Life finds a way

When thinking of what to title this blog post, a post I’ve been imagining writing for a long time, the voice of Jeff Goldblum immediately popped in my head. In Jurassic Park, one of my childhood faves, his character utters the now famous line, “Life, uh, finds a way.” Although referring to dinosaurs and their ability to breed in that particular case, the line came to mind when thinking about my own little (far less destructive) miracle that has found its way into existence, despite the odds.

That’s right folks, the rumours are indeed true: I am pregnant. With a baby (not a dinosaur, in case there’s any confusion there). And not just a baby, but a baby boy. A real, live baby boy. Ain’t that somethin’?

For a quick recap: you may recall that I was taking cancer-fighting drugs that prevented me from having a child. You may also recall that I had a type of chemotherapy that put me at risk for damaging my ovarian reserve. You may not recall any of this, because it’s in your rearview mirror and you are likely thinking about other things, as you should be. But I have not thought about other things. Ok, that’s not entirely true. Occasionally I think about pizza, or last night’s Bachelor episode. But a lot of my brain power has gone to thinking about babies. Wondering if that possibility was lost for me. Wondering if I should take the risk. Researching, reading, discussing, deciding, trying to sort through it all the best that I could.

My decision to attempt pregnancy was not made lightly. It was agonizing. At times, it still is. My anxiety has been sky-high, as I wrestle with nerves around the pregnancy itself after encountering a bumpy start which made me hesitant to share my news. My excitement has been tempered with familiar fears creeping their way back in, fears about my own health and how my survival now feels even more critical. I feel like the last time I got really excited about life, I was hit with a bomb, and I worry (irrationally, but still) that I might somehow jinx this good fortune if I put it out into the world.

But after waiting patiently on the sidelines for the last several years, watching baby announcements flood my social media feeds, celebrating the births of my friends’ and family’s children, I want to enjoy this moment in time, this moment I’ve waited so long for. I want to share it. I want you to know that miracles can happen. I want you to know that good things can happen. But mostly I want myself to know that good things can happen. It is possible. It has to be. It’s happening right now, as I feel my son swimming around inside of me.

Good things can happen.

 

Hello from the other side

hello

Hey party people! I’m still alive, if you were wondering. (Although if you ever are actually wondering, it only takes a few clicks to verify that I’m still kicking.) I keep meaning to update ye olde blog but have not succeeded as of late. And it’s not for a lack of having anything to say. In fact, I have had lots of things to say, and my mind has been churning constantly with thoughts and feelings and all that fun stuff that I really should put down in words. But it seems it gets harder to share my innermost thoughts the further I get away from the cancer stuff. When I was living it every day, it was easy to write about, and almost expected. Of course I was thinking about cancer while my hair was falling out and my body was throbbing. But now as the years have thankfully started to pass (#blessed) and I shed my Cancer Girl persona, it seems almost jarring to bring it back into the conversation. Cancer? Really? You still have stuff to say about that crap?

I have less to say, definitely, but I’m not done just yet. Although less frequent, I still am prone to panicking over every new pain/bump/anomaly that presents itself and still have this unsettled feeling of a bomb about to go off. Every time I learn of another young woman who has become terminal 3/5/10 years out of original diagnosis, the world stops and I am crushed by the weight of my mortality. That could be me. I could be dead in a few years. Don’t get comfortable because this could all end soon.

That’s some heavy shit right there.

I was talking to someone recently about the potential for catastrophic disaster in my future and trying to accept that reality, but also embracing the more probable likelihood that everything will turn out okay. I told her that no matter how much I have learned to be comfortable with my situation and try my best not to let it affect me, I’m still pissed off that I have to deal with any of this in the first place. I’m annoyed more than anything. I have these competing voices constantly battling for my attention:

You’re so lucky to still be alive! Seize every moment! Stop watching The Bachelor and go save the world!

Be mindful. Be present. You’re here now and you’re okay and that’s all that matters.

Stop stressing! Get more sleep! Exercise more! Stop eating pizza! You might die!

My back hurts. Was that pain there before? No, that’s a new pain. The internet says my cancer has probably spread and I’m toast. Shit. I’m so sad I won’t be able to enjoy the bagels and lox at my funeral.

It’s exhausting.

And then I feel guilt. Guilt because everything is actually, really great right now and none of my fears have become a reality. Guilt because I have friends who are not so lucky and would trade places with me in a second. Guilt for feeling like I’m not doing enough with whatever extra years I have been given.

