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Rethink is proud to republish the original blog posts of Leanne Coppen first featured by Chatelaine. Leanne passed away in 2011 from metastatic breast cancer and we are honoured that her friends and family have allowed us to share her words here on the Rethink blog.

It used to come mostly at night, but lately it’s had the audacity to creep in even in bright sunshine. I’ll be going about my business when I get a sudden flutter in my belly, a lump in my throat. Silent flashes of anxiety. Brief, lightning-clear moments of reckoning: My god, is this really happening to me? Something shifts. Everything around me takes on a slightly unreal aspect, becomes slightly less solid. Fear is on the threshold. Don’t think it, don’t let it in. Everything I see is coloured by it; it settles over every surface like a layer of poisonous dust. Everything I do and say, every move I make stirs it up, unsettles it, thickens the atmosphere with it so I can’t ignore it anymore.

Am I going to die?

Sometimes, by the time I am in bed at night, and the house is quiet, I can barely breathe. Please please make it stop take the cancer away that’s enough now please just let me have my body back my life back let me live…  I try to distract myself, push it down, meditate away from it. Then I let it come, cry, try not to go crazy. My husband holds me in his arms and kisses my hair and wipes my tears away with a corner of the duvet as the Ativan melts under my tongue. Slowly my breathing steadies.  My heart stops pounding so fast. I’m exhausted now and my body will sleep, its only true refuge from the fear.

But it will be back, again and again. No matter how good my good days.  No matter how angry my anger.  The fear keeps coming back.  Am I going to die?

How can it not come back?  How can anyone around me, or anyone who reads this blog, pretend they haven’t gone there in their heads, asked the same question? Let’s admit it. Let’s not pretend that we don’t occasionally get stopped in our raging, planning, hoping, fighting tracks by the thought that this cancer might just kill me, and much sooner than we’d ever imagined.

The thing is, it can feel like even admitting to the fear – admitting that I wonder if this is going to kill me (meaning kill me soon) – is somehow giving up. But I’m not giving up.  I’m not. I won’t, I promise.  I feel like I have to be very clear about that because the theory goes that if you get it in your head that this thing is going to beat you then it does and you die.

I’m not entirely convinced of the truth of that theory – and I certainly don’t think it’s fair to deny someone the right to confront their own fears of death on the basis that thinking about it makes it come true – but in case the people who love me believe it, I’m telling you all now: I’m not quitting.  There’s a difference between letting myself consider the possibility that I might die and calling it quits.

What I want is to face the fear and then send it back down into the reeking depths from which it comes.  But facing it is such a tall order!  When I admit to myself that yes, this cancer could kill me, the first thing I think of is how hard that would be on my husband, my mom, dad, brother, family, friends, and yes (insert knife into heart here) my little girl. Causing every single person I love pain and loss and sadness is just about the worst fate I can imagine. It makes me feel helplessness and sorrow on a level that is almost physically painful.

That’s the number one reason thinking about my own death sucks – because of how I imagine it would hurt the people I love.

I actually don’t think I’m afraid of death itself. Pain and suffering, yes (definitely, unequivocally.)  But death?  Everyone is going to die.  We know this.  We just can’t wrap our heads around it. It’s hard to be afraid of something you can’t wrap your head around. It’s just too big a concept, just too miraculous and natural and kind of peaceful to actually be scary in and of itself.

What is scary and awful is the idea of the departure gate: saying goodbye to everyone and everything I love.  And it’s less scary than it is just plain awful.  Especially if it’s preceded by suffering and making everyone around you watch helplessly, knowing that they’ll just endure a whole new kind of suffering when you eventually do die… Ugh. Now that’s torment.

So why think about it?  And why, for the love of god, torture everyone by writing about it?

Because it is unfortunately part of my reality now, and if I don’t think about it or talk and write about it, it will drive me crazy.  Like wandering around grocery stores in bare feet and pajamas crazy.  Like putting vegetable soup in the washing machine crazy.  Crazy crazy. Certifiable.

Trying to avoid thinking about it or talking about it just makes it worse.  It makes me feel more isolated, which in turn makes me feel more afraid.

So I’m for tackling this topic head-on and not side-stepping any harsh realities of my so-far untreatable extremely aggressive life-threatening jerkface cancer.  Which means that lately I’ve been saying out loud to the people closest to me “I’m afraid I’m going to die.”

These are not easy conversations to have, not only because it’s really frigging difficult to talk when we’re crying and blowing our noses so much, but also because there’s not a lot to say about it.  Of course we have all thought about it.  We don’t like to think about it, and we want to believe that I will recover and live a long, healthy life – which I plan to do – but the thought that I might die has crossed our minds, all of us.

I’m just asking that we let the fear come, look it in its beady little eyes as best we can, and allow ourselves to cry about it, acknowledge it, be angry about it – whatever – just as long as we don’t try to ignore it.

Somehow I believe I can make the idea of dying just a little less terrorizing if I let myself get familiar with it.  If I can do this I believe that fear won’t colour everything, that it won’t always be lurking and looming, and I might be able to slip out of its grip and move away from it, toward other thoughts. I might actually get to enjoy my life fully, and be completely engrossed in all the things about it that make me want to live it for a long, long time.

