FAQs

As part of this whole cancer thing, I get asked a lot of questions. It can be tiring repeating the same thing over and over, so I’ve decided to make a list of some FAQs with answers.

How did you find the lump in your boob?

I was sitting on my couch, alone, and touched my boob. I was not doing any sort of self-exam. I just touched it, and felt it, and knew. Moral of the story: start getting gropey with your breasts.

You’re so young to have cancer! Do you know how young you are? How do you have cancer?! You’re so young! Are you aware that you’re young?

I have never, in my life, been more aware that I am not an old person. Young people get cancer. Sadly, I am not the only one. It’s a very crappy fact about life, but nonetheless, there it is.

But at least since you’re young, you’ll definitely be fine.

I really like this idea. But unfortunately, that is not how it works. In fact, cancers tend to be more aggressive in younger people, which is the case with me. But don’t worry. I’m pretty aggressive myself.

How did you get your cancer?

I don’t know. No one knows. That’s not really how cancer works. It is caused by cells dividing abnormally. I didn’t tell my cells to do that, they just did.

But surely you must have done something? Eaten something? Stepped in something?

Some people want to believe that cancer patients caused their cancer in some way, so that they feel it will never happen to them. Did you know that there are vegan, all-star athletes out there with cancer? And that there are people who smoke a pack a day and eat burgers all day and do not have cancer? Although there are certain risk factors for certain cancers, it is often random and unfair. Two risk factors for breast cancer are being overweight and drinking alcohol. I am a pretty far cry from obese, and do not drink. Ever. How do ya like them apples? In fact, the largest risk factor for breast cancer is simply being a woman. Didn’t have much choice with that one.

Did you know that if you drink this special tea, or go to this website, or jump up and down 3 times, you can cure your cancer?

I didn’t know that! What a dum dum I must be. I will definitely consider stopping my treatment and ignoring the opinions of my doctors and decades of medical research and evidence, in favour of the advice from some website full of grammar mistakes and sex ads. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Did you know that sugar will cause your cancer to spread and kill you? Stop eating cupcakes, fatty!

There are several myths about cancer that circle the internet, which are completely unfounded, and only serve to stress the shit out of poor souls like myself. What each person chooses to believe, is his or her right. It is also my right to eat or do whatever I want, without having to justify it to anybody. Please know that I am extremely well-informed and not actively doing anything to harm myself. You can trust that no one wants me to stay alive as much as I do. For those who are truly concerned, I can promise you I am not shoving my face full of cupcakes all day. Although I could sure use one right now.

Did you get my message/voicemail/email/text/comment/card?

Yes, I did! I get a lot of messages every day, which I love. It makes everything a bit more bearable. I don’t always write back. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I am tired. Sometimes I have nothing new to say. But I read everything and often share your nice words with my husband, and we’re both very grateful for so much support. As someone who loves getting snail mail, it is so fun to open all the cards I get. When a crisis happens in your life, you learn who your true friends are. Who will really be there for you. You also learn that you have a bunch of family you’ve never met who are really awesome. And that there are strangers all over the world who are caring and kind. People are, generally, pretty great. I can attest to this, wholeheartedly.

Are you a writer for a living?

Nope. I was published in the Toronto Star when I was 10 years old, and figured I hit my peak. But I have always written, for fun, and been encouraged by others to do so. Because of this blog, I now have many people encouraging me to write a book. So maybe I’ll do that. Stay tuned.

What does chemo feel like?

I’m not sure if anyone has actually asked this, but I know people wonder. And I don’t know how to explain it. Just thinking about describing it makes me feel nauseous. It’s not pleasant, to say the least. One thing that is difficult to describe is the fatigue. Everyone knows that chemo causes fatigue, which often lingers after treatment is completed. I remember thinking, being tired isn’t so bad, I’ll just sleep, I like sleeping. But it is impossible to compare the feeling to being “tired”. It is more an overwhelming sensation of weakness, spread across my entire body. Simple things, like boiling a pot of water, become really difficult. And often, sleep doesn’t make it better. As someone who really likes words, I can’t think of a better one right now than “yucky”. Chemo is really yucky. That’s about the best way to describe it.

When will you be done with chemo? And then is that it? You are cured?