See? Annoying, right? It’s just plain and simple a pain in the butt that I have to think about any of these things and can’t walk around in blissful ignorance like a person should be doing at my age.

And I guess this is why I’ve been staying away for awhile. Because I don’t want anyone to worry about me, or think that I haven’t moved on. I have moved on and continue every day to do that in the best way I know how. But moving on doesn’t mean it goes away, or even that it gets any easier. It’s always hard. We all carry the scars of the past and we’re all headed toward an uncertain future. But I’m choosing to live in that space in between. Or trying my best, at least. And right now that space is filled with family, friends, tv marathons, delicious food and laughter. And singing. So much wonderful, terrible, embarrassing singing.

The Ring of Fire

I received a really nice email last week, and hopefully this kind stranger doesn’t mind me posting her words here for you to read:

I’m sure you get many of these random stranger emails – oh a blog about BC! I had it too! now that makes us instant friends…LOL.
I just wanted to tell you that your posts are so refreshing to read. In an ocean of stories, yours has been the one that has finally made me think “hey, I’m not a crazy weirdo, this person thinks EXACTLY what I was thinking” – pretty hard to find let me tell you.
so, I just wanted to thank you for bringing a smile to another woman’s day struggling with all the BS around BC.
And great hair. Oh don’t get me started on the hair.
R.

This email reminded me that people still read my blog and that it keeps existing for others, whether I update it or not. Somehow, people still find it and still connect, even as I continue on, living my life. The internet is a pretty groovy thing, n’est-ce pas?

For those who’ve been missing me, don’t forget to check out my monthly column over at ELLE. I’ve been giving all of the thoughts inside my brain to them (and they actually pay me real money to do so!), which is why I haven’t been as active around these parts.

But don’t despair, I’ll never disappear from here completely. This is still my favourite space to be. No deadlines, no edits, no caring about trying to impress anybody. My tiny little corner of the interwebs where I can do as I please. It’s swell.

You know what’s not so swell?

The dramatic return of my hot flashes.

Bleh. I thought I had cured them by switching up my medication brand, but that effect seemed to only last temporarily. I’m back to being a sweaty, burning mess, with the concept of sleeping through the night being nothing more than a fantasy. And if you keep up with your breast cancer news (which I’m sure many of you do not, you lucky ducks), you will know that Tamoxifen is now being recommended for ten years, instead of five. TEN YEARS of sleepless nights and melting madness.

But I am grateful. It could be worse. So much worse. Who needs eyebrows, breasts, sleep, comfort? I’m alive!

I’ve been fighting off a nasty sinus infection the past several days, that finally seems on its way out. I don’t know if this is normal for other people who’ve gone through cancer treatment, but I find that now when I’m sick, I have traumatic flashbacks to the chemo glory days. Lying in bed feeling ill brings back terrible memories of lying in bed feeling (more) ill. When my stomach gets sick now (which still happens from time to time, THANKS IBS), it reminds me of when I felt that way for days/weeks on end, so weak I had to cling to the sink to pull myself up from the toilet, and then lean against the wall as I walked back to my bedroom so I wouldn’t fall down on the way. That scenario felt like a never-ending cycle, for months.

I wish I could just get “normal” sick without having such hideous memories and anxiety attached to it. Maybe eventually, but for now, it still feels like a horrible nightmare I can’t forget. That feeling when you see a scary movie that creeps you out, and it pops into your head right before you go to sleep at night, plaguing your thoughts. It’s like that. Times a million. I play the scenes back in my head. My very own horror movie, and I’m the star.

I always did want to be a star.

But the difference between normal sick and cancer sick is it ends pretty quickly and you bounce right back from it and usually forget about it a few days later. You’re not likely to be tortured with thoughts about that time you had the sniffles and took some cold and sinus pills.

So that’s another thing to be grateful for. Being sick and not having it be cancer. That’s kind of cool. Although I’d rather just not be sick with anything, big or small, ever again, but I guess I’ll roll with the punches. I’ll blow my nose, feel aches in my body, cry because it reminds me of when my entire body ached from the inside out, cry that I might one day feel that pain again, wake up the next morning, and notice that I can breathe again; that the pain is gone and I’m standing on my own, with the past still visible in my rearview mirror, but the present staring at me, pressed right up against the windshield.

And I must say, the present is lookin’ pretty good. More joy than pain. More health than misfortune. More beauty than sorrow. More laughter than tears.

In fact, life is swell.

Except for the hot flashes.