At the very least, when I’m with the people I love, fear shouldn’t be allowed to pull up a chair and sit at the table with us, scratching its belly and belching in our faces as we all try furiously to ignore it.  If it shows up we can say, “We see you.  You’re ugly and you stink.  Now get out of here.”

If we’re going to sometimes be afraid, at least we can be afraid together. I want for it to be okay to talk about death as just one of the possibilities because it is one of the possibilities and if I don’t face it, it’s going to make me crazy. It is.  But we can also spend a lot of time talking about the other possibilities too, like beating this thing, finding the unconventional treatment that actually works for unconventional me, and imagining together those happy days in the future when I bore everyone who comes within hearing range with the story that ends with the line “…and then the doctors said, We don’t know exactly what happened, but the cancer is just GONE.”

Rethink is proud to republish the original blog posts of Leanne Coppen first featured by Chatelaine. Leanne passed away in 2011 from metastatic breast cancer and we are honoured that her friends and family have allowed us to share her words here on the Rethink blog.

As I mentioned in my last post, it appears that once you drop out of the realm of standard cancer treatments, the system isn’t designed to support you quite in the same way. I don’t think anyone knows exactly what to do with me.  And it’s extremely unnerving.

This predicament is many-layered and messy, and it has occupied my time and energy for the last several days, but I’m not going to go into a lot of detail for two reasons:

1) I tried to write this post detailing exactly what happened (or didn’t) and it ended up being about 5 million words long, and

2) I don’t understand exactly what happened (or didn’t) and I don’t want to write anything unfair or untrue. 

Suffice to say that as the fog of our initial shock lifted, we surveyed my situation and found that it was a total crash site. We needed a plan — knowing what the next steps would be and who was leading us through them was the key to getting my fear, despair and uncertainty under control. But we didn’t have a plan.  We had a piece of paper with a web address (clinicaltrials.gov) and some search parameters written on it, but no real understanding of what comes next.

Admittedly, we were in shock when we heard the news that my cancer does not respond to standard treatments so it’s possible we were given information that just didn’t register, but we left the clinic without really knowing what to do and the result has been confusion, insecurity and a (possibly misplaced) sense of abandonment. And of course, a little rage.

However, we’ve since made some progress identifying clinical trials and other options, mostly by communicating with my oncologist and enlisting the help of friends, my hospital’s excellent social worker and my very caring and capable family doctor.  I’m blessed with incredibly supportive people in my life who are good at networking and handy with the Internet.  They’ve been researching, calling doctors and other people who might be able to help, and generally just sleuthing around to try to find promising programs and clinical trials that I might be eligible for.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having people to advocate on your behalf when your head is spinning and you’re lurching unsteadily between terror, rage and optimism like an emotional bride of Frankenstein on newly cobbled-together legs.

Meanwhile I’ve made some changes where I can – every little thing counts and I decided that if there was going to be a pause in my treatment I may as well use it to detox from all the chemo and try to rebuild my immune system.  Actually, my mother decided that and I agreed since it’s widely acknowledged that there’s no point in disagreeing with my mother when she has decided something.  So I now take about three handfuls of vitamins and supplements a day and have finally and begrudgingly cut back on meat (fois gras is technically poultry,) alcohol (champagne is technically bottled happiness,) and sugar (I cannot be expected to give up chocolate entirely.)

Plus my friend Todd is a nutrition-fascist with a juicer and a lot of experience with cancer diets, so I spend my days knocking back his crazy cayenne- and tumeric-spiced leafy green/dark berry cancer-killing concoctions.  They’re actually not as bad as they sound, and no, I have not spiked them with vodka. Yet.

In short, things are moving more or less in the direction of action, though I wouldn’t say I have an actual plan since we haven’t yet identified the clinical trial for which I’m going to apply.

I do have my eye on one promising experimental drug in particular, but there are no trials for it in Toronto, and while we’ve always said that we would find a way to go wherever the right treatment is, right at this minute I have no idea how we would manage to do that, logistically or financially. But I’m trying to just think about things one step at a time, and today’s step is to see what there might be for me in Toronto.  This afternoon we’re meeting with the head of clinical trials at my affiliate hospital to see if we can match one of their current studies to my case. I’m somewhat optimistic – after all it is one of the top five cancer centres in the world – but my approach is to find the clinical trial that has the best chance of pushing this cancer back from whence it came, not to try to find the closest match of the most conveniently located trials available.

So once we have an idea of the most promising studies, wherever they may be, we need an informed review of them all and a fairly quick decision.  Ideally I want to know what treatment I’m starting (and when and where) by the end of this week.  That might sound like a tight turn-around but I’ve got a mean mother of a metastasis taking up a little more real estate in my body every single day and I need to do something about it before the whole neighbourhood goes ghetto. My rib continues to hurt, my cough is much worse, and my breathing is hampered by the pressure of the lymph nodes on my bronchial passageway. This cancer has become symptomatic – I can feel its progress – and quite apart from what that’s doing to me psychologically, it’s wearing me out physically.

