My new project

A riddle for you:

What do these two things have in common?

Look very closely. Can you see it yet?

Having some trouble figuring it out?

Here is a hint: The person on the left will soon be inside the magazine on the right.

Ohmygosh, you’re becoming a fashion model?! you are probably asking yourself.

No, no I am not. But thanks for thinking that. I’m flattered.

I will, however, be joining the wonderful Elle Canada magazine as a columnist, where I will be penning my own monthly column for one year.

This is something I’ve known about and have been working on for awhile but I’ve had to keep it a bit of a secret, because if I spoil everything, then no one will want to read about it months later when it’s published… alas, I have been living under a shroud of secrecy. But now you know, and I’m excited to share this new development with the world.

I am so grateful to Elle’s amazing editor-in-chief for taking a chance on me and giving me this opportunity. I’m sure “national magazine columnist” was probably on my list of dream future scenarios for myself, back when I was a little girl. I started this blog as a simple diary, a way that I could chronicle my journey through the unthinkable. And now it has become this force that continues to open so many new doors for me. I’m sure there is some sort of life lesson takeaway from that, but I don’t feel like exploring whatever that may be right now. All’s I know is I’m pretty excited to flip open that first issue and see words that I wrote, attached to my name, smack dab in the middle of perfume ads and celebrity interviews.

The first issue is September and will be on stands soon (I wasn’t paid to say that, I swear). If you’re Canadian, you should be able to easily spot it (or you could just subscribe, which costs next to nothing). And if you’re not Canadian, there should be plenty online to keep you entertained.

I don’t have a link or a spoiler or a preview to share. All I will say is the column will be about me and this next phase of my life. I will be doing lots of cool and fun things and living my life the best that I can, and writing about it as I do.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride. It should be a good one.

Calling All Angels

When I was going through cancer treatment, I often thought about how much more difficult everything would be if we had a young child to take care of. Part of me wished we did have one, so I didn’t have to take on the added concern over possibly never being able to have children. But the other part of me felt that since I could barely take care of myself, I couldn’t imagine having to care for and worry about a small human being.

I have a huge admiration for young moms who are diagnosed with cancer. I have known them and witnessed their unbelievable strength, firsthand. It is such an unfair position to be in, and unfortunately, there are many women who find themselves in the very tricky situation of having to juggle being a mom and being a cancer patient.

For a lot of moms, especially those without a lot of family or financial support, this is an extremely challenging struggle, and one that causes added grief during an already overly stressful time.

There is a brilliant organization that was created to deal with this issue, based in Toronto, called the Nanny Angel Network. They provide free in-home child care to mothers who are undergoing cancer treatment by sending in volunteers who have a professional background working with and caring for children. These “Nanny Angels” want to find a meaningful way to give back to the community, and as a result, they make a huge difference in the lives of families who are greatly in need of help. People helping people. What is better than that?

So why am I blathering on about this, you might ask? Well, I have just started working with the Nanny Angel Network and have been tasked with recruiting new Nanny Angels and doing some outreach. Sadly, there are a lot of moms in and around the Toronto area who desperately need some relief, and there are not enough volunteers to meet that demand.

By now, you might be thinking, This is amazing! I am so touched! How do I help?!

I am very glad you asked that, kind reader!

If you live in or near any of the areas listed on this page, then chances are, we need your help. ASAP. You must have a minimum of one year of professional child care experience and be able to commit a mere 5 hours of your time per month. So if you’re a retired teacher, a youth social worker, a former camp counselor extraordinaire – then we need you. And you should volunteer. Because it’s a good thing to do. And will make a mom going through a rough time very, very happy. And you will make me happy. Everyone wins!

If you want to get involved, or know of a person/group who might want to help out, you can send an email to admin@nannyangelnetwork.com. And then, lucky you, you will get to correspond with me directly. Truly, the icing on the cake of this sales pitch, am I right?

So please, spread the word and let’s get this thing going. The more successful it is, the more likely it can someday expand to different areas and we can take over the country and then the WORLD, with Nanny Angels falling from the sky à la Marry Poppins (okay, maybe I am venturing into fantasy land a bit, but hey, you gotta think big).