Those can go to hell.

My second cancerversary

Today marks my second cancerversary. Two years have gone by since the day I was diagnosed with cancer.

I wish I could say it’s all behind me, that I’ve moved on and thoughts of cancer never even cross my mind, but that would be a big fat lie. I probably worry about it all a bit less than I did one year ago, but the fear and anxiety is still there. Every time I read or hear of another young woman whose cancer has returned, or who has passed away, I remember, oh yah, that could be me. I’ve had sporadic rib pain for months. No one is particularly concerned about it just yet, so I try not to be concerned. But in the back of my mind, it’s always there: Maybe it’s cancer. Maybe this is it. Maybe, maybe, maybe…

I know that many people ignore their diagnosis dates, since it usually brings up really traumatic memories and dark thoughts. They don’t see it as anything worth “celebrating.” I can understand that. But I choose to remember it and acknowledge it. I don’t celebrate getting cancer. I celebrate that I am still here, two years later, living my life. Not everyone makes it to two years. I know I am lucky. I am so lucky that I’m not sitting in a doctor’s office right now, terrified, waiting to get a cancer diagnosis. I am so lucky that I can relax, enjoy my day, and go out with my husband for a special cancerversary dinner. Why be all glum and depressed about a date, when you can turn it into an excuse to eat dinner out at a nice restaurant on a weeknight? When life gives you lemons…

I also want to post something my sister wrote and sent to me (with her permission) about how she feels on this day, and the significance it holds for her. I don’t know how I would have made it through the past two years without her by my side. She may be my “little” sister, but she sure is wise:

Two years ago today Steph was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember it like it was yesterday. Hanging up the phone with my mom and rushing through the halls of the Medical Sciences Building – tears streaming, heart racing. Running blurry-eyed down to the lab and seeing my classmates’ heads turn, asking if I was okay. I didn’t answer. I continued running down the halls to find our anatomy professor, wanting the comfort of a doctor – of someone with past knowledge that could tell me everything was going to be okay. And although he tried, it wasn’t enough – it didn’t make the fears go away; it didn’t make me think that there wasn’t some slight chance I would lose my sister, my best friend, my confidant, my biggest cheerleader, my number 1. Soon I would learn that from this point forward, these fears would never completely go away.

I remember roaming out to the trees of King’s College Circle, seeking comfort from my classmates, answering my concerned friends’ texts, calling my parents, but all the while, being afraid to talk to my sister. Would I start crying? Would I break down and make her believe she had reason to be afraid? How would I act? Was I going to be the best sister I could be or would I shrivel away, afraid to look at her and be by her side through everything? I didn’t know, but what I did know is that I had to take each challenge as it came – each day something new, trying hard not to look behind and not anticipate the future more than we could. Not an easy task, that’s forsure. The nights spent bawling my eyes out, pacing around, the depression. But what wasn’t present during these times was my anxiety that I’m so used to. I snapped out of flight mode, and into fight mode. I recognized what was important in life, and what wasn’t. Those little things, those stupid little concerns, conflicts, worries – a waste of time. Sitting next to Steph, holding her hand and knowing I wouldn’t let go unless she wanted me to – that’s all that mattered then and all that ever will matter. That’s the only thing I want to hold onto from this whole stupid horrible experience – remembering what’s important and what isn’t. September 11th, for so many reasons, is a day to remember just how lucky we are. We are here and for that, we are lucky. We will continue to complain tomorrow of the streetcar being stuck, of the rain, of the million tasks to do and the short hours in which to do them, but under it all, is a reminder of just how lucky we are to complain of such things. How lucky we were to get to be born. And how lucky we are to continue being alive.

Today is a day that I wish never happened, but because it did, it deserves recognition, it deserves to be remembered as the day my nightmare came true; as the day when I realized just how fragile life is and how important my sister is to me. I’ve never taken her for granted, but on this day, two years ago, the rare incredible connection we have came to light: the moment I felt like she could be taken from me by some stupid rapidly proliferating disease – something she never deserved and should never have had to go through. But she did, with the bravest face in the world – brave doesn’t mean not crying or putting on a fake smile. It means showing your emotion, showing fear. Being brave means being human and she couldn’t have been better at doing just that. There are images I choose not to remember, but images I will never, ever, forget. Times of fragility, of sadness, of honesty and of total vulnerability. There were times we just had to laugh at the whole thing – is this really happening? Really? This is fucked. It was. It is. Sometimes we don’t know how to deal with certain situations, but you learn about yourself when you’re thrown into something you could never have imagined. And that’s what these past two years have been – years of learning that I can be afraid, that I can be sad, but that I can be brave and be strong and that I have the best role model in the world to look up to – the bravest, strongest, inspiration there is.