I know I need rest and peace, but I won’t be getting either until I have a plan.

When I had cancer and was going through treatment, I saw life so clearly. The rat race slowed right down and problems that once seemed serious weren’t anymore. I was forced to take things slower and was determined to keep that vibe for the rest of my life. I had been changed!

Or had I?

As I began to feel better physically, I started to push myself. More work. More play. More errands. More visits. The hectic pace returned and I was caught up in the cyclone I promised to avoid. My focus shifted from the universal truth that we aren’t in control of anything and reverted back to worrying about the minutia of life – stuck on the how, the why, the what could I or should I do differently?

And I hate it.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t lose sight of what’s important, but maybe it was unrealistic to think I would never need a reminder.

Spring is a season of rebirth and renewal. It feels like the perfect time to refocus and reconnect with the slower pace I once embraced. To look inward and take time for self care, whether that be reading a book, catching up on my Netflix list or connecting with friends.

I’ve always been grateful for the simplest things, but after my cancer stuff I started a note on my phone called Things I Love . I want to share it now as I reminder to myself to stop and appreciate life. We need to slow the hell down and soak it all in.

Things I Love

  • Silent moments outside in the morning when there aren’t a ton of people around. So peaceful. I love the birds. 
  • Picking out fresh lemons at the grocery store. They’re just so pretty.
  • Waking up early and getting a ton of stuff done, even at a lazy pace.
  • Having people wish you and your mom a happy Mother’s Day and cherishing the fact that you are able to spend it with her.
  • The crisp snap of a Starbucks sleeve. Oh and the pretty drizzle of caramel on my macchiato.
  • Perusing through beautiful papyrus cards. Finding one you didn’t intend to buy, but it makes you think of someone you love so you buy it anyway and mail it to them.
  • Reading. There’s nothing like it in the world.
  • Fresh bread – crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.
  • How beautiful baked goods look when they’re set out in the morning. Seriously – have you noticed how pretty blueberry muffins are?!
  • Texts from loved ones.
  • Realizing that some moments and experiences are once in a lifetime. Especially when you realize that as the moment is happening.
  • The pretty rainbow of yoga mats in class.
  • My polka dot yoga mat.
  • My little red Fiat – Luna.
  • The beautiful tea cups I always drink from at Cynthia and Rusty’s. And their champagne flutes. And their handwritten card on my place setting.
  • The relief and calm you feel when you take a full, conscious breath.
    One of Cynthia and Busty’s beautiful table settings

    Clean sheets (obviously!).

  • Freshly cleaned eye glasses. (I can just hear mom saying/singing, “I can see clearly now!… The rain is gone.”)
  • A new lipstick.
  • When you get into bed and a fave tv show or movie is on.
  • Open windows and billowing drapes.
  • Untouched freshly fallen snow.
  • The incredible South African night sky.
  • The moon and the stars. (They put things into perspective.)
  • New music.
  • Old music.
  • The way a clean sink sparkles.
  • My perfume bottles.
  • The picture of my grandmother that hangs in my room.
  • The little bear on my bed that belonged to Amber.
  • The smell of garlic.
  • New opaque tights.
  • The pure decadence of having a Kobo Glo. (You can literally read anytime, anywhere!)
  • Clipping my bangs back. Heaven.
  • That smell when it’s about to rain.

    The smell of fresh cut grass.

    South Africa
  • The crunch of hazelnuts covered in milk chocolate.
  • Counting down to a vacation.
  • Being first on the hold list for a new library book.
  • Not setting my alarm.
  • The smell of a new book.
  • Okay – everything about books.  I’ll stop.
  • Everything about mom. That’s another list entirely. (Highlights include: the smell of her perfume, hearing her sing/hum to herself, her lipstick, her laugh, her smile, her support, when she calls me “daughter,” when I sleep in too long for her liking and she texts me – “I’m bored, wake up.”)
  • Everything about Disney. Seriously – everything.
  • The smell of the airport.
  • The perfect cut of prosciutto.
  • Fresh hand-pulled mozarella cheese.
  • Strawberry rhubarb pie bought from a store. Coming home and finding it still warm. (True story.) Amazing! 
  • Sunday family dinners.
  • My nonnie’s sauce. And pasta. And meatballs.
  • Lists. I make lists for everything. And I love it.
  • The beach and the sound of the ocean. Falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing outside your window is pure decadence.
  • The smell of Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen.
  • A roaring fire, cozy socks and cup of tea. And a good book.
  • Those moments when you communicate with your friends solely through facial expressions.
  • Learning something new about yourself.
  • Experiencing a different culture. As many as possible.
  • Freshly manicured nails. Ahhhh topcoat.
  • My Sid Dickens tile collection.
  • My skirts.
  • All things Christmas. Everything peppermint. Chestnut praline lattes in red Starbucks cups. Gingerbread. Feasts. Visits and traditions with friends and family. Cards. Christmas songs and movies. Christmas morning. Picking out our ornament. Selecting my wrapping theme and cards – especially sparkly bows. Charlie Brown. When you turn on a Christmas radio station and it’s the beginning of one of your favourite songs. I could go on and on…
  • The sound of a dogs paws on tile floors. I miss that.