Updates (but not really)

Hello faithful readers! Jut checking in because it’s been awhile. How are you? I’m just fine and dandy, thanks for asking. The weather has finally warmed up and I am loving it. We Canadians talk about the weather every chance we get. It is so rare for it not to be completely miserable out, that when it’s a nice day, we jump for joy and can’t stop talking about it. Can you believe this weather we’re having? What a gorgeous day! What are you doing on this beautiful day? Get outside… it’s so nice out! I can’t even remember what snow and freezing feels like! We revel in the warmth and sunshine and talk about it until we are blue in the face, ensuring that we have fully demonstrated our gratitude to great Mother Nature.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Now that we’ve sufficiently discussed the weather, we can move on.

What’s new with me? Everything. I went from a very laid-back cancer recovery vacation to juggling about a million different things all at the same time. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t found it a bit overwhelming, going from zero to a hundred practically overnight. My brain and body are tired. But it’s all good stuff. Very good stuff. I feel like I’m having a bit of that cliche post-cancer zest to grab life by the horns and make sure I’m using my time wisely, while I’m still here.

So you’re probably wondering — what is all this exciting stuff I’ve been occupying my time with? Well, unfortunately, I’ll be saving that for a future post or two, so you’ll have to be patient. Mostly because I just don’t have the time right now, and also because some of it is top-secret… which will make sense once I explain. But I’m not explaining now. Sorry. Aren’t you just on the edge of your seat?! You probably shouldn’t be. I’m not going to reveal that I cured cancer or something that major. Although that would be so wonderful, wouldn’t it? Not today, my friends. Not today.

In the meantime, while you await future updates, I will ask a favour of you. I am doing the Weekend to End Women’s Cancer walk yet again. I wasn’t positive if I’d do it this year, but then there were a bunch of promotional materials with my face on it, stating I would be walking again, so I felt I should follow through and not disappoint all two of my fans (Hi, Mom and Dad). But this means I have the difficult challenge once more of raising some major dough.

So if you feel so inclined and haven’t decided which charity you feel like donating to this month, I’d really appreciate if you choose me. The money goes directly to ground-breaking breast cancer research and programs at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre that help benefit people like me. We’re all in this together, right? So whip out your credit cards and show me the love.

If you’d like to donate, you can do so by clicking here. Thanks in advance to anyone who donates! (And for those of you who don’t, don’t expect a Christmas card from me this year.) (Just kidding, I don’t actually send Christmas cards, but it was the most neutral threat I could come up with on the spot.)

Hope everyone is having a lovely start to their summer. Go outside. It’s a beautiful day.

A weekend at camp

Recently I had the opportunity to pretend I was a kid again and go to sleepover camp. Only this type of camp was a little different, because it was 100% female, no kids, booze-filled, and raised a ton of money for charity.

The “Health and Fitness Weekend” was in honour of Linda Lewis and all proceeds went directly to Wellspring. Linda’s twin sister, Leora, was one of the main organizers of the event and so generously invited me to come along. My sister accompanied me for the weekend and we had an amazing time, filled with delicious food, dance parties, new friends, and a few dozen mosquito bites (seriously… I have never seen so many mosquitoes in my life).

When we first arrived at Camp Manitou, us city girls were giddy over the site of the glistening water and all the greenery. We signed in at registration and then wandered into the woods to search for our cabin. Our cabin happened to be down a small incline, which was just perfect for clumsy ol’ me (i.e. I may have slammed into a big tree trunk once or twice to prevent myself from tumbling down the hill). The cabin was large, but still cozy, with several requisite bunk-beds, naturally. Since there weren’t too many of us, no one had to sleep on a top bunk, which was just fine with me. I never liked top bunks. #scaredycat

We soon met our cabin-mate, Susan, who works with Wellspring. As far as having to share a cabin in the woods with a stranger, we majorly lucked out with Susan. We had some good bonding moments over chasing mosquitos and killing them throughout the cabin.