My sister.

Cancer Perks

Most of you know that I am not the “cancer is a blessing” type of gal. I do not, in any way, believe that cancer is a good thing to happen to anyone. It stinks. I do not recommend it.

However, like with most things, there are a few silver linings and some good things that have come out of this whole mess. Of course, I’d gladly accept NOT having cancer and give back every single silver lining. But since that’s not an option, and I have spent so much time lamenting over all the things that cancer has taken away from me, I may as well also make a list of some of the good things that have come my way as a result.

So here it is: The Perks of Cancer.

1. Hair compliments. Actually, general appearance compliments. I can’t begin to tell you how common a conversation topic my hair has become. When you go from bald and sick-looking to having hair and healthy-looking, everyone goes NUTS and wants to shower you with compliments ALL the time. It is pretty nice. What’s even better is when I get compliments from people who have no idea that I ever had cancer, and they just tell me that they love my “hairstyle” and I look amazing. Because then I know they’re not giving me cancer pity, but they’re genuinely paying me a compliment. They like me, they really like me!

2. Making new friends. I have had some amazing people come into my life, whom I likely never would have met if not for having cancer. Some of these people have cancer, and some don’t but they have been connected to me through my blog and through cancer-y things. Having new friends is always a good thing, and having new great friends is always an even better thing.

3. Making old friends. Cancer allowed me to truly learn who the real friends were in my life. Although this perk has a painful opposite side (i.e. learning which friends maybe weren’t so great as you thought), it’s still a really nice upside when you realize (hopefully) how many amazing people you are surrounded by. Cancer definitely strengthened some of my relationships and there are certain people who I can now say will be my friends for life, 100%.

4. Appreciation for everything. I think I already had quite a lot of appreciation for most things pre-cancer, but now it is just intensified in a major way. I see things in new ways and I value every minute in a way that I don’t think most people do. I still have times when something strikes me, and I feel tears in my eyes, because I am just so overwhelmed that I am still alive. Being alive is AWESOME. I feel lucky every day.

5. New opportunities. I think it’s a pretty common sequence of events: Go through something hard/awful/challenging and then realize that that obstacle has actually pushed you in a positive direction. For me, this perk has been a pretty huge one. Cancer magically turned me into a writer. Okay, no. I was always a writer. But it gave me something to write about and it allowed me to find my voice and share it with other people. I’ve also found that I have a passion for helping others and for advocating for other cancer patients. It’s forced me to re-evaluate my career path and make new choices. Which is totally terrifying and overwhelming. But also really exciting.

6. Valuing health and my body. I’d always been pretty healthy pre-cancer and I probably took it for granted. Well, that certainly isn’t the case anymore. After putting my body through hell, I am so appreciative now of the little things it can do. My legs can carry me and my arms can lift things. I can run up the stairs, or take a long walk through the city with my husband. I have energy when I get up in the morning and I don’t need to take multiple naps to get through a day. It feels amazing to get your strength back after having it completely obliterated. Simply, amazing.

7. Inspiring others. If you have cancer, and especially if you’re young, you are automatically an inspiration to others. Sorry, but you are. May as well milk it and enjoy it. I am happy to inspire you, especially if it causes you to make positive changes in your life. But just know that as inspiring as you might think I am, I am usually covered in ice cream drippings, with my drawn-on eyebrows sweating off my face, limping down the sidewalk because I have blisters all over my ankles. But if that inspires you, then I’m just fine with that.

Can you spot the ice cream drippings?

Beyond the scars

Hey blog! I’m sorry I’ve been neglecting you. I haven’t felt too inspired to write lately. Most of my brain power has been focused on writing cover letters and going on interviews, which is actually quite mentally taxing, although necessary. But writing and talking about job stuff is kind of boring after awhile. I mean, as much as I love writing/talking about what a stellar employee and brilliant human being I am, it can be a bit draining. Sometimes I wish the whole “having cancer” thing could just give me a free pass, and serve as a kind of certificate of excellence – proof that I can “deal with stressful situations” and “overcome challenges.” I mean, any kind of workplace high pressure situation really now pales in comparison to the kind of stress and types of decisions I’ve had to make. Alas, cancer doesn’t get you a free pass, and I’m just the same as all you other cancer-free unemployed suckers out there. C’est la vie.