    Laughing until it hurts.

    Sid Dickens Tile Collection
  • Smelling aunt Mary’s perfume when I hug her.
  • Corona with lime. With chips and salsa is a bonus.
  • 70% chocolate. (This is a new addition. I’m pretty proud of it.)
  • Trying and loving a new tea.
  • Going to the bakery in downtown Oakville to get a chocolate chunk cookie and walking down the street eating it and looking at how beautiful downtown Oakville is.
  • I get a crazy amount of joy scrolling through my Instagram homepage and seeing pictures of books. And Disney.
  • Connecting with people through insightful conversations. (Had a lot of deep convos today.)
  • Finding that perfect balance of being kind and being honest.
  • When someone gets a candid picture of you and it actually turns out well.
  • Sending a “just because” gift.

    Receiving a “just because” gift.

    Just because flowers from mom
  • Holding Jovana’s newborn baby and singing happy birthday to him (moms idea).
  • When my sister sends through an itinerary for our weekend together. (Talking about Lisa, obviously.)
  • The satisfaction I get from actively listening to people when we chat, which leads me to…
  • Living in the moment.
  • Tasting new flavours.
  • Persian tea in those beautiful cups.
  • Just because flowers from mom.
  • Washing cold hands under warm water.
  • Easter eggs (there are so many beautiful types!)
  • Gum balls at bulk barn (mom called me over to see them and she’s right – they’re so pretty).
  • Burning a log in the fireplace during the day AND at night. Decadent.
  • Blanket scarves.
  • The cozy blankets Chapters sells at Christmas. I buy one every year.
  • The sound of birds outside when I’m cozy in bed. They wake up so early! I love listening to them as I walk into work, too.
  • Fresh jam. Yuuuuum.
  • The cups and plates at Anthropolpgie. Oh and their aprons! Adorable.
  • Cherries floating in a white bowl. Seriously try it. So pretty!
  • Lobster Fest Father’s Day traditions with mom!

Cassandra Umbriaco is a guest blogger for Rethink Breast Cancer. Since being diagnosed with stage two breast cancer at 28 years old, she combines her love of writing with a passion to help women affected by cancer. Check out her blog at cancerunder30.wordpress.com  

Cassandra loves travelling as much as she can, dresses that twirl, anything Disney and her little red Fiat – Luna. 

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Rethink is proud to republish the original blog posts of Leanne Coppen first featured by Chatelaine. Leanne passed away in 2011 from metastatic breast cancer and we are honoured that her friends and family have allowed us to share her words here on the Rethink blog.

If the seven stages of grieving are anything like the seven stages of getting spectacularly grim news about your cancer, then I’m right on schedule:  I am no longer drowning in despair or frozen in shock, but am awash in the turbulent waters of anger.

This is good because it turns out that the upward climb from the bottom of the abyss is steeper and slipperier than at first it looked, and I was starting to slide back down a bit into the darkness of fear and despair.

But then yesterday I got mad.  Figuring out what my next step in fighting this cancer is supposed to be has been incredibly difficult and intimidating and I was feeling frustrated, frightened and unshepherded as I tried to navigate the clinical trial quagmire. And then, just when I was on the verge of crumpling into a heap of hopelessness, my fear and frustration transmogrified into a clear, burning rage.  It was like a blinding spotlight aimed squarely at a system that seems ill-equipped to support a person facing this more-desperate-than-average cancer flummox, and at a disease that targets mothers, fathers, best friends, and daughters instead of just taking out monsters like child molesters and corrupt politicians.

To my surprise I found myself smashing my fist down on the kitchen counter.  I did this about five times.  Then I did it about ten more times.  It may have looked a little silly but it sure felt better than collapsing into tears and being overcome with fear and frustration.  

I suddenly understood why men kick things when they’re mad, especially things they have just stubbed their toes on. The fist-pounding made me feel less vulnerable, somehow stronger.  Also a tiny bit cro-magnon. And then it started to hurt, so I considered kicking in some drywall, mentally appraising all the walls in our house for smashibility, and wondering if we had an axe…

Next, I had several very clear premonitions of spending the afternoon with blood-soaked towels tied around my limbs while waiting to get stitched up in emerg. Maybe the axe is not such a good option for me.

That’s when I remembered the “Rage Box” that my friend Karen made me.  It is a cardboard box in the garage filled with old chipped cups wrapped in newspaper.  The instructions read as follows:

1) Place in an area where things that break can be thrown. Preferably somewhere that you won’t have to clean up because who the hell wants to do that?

2) Start to feel the rage… run to box, grab a mug, throw against the floor, SCREAM!

3) Repeat as often as necessary.

4) Call when you need a refill.

I smashed everything in the box out in our back laneway (but did not scream so as to avoid neighbours calling police.)  I smashed some of them twice if they still looked smashable after the first smash. And my god it felt good.  I have already requested a refill for the rage box.

Look out cancer, I’ve just discovered rage, and I like it.