A lot of people think that cancer treatment is simple. You pump yourself full of some drugs, and then you’re cured, and you move on with your life. For some people, this may be the case, but for most, it simply isn’t so. Each type of cancer is different and requires different types of treatments to keep it under control. Once the treatments are finished, you pray and hope that they worked and that the cancer will not return. In my case, I will hopefully be finishing chemo in two months. But because of my subtype of breast cancer, I will still need to get drug infusions every three weeks at the hospital, for a year. During this time, I will also be part of a medical trial. Then I will be on a different kind of drug, with its own fun side effects, for many years after that, to try to keep the cancer at bay. Somewhere in between, I will have at least one more major surgery. I will also spend the next however many years fearing the recurrence of my cancer, as much as I will try to block it out. It is most likely to recur in the next two years and the anxiety over that, at least for me, is a very real and difficult part of the struggle. So in summary: it is very hard for me to answer when people ask when I’ll be “done”. There will be milestones, most definitely, and I will try my very best to enjoy and celebrate each one. I’ve already conquered a few. But the road is a long one for me. Hopefully one paved with many cupcakes, now that you have learned that they will not cause my demise.

To do or not to do

This is how I'd look right now, if I were a cartoon dwarf.

Oh, Grumpy. I feel ya, pal.

Many people believe that when it comes to cancer, things are fairly clear-cut. You have this type of cancer, you follow this type of treatment, and you do whatever the doctors tell you to do. Unfortunately, this is very rarely the case, although it sure sounds nice. Cancer is all about unknowns and grey areas. This can be especially true when you are a young patient, as many of the studies and numbers do not necessarily reflect people of a younger age, who are often “high-risk” – the fabulous term with which I have been labeled by doctors. Of course, there have been many advances in cancer research and treatment. But even so, sometimes there is not enough data and information to work with, and ultimately, the patient is the one who has to decide what they feel most comfortable with and how they want to proceed in many areas of their cancer treatment.

As a control-freak, you would think it would thrill me to get to make choices and not be told what to do in a given situation. But no, my friends. That is not the case. You see, when it comes to making decisions that can affect your ability to be alive, it’s not such a great feeling to be in control. In fact, it’s quite a lot of pressure, and frankly, a pain in the ass.

Throughout my cancer “journey” (barf… someone find me a better word for “journey”), I have had to make many impossible decisions. Decisions that affect my body, my health, my chance of survival, among other things. This past week, I have been confronted with yet another huge decision in regards to (what feels like) my never-ending treatment. And again, doctors can give me the facts, but not advise. It is in my hands. My stupid, sweaty-palmed hands.

As a young girl, I was an excellent student. Straight A’s all the way, occasionally referred to as “The Brain” or “Brainer” by my schoolmates (not the coolest nickname one could possess, but I suppose there are worse). I would ace a test or get accolades from my teacher for a story I wrote, without putting in a great deal of effort. This continued throughout university, where my roommates would get frustrated at my ability to write an essay or finish an exam at a dizzying pace, while they would still be trying to come up with a thesis statement.

The student inside me, who has been locked away for years, has returned as a result of my new current interest: curing my cancer. I spend endless hours reading studies that I really have no business reading, in that I usually have to google every other word to make sense of the terminology. I read articles, message boards, books, trying to stay on top of all the current and relevant info pertaining to my particular case. Trying to search for the answer to whatever question I am currently faced with.

But unfortunately, unlike school where I could essentially bullshit my way into getting a great mark (one teacher in high school actually told me I did that and I took it as a very high compliment), I can’t do that here. I can’t make the answers appear. I can’t pretend that I know them all. Because no one does. Most of it is just a crap-shoot, where you make a decision, pray it was the right one, and move on the best you can. If you can.

Today I feel tired of making these big decisions and trying to be the all-star cancer student. I feel over it. The Brain can only handle so much. As my mother said to me earlier, I should be making decisions about what colour nail polish to wear, not trying to figure out whether X or Y may or may not kill me. (Note to self: must paint nails.)

So, all this to say, I’m feeling a bit grumpy today. Grumpiness is another unfortunate side effect of cancer. And, as the cherry on top, tomorrow I get to do chemo #3. They better have a good stock of popsicles this time. Although hopefully I won’t have to make a choice between flavours. I don’t need anything else on my plate right now.