Our first lunch meal was delicious and nutritious, as was every meal the entire weekend. Obviously since my central concern is always “what can I eat/when can I eat/why aren’t we eating,” I was pretty thrilled. Hunger was most definitely not an issue.

The weekend was structured with a jam-packed schedule each day, filled with numerous activities ranging from seminars, to aerobics, to yoga, to hiking, to boat rides, to pretty much anything you’d ever want to do during a weekend in the country. You could choose to do whatever you wanted, or not to do anything at all, which was perfect. No camp counsellors yelling at you to jump in the freezing lake and plenty of time to just lounge and read and relax. In other words, camp for adults is pretty fabulous.

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Lisa LaFlamme (anchor of CTV National News) was the MC for the weekend, and provided a lot of entertainment while we sat and ate our meals and listened to speeches. She also hosted an auction, where a ton more money was raised for Wellspring. I so badly wanted to jump up and shout “TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!” for every item, but since my current unemployment status means I don’t have extra cash to burn, I stayed in my seat and watched the other ladies duke it out for the prizes.

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We had a later addition to our cabin, Eva, who also works for Wellspring. When Eva was settling into the cabin, we got to talking, and she mentioned that she couldn’t do too much activity because she’d just had surgery.

“I had reconstruction last month because I had breast cancer,” she said.

“Oh, cool, I had breast cancer too!” I replied.

Ding ding ding! An instant friendship was forged. We talked all about our experiences and where we were at now and all the gory details. It’s pretty special, the way in which a shared cancer diagnosis can immediately make you comfortable enough with someone to talk about your bowel movements. Seriously. Eva and I had the exact same chemo regimen, and so it only took about two seconds for us to start swapping war stories. Yep, I remember that. Oh yep, that happened to me too. Cancer bonding at its finest.

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On the Saturday evening after dinner, Eva got up and made a speech in front of everyone and shared her story. She was awesome, and of course I cried, and I imagine many others did as well. But the crying did not stop there, oh no. Next up was Nikki, Linda’s beautiful daughter, who shared a poem she had written while her mom was going through cancer treatment, before she passed away. Her poem was filled with love and rage and blew everyone away. There was definitely not a dry eye in the room at that point. Nothing like a cathartic, good group cry. We then each lit a candle and sat in silence, in memory of someone close to us.

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After releasing a lot of emotions and wiping away our tears, we made our way over to a different part of the camp, where a bonfire was happening, complete with a guitarist playing songs, and of course – S’MORES. I can’t remember the last time I had a s’more, but wow, that is seriously one genius combo. Kudos to whoever the heck invented those things. Unfortunately, the bugs got the better of us again that night, attacking our faces and scalps and every inch of our poor little bitten bodies, so we cut the night a bit short and headed back to the cabin. We brought back s’mores for Susan and Eva, who were staying in to avoid the bugs, and they were very excited by the unexpected midnight snack. Cabin buddies gotta have each other’s backs.

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The weekend eventually came to an end, and we packed up our stuff, said bye to new friends, and headed back to the city. Itchy, smelly, exhausted, relaxed and happy. And of course, like any summer camp kid, sad to be home and wishing camp never had to end.

*High-res photos all taken by Sarah Lever

 

A time capsule

I’m sitting here on my laptop, looking through a folder of old photos from my phone and taking a walk down memory lane. There is nothing like a photograph to take you right back to a moment, and to remind you of how you felt in that moment. I know a lot of people don’t take photos of themselves during cancer, which is understandable. For the most part, you usually look like crap. And you don’t necessarily want to document the worst, scariest, saddest part of your life. In my case, I actually took quite a few photos. In fact, I even treated myself to a nice camera early on in my diagnosis, which I used for most of the photos that appeared on this blog.

I also snapped several photos on my crappy Blackberry (hence the mostly poor quality), which I tend to never look at, except for moments like now where I happen upon that folder. Let’s have a look, shall we?

This photo is apparently from the day I had my biopsy. So I'm assuming this was a forced smile...

This photo is apparently from the day I had my biopsy. So I’m assuming this was a forced smile…

I think this was my first time going out post-mastectomy.

I think this was my first time going out post-mastectomy.