My own questions about what I wanted my work life to look like began shortly after the death of my father.My father passed away in 2011 of prostate cancer. He was a month shy of his 60th birthday. Prior to his death we discovered that he and I were both carriers of the BRCA2 genetic mutation, making me predisposed to the disease as well.

After my dad died, my outlook completely changed. I started to question whether I was making the most out of my life.

In the next few years, after having my own children as well, the questions became more pronounced. What work do I want to do? What impact do I want to have? How do I want to live my life?

It was these questions that led me to change my career and to work with people asking themselves the same questions.

I worked so hard to get where I am professionally. Since my diagnosis I’m not sure I feel the same way as I did before about my career? Is that normal?

It is completely natural to question many aspects of our lives when we’ve experienced a life-changing event. For many of us, when one element of life changes, everything else is affected too. It makes sense that one’s outlook on work may change too.

For some people work may be a haven after their illness. If you find your work engaging, if you can manage the stress of the job, if you have colleagues and a boss that support you, then your work may fit well into the changed dynamics of your life.

However, if your work is really stressful, doesn’t align with your values, is demanding of your time in a way that is challenging for you or if you’ve grown out of your role, you may be questioning if it’s the right place to continue putting your energy.

It’s normal to question how work fits into our ever-evolving priorities and life challenges. We give so much of our energy to our work every day. When faced with a diagnosis or illness the question of where to put your energy takes on a whole new importance. For many, it’s time to revisit how well aligned your work is to your life and to ask what is within your power to change.

How do I know if I need a change?

During major life changes, when so many domains of life are influenced, it’s hard to pinpoint which parts need the most tweaking.

I would say if your work used to fill you with energy and interest and now you feel like you’re dragging your butt there nearly every day, it’s time to ask where you can make some changes. If most (let’s face it we can’t love every aspect of our job) of the activities are draining your energies rather than energizing you, it’s time to consider what you want to do about it.

The answer to this question is not always “quit and find a new job”. Start with where you are. What do you have the ability to transform right away that could influence everything else for the better?

Could you work part-time? Work from home? Work on a remote special project? Work with a new team? Could you reframe your perspective so that your outlook is broader?

Before ultimately deciding if you need to leave your job or change careers it’s worth seeing what you could change from within your position first. Once you’ve tried tweaking things from within you can make your decision to stay or go with more confidence.

Do I need to leave my job or find a way to make it better?

It depends. My first instinct is to explore the question of if you can make it better. If you’ve tried and asked for support and it’s still not working, then it’s time to start exploring external options.

Exploring external options can range from finding a similar role in a different company or capacity or it could be a full career change. Knowing what’s possible includes a deep dive on your skills, interests and strengths but also a deep understanding of how much income you need to earn.

Let’s not forget the gravity problem of finances. For most of us it’s not easy to leave a well-paying job with benefits to explore the unknown. If you are considering leaving your job, the first step I suggest is creating a household budget so you know exactly how much income you need to generate. Once you’ve built your household budget and know how much money you need to earn you’ll have more clarity on the level of risk you can take in the change.

What if I don’t want to do the same job anymore but instead want to change careers?

If you’ve decided that it’s that actual work that doesn’t fit with you anymore rather than the company or the industry, it takes an investment of your time and energy to figure out what would make you happy.

Try to take on a curious, learning attitude and view it as a fun project. Seek out as many resources as you can to figure out what would be a better fit. There are so many books on the topic of career change as well as great coaches who can help you.

Create a self- inventory. Get to know your strengths, values, interests and lifestyle preferences so that you can see if a field or profession aligns well with them.

Collaborate with others to generate a list of potential career avenue that may be of interest to you.

Get out and talk to people. You’re likely not going to find answers by spending hours searching online. Find out about careers you’re interested in by speaking with people who are in that profession. Ask them what they love and don’t love about their job, about how people get into the field, about what skill sets employers in that field are seeking.

Read more career stories here!

 


Lauren Malach is a career coach. As a former executive recruiter, Lauren got really good at answering the strategic and tactical questions– how to interview well, how to craft your resume, how to source potential opportunities. And while that still interests her, what interests her, even more, is how to help clients live better lives. She believes we spend most of our lives at work, and if we can improve our outlook on our work, we may increase our overall life satisfaction.

Now her clients are individuals who want to create more fulfillment, engagement or clarity in their career path. She also works with proactive leaders who want to influence their teams with intention.

Email: info@laurenmalachcoaching.com
Website: https://www.laurenmalachcoaching.com/

Rethink is proud to republish the original blog posts of Leanne Coppen first featured by Chatelaine. Leanne passed away in 2011 from metastatic breast cancer and we are honoured that her friends and family have allowed us to share her words here on the Rethink blog.

First the good news: Although all CT scan results are not yet in, so far there is no evidence of metastasis in the bones.  It could very well be that the rib I cracked this morning (with one big hearty cough-sneeze combo at breakfast) is just a “cough fracture.” But it hurts like hell, so you’ll forgive me if I’m a little stoned on pain medication as I write this.