The gifts of cancer

Not long after my most recent chemo treatment, I felt pretty awful. I, again, wanted to cut off my legs and arms. I took many, many drugs (I have a nice little pharmacy by my bedside these days) in an attempt to stop the pain and nausea spreading through my body. I felt so weak that I needed my husband to help keep me balanced while I walked from my couch to my bathroom. I nearly passed out while trying to get groceries with my mother. I thought, once again, this will never end. I will feel like this forever. I will never go outside again or see my friends again. I will never want to touch food again. I will never stop crying. Life stinks.

And then it passed. And I saw my friends. And I was laughing and running around (well, not running, but walking at a normal, non-zombie-like pace). And I was eating enough to feed a 300-pound man (which, as many people know, is how I eat under normal circumstances). I began to make plans and do things that didn’t involve lying in my bed all day with the shutters closed. I put on pants that didn’t have the word “sweat” in their name. I went out to a restaurant. I planned a spontaneous getaway with my husband to my grandfather’s place up in the country, in an attempt to escape from my surroundings for a bit and pretend that I even have the option to go on any type of vacation right now, like everyone else.

After I’ve been cooped up inside for a while, I find the sun blinds me. I believe I might be turning into a vampire, which wouldn’t be too bad.

After I’ve been cooped up inside for a while, I find the sun blinds me. I believe I might be turning into a vampire, which wouldn’t be too bad.

I got to hang out with my sister over her holidays. She’s pretty and she’s going to be a doctor.

I got to hang out with my sister over her holidays. She’s pretty and she’s going to be a doctor.

Nature

Nature

Creepily following my husband with my new fancy camera

Creepily following my husband with my new fancy camera

Couch-hanging. I've gotten really good at doing this

Couch-hanging. I’ve gotten really good at doing this

My grandma's rocking chair <3

My grandma’s rocking chair ❤

Don't mess with this guy while he's drinking wine and reading the Sunday Times

Don’t mess with this guy while he’s drinking wine and reading the Sunday Times

Some people like to talk of the “gifts” that cancer has given them. New perspectives on life, love, family. Realizing what is truly important in this world. During these nice moments over the past week or so, I did feel very grateful. To be feeling good, and happy, and loved. Feeling the sun on my face or the warmth of the fireplace. Spending time with my husband away from distractions, and away from the hospital. When you know what it feels like to feel like you are at death’s door, you tend to appreciate the moments when you feel good and healthy a lot more than the average person might.

That being said, you will never catch me talking about cancer as a “gift”. Sure, there are quite literally gifts, like this package that arrived from my friend Lily today.

A bunch of fun things, including an awesome polka dot scarf which will be perfect for my head. I love polka dots. Thanks Lil!!

A bunch of fun things, including an awesome polka dot scarf which will be perfect for my head. I love polka dots. Thanks Lil!!

I love getting stuff in the mail. It is one of the few things that really excites me these days and I appreciate everything you kind people have sent me.

However, cancer itself – NOT a gift. And to be honest, I kind of want to smack people who refer to it as such. I read a comment on an article I was reading, where a woman talked about all the blessings cancer had given her, and said she wouldn’t change anything if she had the chance, because she had been given these “gifts” as a result of her cancer.

Barf. That’s what I say to that.

I appreciated everything in my life pre-cancer. I have an amazing husband, family, and group of friends. I knew what I wanted out of life. My priorities were straight. I didn’t need cancer to “show me the way” or teach me the value of life. Sure, I might have a deeper appreciation for many things now than a lot of people do. But I’d much prefer not to have cancer, and to have my regular level of appreciation be restored. I am 28 years old. I don’t want to feel that each day is a blessing, because who knows how many days I/we all have left. I want to have many days left. And I want to be able to take that for granted. I am 28.

Cancer is not a gift. It’s an ugly, humiliating, miserable, frightening disease. There are nice moments throughout and small silver linings here and there. But this is no blessing. And if I had the opportunity to change it all and go back to being a regular boring person whom none of you would ever care to read about, would I? Hell yes.

But since I can’t do that, I will continue through this bizarre cycle of feeling like death and then coming back to life yet again.

And, of course, I will continue to accept your gifts, in the mail. Gladly. Because if cancer has taught me anything, it’s that getting presents is awesome.