Uncovered: Cherry Blossoms & Scars
January 30, 2023
My name is Lynne and I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 28.
My doctor initially thought I had a papilloma and recommended removing it via surgery. After the surgery, the medical team found out that it was actually DCIS — it was breast cancer. Because the margins were positive, I had to repeat this process over two more surgeries, until finally, they recommended a mastectomy. After the biopsy of that tissue, I received my diagnosis of stage 1 ER/PR+ breast cancer.
Because my tumour was a grade 3 and I had received a moderate score on my Oncotype DX test, it was decided that I would undergo chemotherapy, followed by 5 years of hormone therapy.
I was then referred to a fertility clinic with my husband so that we could have some embryos frozen before I started treatment. Everything was so sped up in the process; between diagnosis, fertility treatments, and starting chemotherapy — it all felt like a nightmarish blur. Had my husband and I had more time to prepare and plan, we definitely would have gone about things differently like choosing a different fertility clinic. But we were told that we had a limited amount of time and went ahead with everything they suggested to us.
After completing chemotherapy, I was put on endocrine therapy and ovarian suppression which put me into medical menopause. I also found out that I have the ATM gene mutation. I decided to have a second mastectomy and reconstruction.
Going through this experience being youngest person in the room during appointments was challenging and isolating, especially when people would acknowledge that and make comments about how I am “too young.”
Seven surgeries later, I have many scars to show for my cancer journey. I had one particular big scar near my collarbone that was very noticeable. I ended up covering that scar with a cherry blossom tattoo to represent what I went through. I like that my tattoo artist incorporated the scar into the tattoo as the branch, instead of hiding or camouflaging it.
After rushing back to work, I went through adjustment disorder which made me reflect on the person I was evolving into; my values, and what I wanted to make of my life. The old life I was living prior to diagnosis was no longer in alignment with who I’d become. I started to question if I was fulfilled in my career, what I was passionate about, and if I was happy with the life I was leading.
I was also exhausted from faking it and pretending that I was coping well with the side effects of cancer treatments. I had a lack of self-love and was disappointed with my body for betraying me and not letting me get back to my old life and the sense of normalcy I desired. I was left feeling depleted and empty. It got to a point where it took a lot of effort to just get out of bed.
I decided that instead of putting in all my effort in pretending I was okay, I would invest my energy into inner emotional recovery through seeking therapy, self-care, and setting new goals for myself that would align with my healing. Cancer helped me uncover and address inner traumas and taught me that my body proved to be more resilient than I could have ever imagined. I felt empowered to make the best of what felt like my second chance at life. Cancer really does change your perspective on life and changes you into a different version of yourself.
I’m at the point in treatment where I feel like an 80-year-old disguised as a 33-year-old. The joint pain, hot flashes, and brain fog are some of the side effects I didn’t expect to get hit with so intensely. Although it can be difficult to deal with the effects of cancer physically and mentally, it can also be an opportunity to embrace changes, discard what no longer works in your life, and explore new paths you wouldn’t have considered before.
The old me definitely wouldn’t have considered making a major career change and decided to go back to school to pursue my undergraduate degree.
This cancer diagnosis was definitely a life-reset event for me. It can be emotional at times when thinking about or planning for the future, especially if I am waiting for test results. Although my husband and I have had to hold off on our plans to start a family, I am so grateful for the life we live together; going on dates every weekend and travelling together. Having my husband stick with me even at my lowest point made me love him even more.
Despite the chronic pain I deal with, I try to have gratitude for my body for continuing to adapt to the side effects of treatment. And rather than viewing age and growing older as a negative thing, I embrace each year as a gift and privilege.
I will continue to focus on what truly fills my cup, prioritize time with my husband and pets, have more cozy nights in with my best friend, and surround myself with great people who inspire me and make me laugh. I will take in each moment and be present.
I felt compelled to be part of the Uncovered project because I find it so refreshing to read stories by women whom I find to be relatable in terms of culture and age. I hope that sharing my story and seeing my photos can also help someone who may feel isolated by cultural barriers or by being made to feel “too young” for cancer. — Lynne
Uncovered: A Breast Recognition Project is a resource and ongoing project that focuses on the breast cancer experiences of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. Through powerful imagery, genuine storytelling and more, it shines a light on the physical and emotional scars of breast cancer, cultural barriers and health equity.
Learn more and read other Uncovered stories here!