And now the bad news…in fact the worst news we have received since my diagnosis almost 2 years ago:

The nodules in the lungs have grown and while some lymph nodes have shrunk, some have enlarged and there are new ones in the space between my lungs.  All of this means that it is official: my cancer does not respond to standard chemotherapies. Actually they’ve tried all but one, and they’re holding that in reserve for now. Better I try some experimental treatments, they say.  Better we find a clinical trial, they say, though they don’t have one in particular in mind right now.

I am simply devastated.  I feel desperate and frightened and angry. Nothing has been able to stop this cancer, and I fear that nothing will. I feel mystified – utterly and completely – by the idea that something so ferocious has made me its target. I am simultaneously on the kitchen floor, under the duvet and wandering around disoriented and underdressed in the blizzard.

There have been a lot of tears today – a lot. My husband and I have instinctively been no further than a few feet apart at any time since receiving the news, as if we are afraid that this cancer well and truly means to separate us. The invisible tentacles of my parents, my family, and my friends have reached out through phone calls, texts, e-mails and general vibes of love, weaving a kind of blanket of collective protection around me. And my daughter?  Oh, my baby.  That’s the hardest of all.  I can’t even look at her without thinking, I just want to see you grow.

The natural beauty landscape is bigger and better than ever, it’s also more complicated with new brands cropping up faster than you can say clean beauty. So, we went straight to one of our favourite beauty collaborators for her best skin picks. And if there’s one thing Sheri Stroh is known for, it’s how to give good glow using natural beauty products. She’s also a young woman who underwent treatment for breast cancer. Whether it’s on her clients as a makeup artist or on her own skin, here are her fave natural skincare products for giving skin a boost.


When I went through (chemo) treatment, I definitely had dullness, which was very strange to me as I usually don’t deal with that. I was very kind to my skin and moisturized like crazy (and exfoliated) and all was well. I was lucky and have pretty thick and resilient skin, but those with sensitive skin will have to take it easy to see what works for them.

I like using more natural or cleaner beauty skincare because it usually involves supporting small, indie businesses that really put their heart and soul into their products (and a lot of brands are run by some really kick-ass women!). They care about what goes into their lines and where the ingredients come from and how they are grown and harvested (and by who) and really try to take the planet into consideration with regards to formulating and packaging. Because of these formulas and their practices I am much more gentle with my skin now and it’s so much better for it.

Here are my picks:

1. CV Skinlabs 

What: CV Skinlabs is a natural, organic collection of clinically proven formulas for eczema, dermatitis and sensitive skin.

Sheri Says: “A favourite line of mine for every day and when going through cancer treatment. There are only four wonderful products that were developed to treat sensitive and reactive skin and skin going through chemo specifically. They work wonders on irritated and sensitive skin conditions while being very gentle and healing.

Try: The Calming Moisture, Restorative Skin Balm, Rescue Relief Spray and Body Repair Lotion.

Clemintinefields.ca

 

2. Zyderma 

What: Zyderma Anti Microbial Clarifying Cream is a skincare treatment that offers antimicrobial protection to preserve the skin’s microflora (a protective layer of microorganisms that are essential to maintaining healthy skin).

Sheri Says:  I use this all of the time and wish I had it during my time in treatment. The cream contains MicroSilver, which is a unique and innovative ingredient that has many applications within the medical community. This is a wonderful product that helps to improve compromised skin.

Zyderma.com

 

3. Fitglow Beauty

  

What: Fitglow Beauty is a plant-based, organic and cruelty-free line of products that aim to transform skin with evidence-based formulas.

Sheri Says: Perfect for the moisture-starved and irritated skin. The Redness Rescue Cream is a slightly green-tinted lotion that evens out and calms redness with beneficial and clinically proven ingredients.

Try: Cloud Comfort Cream, Redness Rescue Cream, Boost Serum.

fitglow.ca

 

4. Province Apothecary 

What: Province Apothecary was born in a Canadian kitchen and has since expanded to a full line of organic skincare and beyond. Their new Daily Glow Dry Facial Brush stimulates and detoxifies skin for a renewed complexion.

Sheri Says: A lot of companies don’t address the lymphatic system and most cancer patients can tell you how important it is, especially when you have had lymph nodes removed. This is awesome for moving stagnant lymph fluid around and draining it from your face and neck to promote skin wellness.

provinceapothecary.ca


Sheri Stroh is a Toronto-based celebrity and editorial makeup artist and natural beauty buff. Her specialty? Glowing skin, naturally. Follow her work @sheristroh on Instagram.

 

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2016 at 34 years old, I felt isolated and afraid. My treatments were spent in a room full of women much older than me, the constant stares and whispers as I walked past that I was too young. I wished so badly that I was but I had become one of the 5% of women facing breast cancer under the age of 40. My life was now spoken about in terms of statistics and I was blanketed with chemo and radiation to increase my chances of survival. Once treatment ended though, that sense of security was suddenly ripped away and I slipped into a dark place of fear and uncertainty of my future.

But then something happened. A woman I followed on social media posted about an event called the YSC Summit, a conference put on by the Young Survival Coalition (YSC) for young women diagnosed with breast cancer between the ages of 18 and 40 and their co-survivors. I was apprehensive to go as I didn’t know anyone but I thought what do I have to lose?