In a Starbucks bathroom right after my pre-chemo hair chop. Got to enjoy this style for a whole month before it ended up on my floor and in my garbage bin.

In a Starbucks bathroom right after my pre-chemo hair chop. Got to enjoy this style for a whole month before it ended up on my floor and in my garbage bin.

This is the bruise I got after having dye injected for a CT scan to see if my cancer had spread. I cried so hard when I took the bandaid off and saw it. Yuck.

This is the bruise I got after having dye injected for a CT scan to see if my cancer had spread. I cried so hard when I took the bandaid off and saw it. Yuck.

Before I was wheeled away for my port placement. Feigning excitement.

Before I was wheeled away for my port placement. Feigning excitement.

A clump of my hair as it started to fall out.

A clump of my hair as it started to fall out.

My sis bought my this nail polish during chemo. It's called "Enuff is enuff."

My sis bought me this nail polish during chemo. It’s called “Enuff is enuff.”

My zombie/nearly-dead look which I sported most of the winter.

My zombie/nearly-dead look which I sported most of the winter.

One of a few chemo shopping sprees I had when I happened to have a burst of energy.

One of a few chemo shopping sprees I had when I happened to have a sudden burst of energy.

This was pretty much the lowest of the low. Splotchy steroid cheeks and bald as hell and not even able to muster up a fake smile. Yeesh.

This was pretty much the lowest of the low. Splotchy steroid cheeks and bald as hell and not even able to muster up a fake smile. Yeesh.

Chemo did all kinds of bad things to me, including causing extreme dry eyes that were constantly painful and looked disgusting. Ew, this pic.

Chemo did all kinds of bad things to me, including causing extreme dry eyes that were constantly painful and looked disgusting. Ew, this pic.

One thing that just kept on going was my appetite. So much food, all the time.

One thing that just kept on going was my appetite. So much food, all the time.

The fat-face/pumped full of steroids look.

The fat-face/pumped full of steroids look.

Walmart hat fashion.

Walmart hat fashion.

One of my few wig days.

One of my few wig days.

The beginning of the regrowth phase when I became obsessed with taking photos of my scalp to see if I had hair. This photo was taken exactly one year ago.

The beginning of the regrowth phase when I became obsessed with taking photos of my scalp to see if I had hair. This photo was taken exactly one year ago.

Is it growing? OMG I think it's growing!

Is it growing? OMG I think it’s growing!

These photos now cause a huge range of emotions when I look at them: sad, shocked, angry, proud, amazed. I’m glad I have so many photos, if anything, to remind me how much has changed in such a short amount of time. And how much, for better or worse, could change again. How it’s all out of my control and how I need to be grateful that, for the time being, my current photos consist of me smiling, having fun, feeling healthy, and with a full head of hair.

A day for mothers

Today it’s Mother’s Day. And it’s got me thinking.

I am very lucky for my mother. If you know her, you know she is the best. I don’t know where I would be without her (well, not alive, I suppose, but that’s beside the point). I am also very lucky to have an awesome mother-in-law. Whenever I hear stories of impossible mother-in-laws, I think, wow, I really lucked out on that one. So I’ve really hit the mother jackpot.

I’m also thinking about my grandmothers. Both amazing ladies. Both gone too soon. Cancer, and cancer again. I miss them every day, and today a bit more. I have had many examples of strong women in my life, and they have all played their part in shaping who I am today.

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I’m also thinking about the pain of this holiday, for so many. Like being single on Valentine’s Day. Only a lot worse.

The pain of all those who have lost their mothers, who are bombarded with marketing messages like “CALL YOUR MOM! TELL YOUR MOM YOU LOVE HER!” and have to confront the sadness of being motherless. We don’t always think about these people on this day, and what it might mean to them. The orphans among us. Heartache instead of flowers.

I’m thinking about all the women out there, having trouble conceiving, desperately wanting to be a mother. My own friend, who was hoping to be a mother on this day, and is not. So many women struggling, undergoing fertility treatments. Trying, trying, trying. What does this day mean for them?