Other than spending my days in pursuit of the next job, there really isn’t too much else to report. It’s been over a month since my last cancer-related appointment, which I think is the longest I’ve gone since 2012. And I must say, I really am enjoying the break. It’s nice to see things on my calendar like “movie night” or “girls’ brunch” instead of “MRI” or “blood draw.” More and more, I am distancing myself from the cancer community and feeling like it was all some sort of drawn-out, psychotic dream. The potential for a normal existence, at least for the immediate future, really feels like a reality now. I wish I could just completely ignore and forget about it all, but the hot flashes and chest tightness and various other bodily defects stop me from doing so. I am living every day with all of the effects of trying REALLY hard to prevent my cancer from spreading, and although I have zero regrets about any of the choices I have made, it’s still a challenge to live with the many consequences of my so-called “battle.”

There’s an art exhibit in Toronto right now called the SCAR Project. You might have heard of it — photographs of young women with breast cancer, with their chests exposed, scars and all. I’ve seen a lot of press about the exhibit, especially since I’m wrapped up in this “young breast cancer community” so it’s impossible not to be aware of these types of things. The gallery is actually very close to where I live, so I thought of popping by one day while it’s here. It seems like something I should “support” since these are “my people.” Yet there’s also something keeping me away from it. I believe in the importance of these images, especially as contrast to all the “pinkifying” of breast cancer, where all we see is images of women who look healthy, and happy, and whole. Breast cancer, in my humble opinion, is extremely ugly and horrific, and I think we do the “cause” a great injustice when we try to cover that up.

However, right now, I’m kind of in a place where I’m trying to move past the harsh realities of breast cancer. I don’t know if I really need to stare at a bunch of images that remind me of what’s happened to me. I don’t need the reminder or the education — I get it every single time I look in the mirror and see gigantic scars. I am my own “real image” of a young woman with breast cancer. All I have to do is lift my shirt, and there I have it, my very own art exhibit. And for right now, I think that’s enough for me. I commend the women who posed for these photos and truly think they’re brave for doing so. But I think I’ll likely avoid checking out the images in person, at least for the time being. I don’t want to compare my scars to their scars or my reconstruction to theirs. I don’t want to feel any more anger or sadness than I already do about breast cancer and what it has done to me, and continues to do to way too many young women. I guess, in a sense, I’m taking shelter with the exact group that the SCAR Project is trying to oppose – the group that wants to ignore the ugliness of breast cancer and look away and pretend it doesn’t exist.

I guess for now, that’s just where I’m at. I want to pretend it doesn’t exist. I want to live in ignorance, just for a single second. I have spent so much time in the ugly, scary, dark world of breast cancer. I don’t wish to immerse myself in it anymore right now. I want a pretty, fuzzy, pink, happy image. I know it’s not real. I can’t un-know it. I know what lies beneath it all. But sometimes, we all need to allow ourselves to “make-believe” and pretend and imagine that everything is just fine and dandy and perfect and everything will be okay. And who knows. Maybe it will be.

 

Who am I?

Lately, I’ve been starting to get a bit more of the “old me” back. Little by little, cancer is transforming from the star performer to a backup singer, ever so slowly fading into the background. This is obviously a good thing, and I know it’s what my doctors want me to do: to live my life.

The thing is, as much as it starts to become less of a key player in my life, the cancer is still there (not literally, I hope). I feel its presence and its impact, and I think about it every day. How can I not? Last night as I was squirming in bed, my ribs aching from lying on my implant, and my body dripping sweat from my drug-induced hot flashes, I wasn’t thinking of my to-do list or my summer plans. I was thinking of the stupid cancer that caused these issues and prevents me from sleeping. I am accepting of my reality, but I am still angry that it’s my reality, and that I will always feel the remnants of what cancer left behind.

All of this is causing a bit of an identity crisis, as I try to find my way back to my former reality. Slowly but surely, I am having conversations with people that have nothing to do with cancer (most having to do with television shows… obviously). I’m feeling interested in topics that have nothing to do with cancer. Last year, when cancer was my life 24/7, it was really hard to focus on anything else, or to feel like anything else was really that important. I had a lot of  trouble relating to people’s worries and daily concerns. Everything in my world felt so heavy and serious. But now, it is much less so.

