A celebration

When I was still doing chemo, some members of my family had mentioned it might be a nice idea to have a party when it was all over, to give me something to look forward to. I started researching some venues and thinking of who I might invite, but then I stopped. I felt sick and ugly and bald. I couldn’t imagine ever being healthy enough to attend a party. And I didn’t feel like celebrating. My future felt uncertain, a big question mark. Why celebrate when there might be more terrible news lurking around the corner? How would I really know when I was at the “end”?

So the party plans stopped and I told everyone I didn’t want to think about it for the time being and didn’t feel comfortable planning anything.

Then chemo ended, and radiation ended and I started to get better. And I had a scan that I was really scared about and felt some relief from the results. And then I decided, okay. Time to plan a party.

I knew this couldn’t really be a woohoo, I’m cured! themed party, because, well… I don’t know if I’m cured. And no one’s going to be saying those words to me any time soon. But I figured it didn’t really matter. Whether I’m cured or not, whether I live or die, right now I am feeling pretty good and I can stand up for multiple hours without fainting and I can climb several flights of stairs and I can lift a bag of groceries without needing a nap – and all of those things seemed worthy of celebrating. Just being healthy, for the moment, and alive, for the moment.

I also really wanted the chance to gather all the people who had been there for me this past year, in one room. It was my opportunity to say thank you to those people who had dropped meals at my door, sat with me while I moaned, mailed care packages to me, sent funny texts and emails to cheer me up, let me know they were always thinking of me.

We put together a huge candy bar. And we had cupcakes. And mini sandwiches with nutella and peanut butter. There was a music soundtrack provided by yours truly, and lots of laughs and hugs throughout the evening. I even made a quick impromptu speech at the coaxing of my grandfather.

It was so special to have all these people under one roof, and I admit, a bit overwhelming. I hadn’t seen some of these friends in a long time, and it’s very rare to have the opportunity to be surrounded by so many people who care about you, when there is not a wedding or any type of traditional milestone occasion involved. I had a friend fly in from New York to surprise me, and I also got to meet a very special lady for the first time after corresponding with her the whole time I was in treatment. It was an amazing night filled with amazing friends and family. And I am so lucky.

*All photographs taken by Lindsay Lauckner

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.