YSC in Oakland (2017), YSC in Orlando (2018)

I made the trip down to Oakland, California last year which ended up completely changing my life and turned things around for me. I was surrounded by hundreds of young women who were not only surviving but thriving, and I thought to myself if they can do it, then why couldn’t I?

As soon as I got back home, I saved my spot for the 2018 YSC Summit in Orlando, Florida and started making plans on attending. I was fortunate enough to qualify for a travel grant this year through the YSC which covered a significant portion of my travel costs allowing me to attend without the added financial burden (they also offer fee waiver applications which help cover the cost of the conference itself). When I arrived, I was met by hundreds of women and their co-survivors, some familiar faces from the year before and lots of new ones that I would soon get to know over the weekend.

The three-day conference was packed full of events from general sessions on nutrition and exercise to breakout sessions on confronting the fear of recurrence and building a family after cancer, to legacy retreats for women living with metastatic breast cancer. There were keynote speakers including surgical oncologist Dr. Lori Wilson who spoke about her own struggle with breast cancer and dozens of vendors providing breast cancer information and support.

While there were so many incredible takeaways from this event, these were some of the most valuable lessons I learned from this year’s YSC Summit:

A group of young survivors including CEO of the YSC, Jennifer Merschdorf
1. You are never alone.

Call it a sisterhood. Call it a community. Call it a tribe. No one gets it more than those who have been through it. They understand the emotional and physical effects of treatment on our bodies, the struggles with self-confidence after undergoing multiple surgeries, and the uncertainty of navigating life after cancer. From the moment you walk into the conference, you are a part of this huge family. No explanations needed, no judgments passed. Just this instant bond between people who get it.

2. It’s okay not to be okay.

We often hear those words “be positive” or “stay strong!” But at one of the breakout sessions on Living Fully After Cancer, guest speaker and psychotherapist Julie Larson reinforced what we all need to hear again sometimes, that we don’t need to be strong all the time. Some days are going to be crappy and others we may feel great. We just have to acknowledge how we’re feeling in each moment and accept that as it is.

3. Co-survivors need support too.

As much as we are struggling, our family, friends, and loved ones are too. They may feel helpless and afraid as they watch us go through countless treatments and surgeries and neglect to tend to their own needs. That is why the YSC provides breakout sessions for co-survivors ranging from topics such as mindful caregiving to being intimate after cancer, and how to show self-compassion. Because if you’re not taking care of yourself and having your own needs met, then how are you able to care for your loved ones?

4. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

I commend the YSC on providing one of the most valuable tools at the summit: free drop-in counseling sessions for both survivors and co-survivors. Coming to an event like this can stir up a lot of feelings and emotions. Remembering those we’ve lost and struggling with survivor’s guilt and the uncertainty about our own futures. Breast cancer is an emotional rollercoaster ride and being able to reach out for help to address some of these issues is really important.

And finally…

5. Everyone’s story is unique.

Although we are commonly bonded through breast cancer, our stories are all unique. From the differences in diagnosis, treatments, and surgeries we receive, to the way in which we process them is going to be very personal. Some people may find it therapeutic to share their stories while others want to keep more private and that’s okay. There is no right or wrong way through this. We just need to acknowledge our experiences as our own.

Me and Meghan Koziel, who inspired me to attend for the first time last year; Me getting up close and personal with one of the cute dogs at the breakout session on pet therapy.

 

The next YSC Summit is slotted to take place March 8-10, 2019 in Austin, Texas and I’m already excited about going back. The bonds that I’ve made and the information I’ve taken away from this incredible event is second to none. And to think I almost didn’t go that first year. Well let’s just say, I’m glad that stepped out of my comfort zone and took the plunge.


Kim Angell is a breast cancer survivor, advocate and blogger that is living and loving life on Vancouver Island, BC. Check out her blog at http://smilethroughthefog.com

Working from home sounds like the dream, but when your work space gets mixed up with your relaxation or family space, the day-to-day can start to feel very overwhelming. Creating an intentional space that is dedicated to your work can lead to a major boost in positivity and productivity, while also making an important separation between work and the rest of your life.

We’ve paired 9 tricks with inspiring examples of home offices to spark some creativity in your own space.


Create an inspiring space

Nalie Agustin, a blogger, Youtuber, cancer THRIVER and empowering member of the Rethink community, weighed in on what she loves about her nook.

“I strongly believe your work environment has a direct affect on your productivity and creativity. My nook is filled with inspiring quotes and words that remind me of my mission (THRIVER – RESILIENT – BE KIND TO YOURSELF – HOPE – THE SIMPLE THINGS – LIVE NOW) . I also have pictures of particularly proud moments – all to remind me of who I am, what I am capable of and what I live for. For example, in my round frame, you’ll find pictures of my TED talk and my travels to Thailand (best trip ever). Whenever I feel down or lack creativity, I simply lift my head up and these memories make me happy. On my shelf, you’ll also find a frame with a picture of my brothers and I huddled on my 25th Birthday. I was bald and their heads were shaved in solidarity. There’s something about this picture that gets me all emotional, which is perfect to get the creative juice flowing.”