There is the occasional doctor’s appointment, and the occasional pain that brings all the fears rushing back and makes me wonder if the cancer is still growing and traveling somewhere else. But it is no longer at the very front of my mind, at least not always. I am less interested in “cancer talk” and “cancer news” and increasingly more interested in all the things I loved before that I had put aside for a bit: exploring new restaurants, listening to new music, reading a good book, geeking out over new tv season trailers, going to the movies, analyzing the disaster that was The Bachelor finale, spending time with friends (usually while eating and/or watching TV… I’m starting to see a common theme here). All that good stuff. It feels great to find my way back to these things and to find joy in many of the same things I used to.

But then the “cancer side” pulls me back in, and I do feel this odd split in my personality, this feeling that I don’t exactly know how to define who I am anymore. Yes, I’ve heard about whatever pop culture thing people are tweeting about on most given days and yes, just like you, I’m annoyed with Rob Ford and annoyed with the shitty weather and complaining about all the same dumb crap most people are. But then I hear about another young cancer patient who died, or I see a link to a new study about breast cancer outcomes, or I get an email from someone newly diagnosed who wants my advice. And I’m pulled right back into that world, and it still feels very familiar, and somewhat natural. There is still that need to connect with people and reach out to people in the same boat, regardless if we have anything else in common — cancer is what connects us, and that’s all that’s needed, because it is such a huge, fundamental part of my history. And if I’m really being honest, it is still a dominant force in my present, and likely in my future.

As much as I adjust to my new reality and try to get things back to how they once were, there is no denying it — I am forever changed, and I view the world through a very different lens.

So, who am I?* I don’t really think it can be summed up in one clean definition. I am a 29 year-old woman. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter and sister and friend. I’m creative. I’m intelligent. I’m (sometimes) funny. I’m compassionate and loyal. I’m a writer. I’m a film/tv person. And one time, I also had cancer.

I guess that will have to do for now.

*After writing “who am I?” I totally can’t get this out of my head now. Sorry if the same thing happens to you.

Another part of the story

Besides a minor mention here and there, I have never really written about fertility and cancer — specifically, my fertility and my cancer. I’ve had numerous reasons why I didn’t want to write about it: feeling that it was too personal and private, something only to be discussed by me and my husband, or worrying about friends who are moms or soon-to-be-moms feeling they can’t talk about anything baby-related in front of me. But I’ve come to realize that by not writing about it, it sometimes puts me in uncomfortable or awkward situations, which other people likely aren’t even aware of. And why should they be? I don’t talk about it, so their ignorance is really my own doing. I also know that a lot of people read my blog as a way to educate themselves about how it feels to have cancer, especially as a young person, and by not broaching the very important issue of cancer and fertility, I’m not doing a really great job as cancer teacher.

So, here we are. And I am ready to talk about it. Or at least, some of it.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 28, one of the first things my doctor told me was that she wanted me to see a fertility specialist immediately, since certain cancer treatments can have a negative effect on one’s fertility. This is one of the very major issues facing young adult cancer patients, and unfortunately, it is often overlooked. I have heard countless stories of young men and women who were thrust into cancer treatment, without their fertility being discussed. This is a huge problem, and one I think all young people and all doctors should be aware of. So in that regard, I was very fortunate that both my family doctor and oncologist had discussions with me about how my treatment might impact the potential for me to have children.

Learning that my ability to have children might be compromised on the same day as learning that I had cancer was a major double whammy. It was a tough pill to swallow, when I was already considering the possibility that I might not even live long enough to start a family in the first place. Most people who get cancer are quite a bit older, and don’t have to deal with such things. But unfortunately for me, and for my husband, we had to deal with it, and fast.

The same week that I was meeting with breast surgeons, trying to decide if I should remove one breast or two, I was also meeting with a fertility specialist to discuss my options. To say I was a bit overwhelmed would be a wild understatement. I had tons of information coming at me from every angle, and very little time to make decisions that would greatly affect my future. It was kind of a shitty week, you might say.

The fertility specialist did various tests and exams, where my husband and I learned that, yep, we were indeed fertile. Yippee. Too bad I was about to shoot my body full of drugs that could potentially ruin all that.

There are specific chemotherapy drugs that are known to have a damaging effect on fertility. Unfortunately, I had to get one of them. This was not an option. You can’t get pregnant if you’re not alive (lesson of the day!), so staying alive was my first priority, above and beyond everything else. And sadly, in the world of cancer, the best proven method of doing this is often by poisoning yourself.