I’m thinking about Naomi, and how she is no longer here to celebrate this day with her adorable little son. I’m thinking about her husband and how this day might make him feel. And all the Mother’s Days they’ll have to face without her, and the sheer unfairness of it all. I’m thinking of how much she loved her son and beamed when she spoke about him, and what an amazing mother she was, for the short time she got to be one.

And, yes, I’m thinking about me. My feelings. I am not a mother. If not for cancer, would I be celebrating my first Mother’s Day as a new mom right now? Possibly. Likely. Will I ever have a Mother’s Day, as a mom? No one can answer that question. The option to have a child, for now, has been taken away from me. Mother’s Day wasn’t made for young women who had cancer. I don’t think Hallmark makes a card for that one.

Happy Mother’s Day. To the many beautiful mothers I am lucky enough to know. To those who are without their moms. And to those of us hanging on to the hope, that one day, this day might mean something different, and might be for us, too.

 

The taxi diaries

12:15 AM, Friday night, in a taxi

Taxi Driver: Are you coming home from work right now?

Steph: No, I was at a party.

TD: Oh.

S: I’m actually not working right now.

TD: Oh. What did you study in school?

S: English. Not very useful. Do you like your job?

TD: Nope.

S: Oh, that’s too bad. What would you rather be doing?

TD: I used to do something with pharmaceuticals. My old company X is being bought by company Y.

S: Oh yah, I know those companies.

TD: Really?

S: Sure. I’ve taken my share of pharmaceuticals.

TD: You take pharmaceuticals?

S: Not as many now, but a bunch in the past.

TD: Oh, what were you taking them for?

S: Cancer.

TD: WHAT?! Cancer?! Oh my goodness. You are so young!

S: Yepper.

TD: Sorry for asking you about this.

S: It’s fine, I talk about it all the time.

TD: What kind of cancer?

S: Breast cancer.

TD: WHAT?! Breast cancer!!! NO! WHAT?!

The taxi driver turns on his interior light and spins around in his seat to get a better look at the young cancer patient.

TD: Oh my goodness. You are so young! Wow. Wow. Wow.

S: It’s okay. I’m doing fine.

Steph marvels at the fact that she now has to calm down a taxi driver about her having cancer.

TD: So is there some kind of genetic thing?

S: Not that they know of. But my dad had breast cancer, so probably.

TD: Wait, WHAT?! Your dad? You mean he had prostate cancer?

S: No. Breast cancer. Male breast cancer. It’s rare, but it happens.

TD: Oh my goodness. Wow. I can’t believe this. Wow.

S: Yepper. That’s why I have this short hairdo.

Taxi driver spins around in his seat again… while driving.

TD: You had the chemo?!

S: Yep.

TD: Oh my. Gosh. So what are you taking now?

S: Tamoxifen.

TD: Oh, Tamoxifen. Okay. Did they give you antioxidants?

S: Uh, no.

TD: Okay. You have to eat berries. Lots of berries.

S: I eat berries every day.

TD: Good. Doesn’t matter what kind of berry. Black, blue, strawberry. Every day. You have to.

S: Sure.

TD: And tomatoes! Are you eating your tomatoes?

S: Yep. I eat a ton of tomatoes.

TD: But not raw. You have to grill them on the barbecue.

S: Sure thing.

TD: And you have to make sure you eat the seeds inside the tomato. That’s the important part. Every day, you need to eat the seeds.

S: Uh huh.

TD: And the other thing is bananas with milk. Our bodies are full of electricity. Like when you rub a comb on  your hair and it stands up.

S: Static electricity.

TD: Yes! That’s it. We’re all just electricity. So you have to eat the bananas in the milk. Not so many bananas every day. But just one banana with the milk.

S: I eat a lot of bananas so I think I’m good.

TD: Just do all these things and you’ll be fine, I promise. It’s really just about a lifestyle change.

S: Okay, yep, sure, thanks.

The taxi pulls up in front of the house.

TD: I wish you the best of luck.

S: Thank you! I appreciate it.

TD: And I hope to see you soon. Do the things I said and then you’ll see me again and tell me I was right.

S: Sure! Have a good night! BYE!