PS: You can get Nalie’s painting collection in collaboration with WCMTL at www.nalie.ca/shop 

@nalieagustin

Keep it cozy

One of the greatest perks of a home office is just that, you have the opportunity to work out of the comfort of your own home. Make sure that you make the most of the opportunity by keeping it cozy- think warm blankets, comfy carpets, (faux)-fur throws, etc.

@tabita_aundal
 

Dream about your decor

Maybe Rethink-pink isn’t your thing, but take some time to consider what is your thing and build your space with that in mind. Intentionally curating an office with colours, textures and art which inspires you will make you feel more inclined (and excited!) to make the most of the space and the time you spend in it.

@bethannearthur

 

Give yourself some greenery 

Bringing plant-babies into your work space will bring energy and life to your home office. Adding a pop of green will not only give your space some “hygge”, but they can also clarify your air.

@blushshop

 

Let the light in 

Getting out of bed and beginning your work day in dim, fluorescent light can make getting started challenging. Natural light will keep you feeling alert, positive and motivated throughout the day.

@tami_omalley

 

White walls win

We don’t always have the luxury of a big, bright open space with a lot of natural light. If that is the case, keep your walls light to open up the room. This space used to be a small, cluttered closet- witness the magic of white walls and cleared desktops!

@amybartlam + @lindsaybrookedesign

 

Cut the clutter

We all know the feeling: papers pile up, this and that overwhelms your line of sight… it can really stifle motivation. Treat yourself to a clean desktop, you will be amazed by the wonders decluttering will do for your productivity (and sanity!).

@kelli_murray

Stack up on storage 

It can’t always be as simple as completely clearing your desktop, sometimes there are things that need to be within arms reach. If this is the case, consider what kind of storage would be most effective for you. Keeping your stuff organized can play a big role in minimizing stress and maximizing efficiency.

@carolineondesign

 

Treat your tush 

While working from home, you are competing with the temptation of posting up on the couch in front of the television or crawling back into bed. Ensure that you have a comfortable chair, not only will this make your office as inviting as the rest of the home,  but it will also encourage better posture and help avoid distractions elsewhere.

@brittanymaddux

 

What is your greatest challenge when working from home? Could creating an intentional space for your work help solve some of these issues? Let us know in the comments below!

This is CANSWER HIVE. Tips and insights shared directly from Rethink’s Young Women’s Network (RYWN).

We asked the CANSWER HIVE which products have been the most helpful during treatment and post-treatment. From mouthwashes, to pillows, toques, lotions and more- find out why these products made the list of favourites. 
Laura says:

Under arm pillows and zero gravity chair post surgery made for comfortable sleep.

Shelley says:

Unscented lotions. Warm socks. Awesome toques. Blankets. Headphones for during treatment or waiting rooms or late nights.

Dee says:

My friend loaned me her kindle which was helpful because I would fall asleep or forget where in the story I was. Some books were too heavy to hold up and I couldn’t rest them on my belly post surgery.  Comfortable, easy to get into clothing.  I agree with the anti gravity chair/recliner.  I napped in one that was easy to get up from. People that made me meals saved my sanity.  Good hats, toques, scarves.  Glaxol base lotions for radiation burns. Headphones to listen to podcasts and music when the insomnia would become brutal.

Joy says:

Glaxol base lotion was the best thing during and after radiation! My skin was extremely dry and sore. It was the only thing that worked and provided relief. Nothing else came close and I literally tried everything.

Rachel says:

My cooling gel pillow that kept me cool at night during my hot flashes. That thing was a life saver.

Stephanie says:

Heart pillow for support and elevating the arm away from the lumpectomy and lymph node surgical site.

Miranda says:

Biotene mouthwash and toothpaste for dry mouth!  Parkhurst hats and toques (from the Bay or MEC) that are extremely soft fleece and wool combo that didn’t irritate my sensitive bald head.  I agree with the Glaxol base lotion for radiation burns and after-care.

Christine says:

Glaxol base lotion for radiation and natural baby wash for during chemo. I used it as soap and makeup remover and to help clean sore crusty eyes.

Heidi says:

Coconut oil for EVERYTHING! and a cream conditioning shampoo such as Renpure for conditioning bare scalp instead of drying shampoo.

Emma says:

Lint brush was my everything when my hair was falling out!

Sarah says:

Heating pad for bone pain during chemo was a life saver.

Melanie says:

Green beaver toothpaste in apple or orange. It was the only thing that didn’t irritate my mouth sores.

Emily says:

Pur mints for chemo and Herceptin infusions – they tasted awful!

Erica says:

Thermometer. During my chemo there were many nights when I got the chills and my temperature went up. I kept my thermometer (the one you put in your ear) right beside my pillow. It came in always super handy.

Kelly says:

True and Co. makes a super soft front clasp bra that was a life saver for surgery and radiation. Also, the high fashion radiation gowns by ‘radiant wraps’ were cozier than the nasty hospital gowns