We were given the option of retrieving embryos, which we could then “store” for  the future, if needed. At first, this seemed like a good solution. An insurance policy, in case the worst case scenario became a reality. (A very, very expensive insurance policy, mind you, as these procedures aren’t covered in Ontario for cancer patients.) With barely any time to think about it, it seemed like the smart thing to do. I got a bunch of prescriptions for shots I would need to give myself and a million consent forms that needed to be signed, and we were off to the races. At least, that was the initial plan.

As I began doing more research about the hormones I would have to take, despite some limited studies showing it was safe, I started to feel uncomfortable by the idea of messing with my hormones, especially when I have a hormone-sensitive type of cancer. It felt risky, especially when knowing that a) we might not even need the embryos and b) if we did need them, there’s not even any guarantee that the procedure would work. In many cases, it doesn’t.

I was also presented with the option of joining a clinical trial, where I could potentially receive a drug that could benefit me, targeting my specific type of cancer. If I chose to do the fertility preservation, there was a good chance the start of my chemo would have to be pushed, and I might not qualify for the trial.

To top it off, the thought of injecting myself with hormones and dealing with potential side effects from that and having to undergo the egg retrieval, at the same time as being in tremendous pain from my double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and gearing up to start chemo… well, it became less and less appealing.

One night, I was filling out the form where we had to decide what to do with the embryos if we ended up not needing them. Would we donate them to another couple? Give them to research? Have them destroyed?

Suddenly, it all just felt like too much. It felt like I was doing what I thought I should do, rather than what my gut was really telling me to do.

After expressing my concerns to my husband, he admitted to having the same concerns too. We discussed it some more, and then came to our final decision that we were going to put the brakes on the preservation process, and have faith that things would work out for us. Dealing with the cancer felt like more than enough for us to have on our plate at that time. So with that, we put 100% of our focus into making me healthy. I joined the trial, began my treatment, and tried to push thoughts of babies and pregnancy far out of my mind.

None of this has been easy. I remember being so angry that I had to make such hideous choices. I shed a lot of tears, cursing cancer for destroying my dreams. I have wanted to have children since I was a child myself. Anyone who knows me knows this fact about me. We had hoped to have a mini S or mini J pretty much… right now. But cancer decided to show up and derailed the plans and the future we had envisioned for ourselves. At least for now.

So where does that leave me now? I am not quite sure. It is not really possible to tell what effects the chemo had on my fertility, since I’m taking a drug which messes with my hormones. And, to top it all off, I am not allowed to be pregnant while taking said drug… which I am supposed to be taking for a minimum of 5 years, and possibly 10. Or, I have the (not medically-approved) option of coming off of it early, which there are NO good studies to support, and possibly increase my risk of having the cancer come back and not surviving. So my big decisions are not over. Not even close.

It is hard seeing people around me getting pregnant and having their babies turn into toddlers. It is hard seeing photos posted at every hour of the day. I’m fairly certain anyone who has wrestled with any type of fertility issues can relate on that one. We live in a very baby-centric world, especially when you are my age. It ain’t easy. (Although I make myself feel better constantly by thinking of the vacations and nights out my husband and I can take whenever we please, and our ability to sleep in on the weekends as late as we wish. We often say “If we had a kid right now, we couldn’t be doing x,y, or z.” It makes me feel better… for a moment, at least.) If anything, this whole ordeal has made me much more sensitive and empathetic toward couples who are experiencing infertility problems.

I do have a lot of hope for our future, and our family. I know, regardless of fertility issues, there are options. I like to think that all of this sad stuff will eventually lead to somewhere happy. I need that hope, and I hang on to it.

All about me

Okay, so I’ve recently come to realize that a huge portion of the people who read and comment on this blog don’t know me, or anything about me (except for the whole cancer thing, obviously). In fact, there are over 1,000 people who subscribe to my blog, and I’m pretty certain my mom and dad only make up two of those people, because I have the ability to do basic math. So I feel like maybe I should tell you some non-cancer-y things about myself, in an effort to not just be “cancer girl” to all the loyal readers out there.

Here are some facts:

1. I come from a really great family. Boring, right? But that’s the truth. I have a big bro and a little sis, and two parents who love each other. We all live in the same city and see each other all the time. I also have a very large extended family, many of whom I also see frequently. I always thought this was kind of normal, to come from this awesome, big family, where everyone is smart and funny, and gets along and loves each other. I now know that that is not always the case and I am extremely fortunate for how I was raised and the relationships I have with my family members.

