagnosed with breast cancer?

Everyone in my personal life has been fantastic, but I’ve had two experiences with doctors that made me raise my eyebrows.

Just before I had the radioactive dye injected into my lymph nodes the day prior to my mastectomy, the doctor doing the injection walked into the room reading my chart out loud. He got to the part with my age and began, “And you…” He looked up from the chart at me and said rather awkwardly, “…are not old at all.” Um, thanks? “And you are not old at all” has become a bit of a running joke during my cancer treatment.

Another doctor, shortly after meeting me, asked, “Did you smoke for most of your life?” Surely I had done something to cause this was the message his tone held. I have never smoked. I’m vegetarian. I’m of normal weight and physically fit. While I ended up getting along well with this doctor afterward, I didn’t appreciate him trying to imply I had somehow done this to myself when I hadn’t.

What these experiences confirmed for me is that I’m definitely not what people expect when they meet a patient with stage 3a invasive ductal carcinoma. I often see a look of surprise on medical professionals’ faces when they meet me for the first time. I’m often the youngest cancer patient in the waiting room whenever I go for treatments or other appointments.

Who or what is/was your biggest source of support throughout your experience with cancer?

I call the people in my personal life who support me Team Awesome because every single one of them is an awesome human being. I have so many family and friends on Team Awesome who support me, and I’ll highlight some of them here.

My spouse, Brett Bergie, has been my constant source of strength. She has held me when I cry and taken care of our son and me after surgery and when chemo made me ill. She loves me and finds me beautiful with or without hair and with or without breasts. I can talk to her about anything; she provides a safe space in which I can be vulnerable.

My and Brett’s son, Sam Bergie Aucoin, has been the most chipper support I could ask for. When my hair started falling out from chemo and I went to get my head shaved, he was there. I asked him what he thought after my hair was shaved off. He broke out into a huge smile and said, “You look really cool!” That is the best compliment on my physical appearance I have ever received.

Alexis, my best friend, came down from Edmonton to Calgary several times during all of this. She sat in a tiny change room with me before my core biopsy because I was scared of what was happening. She was there before and after my double mastectomy to help us out. She’s only just a text away if I need her.

Tiffany and Naomi are two really great friends here in Calgary who have been there for me at appointments, helped me take my son to and from school, and just been there for some good fun too.

Rick and Alma are my parents-in-law; they came out from Ontario to visit us and helped us out during my roughest chemo week, which was after my first docetaxel treatment. My son had a great time with his grandparents while his mama needed to rest.

My cousin Daylene Penney is a nurse, though I call her my superhero, and she lives back home in Nova Scotia. I was having some problems with my chemo port incision not closing properly, and she asked me to send her a picture of it. Daylene told me I needed to go to my cancer centre urgently to have my port examined, and she was right. She saved me from getting an infection from thousands of kilometres away.

Nick Piers, one of my oldest friends, shaved his head in solidarity with me when I found out chemo was going to make my hair fall out. He also sent me an advance copy of his latest book.

What is/was the most difficult part of being a young woman with breast cancer?

I don’t want to leave my son without his mama. I don’t want Brett to be widowed. I want to be there for my people for as long as I can. I have a hard time accepting that I might not get to have a long life with my loved ones.

What’s something unexpected you learned about yourself as a result of having breast cancer?

I’m a lot stronger than I ever thought I was. I have this awful disease and needed to go through equally awful treatment, and I can still be myself and do most of the things I love doing and take care of my family.

In one sentence, what words of wisdom would you pass on to another young woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?

Know that even though you are scared out of your wits right now, you are amazing and can do all of the really hard stuff you’ll need to do.

For more wisdom on being young with breast cancer check out Rethink Breast Cancer’s Care Guidelines here.