The siblings. The one who clearly looks nothing like me is the bro's girlfriend but she is included as a sibling as well because that's how we roll. (If you're a music fan, you can check her out at basiabulat.com.)
The siblings. The one who clearly looks nothing like me is the bro’s girlfriend but she is included as a sibling as well because that’s how we roll. (If you’re a music fan, you can check her out here.)

2. I’m married to this handsome man:

He’s smart and kind and makes me laugh until I can’t breathe. There is no one in the world I’d rather spend time with. We met on the internet, as is becoming the norm for lots of modern-day couples. Although I like to think we were a bit ahead of the curve on that one. I sent him a message after checking out his profile, because he spelled everything properly, made a couple non-obnoxious jokes, and didn’t look like a serial killer. I had no idea I’d ever end up marrying the guy, but here we are, living the dream (minus the cancer part).

3. I love movies and TV. Probably to the point that it might be unhealthy, but if that’s my worst vice, then I’m okay with it. It is hard for me to relate to people who “don’t watch any TV” or “haven’t seen a movie in years.” I just can’t understand that, because I get so much joy out of these forms of entertainment. I can go on forever and ever talking about whatever good or horrible show I am currently obsessed with. I feel actual anxiety when I hear of some new TV show that is getting a lot of buzz and I haven’t yet seen it (i.e. True Detective, which is next on my list). Current/recent faves are: Scandal, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Orange is the New Black, Homeland (despite a pretty weak recent season), Girls, The Mindy Project, Breaking Bad (RIP), Nashville, Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries, Parenthood, The Bachelor… I will stop there before it gets any more embarrassing.

I grew up completely obsessed with movies. This is how I bonded with friends, and how I often judged prospective boyfriends (I have since gotten a lot less snobby about such things, as you can see from my occasionally terrible taste in television). I still get extremely excited to see a new movie in theatres, and I swear, my heart skips a beat when I hear the movie studio’s opening theme song. Sometimes I find myself humming the New Line Cinema theme, for no reason. That’s probably a pretty strange thing to admit, but alas… the truth.

I could easily write ten thousand words on my favourite films. There are many great, remarkable movies out there, but the ones that I always return to, that I have watched a million times and could watch a million more: Edward Scissorhands, Back to the Future (Pt. 1 for always, Pt. 2 for laughs, Pt. 3 for never), When Harry Met Sally, The Royal Tenenbaums, A League of Their Own, Annie Hall, The Lion King, Wizard of Oz, Hook, Marry Poppins, Home Alone, Poltergeist, and Dumb and Dumber. Those are truly my tops, many of them being childhood favourites. Obviously there are “brilliant” films like Citizen Kane or Schindler’s List, but those aren’t exactly DVD’s that I feel like popping in every night as I drift off to sleep. For me, my favourite movies are all about comfort. This was especially true when I spent lots of last year being ill, and sometimes the only thing that could comfort me was this:

4. My other favourite subject to talk about is food. I am, one might say, obsessed with food and eating said food (note: I am not obsessed with cooking. Cooking to me is just a necessary means to an end. I would much rather have someone cook for me, so I can just focus on the act of consuming the food, which is really the only part I enjoy of the whole cooking thing). I love food so much that if I’m eating something delicious, I will literally try to shove a piece of whatever it is in the mouth of whomever I am dining with, because I need someone else to experience what I am tasting. My husband and sister both find this extremely annoying, but I will never stop doing it. My friend Laura and I often write each other emails that are only about food — which new restaurants we have eaten at, which ones we’re dying to try, where we’re going to meet for lunch next week. And then when we go out to eat, we only talk about the food that we’re eating the entire time, and we joke that anyone sitting near us would likely think we are insane, or haven’t eaten for a month.

I just love food. Healthy, unhealthy, fine dining, hole-in-the-wall diners, all ends of the spectrum. I don’t discriminate. If you put it in front of me, I will probably eat it (a fun theory that my siblings like proving by putting something on my plate and watching it disappear, without me realizing that I have ingested anything). Some might say I have an addiction. But I just say, I LOVE FOOD SO PLEASE FEED ME AND I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER.

My favourite activity.
My favourite activity.

5. I don’t drink alcohol. Party pooper, right? Sorry to disappoint. People always think that this is some kind of great life decision or statement or religious thing. But I actually can’t drink alcohol, for it makes me very, very sick. I have pretty bad chronic reflux disease (yet another thing, like cancer, that is usually saved for older people… I guess I’m just ahead of the game). This means that things like alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, and some other things can do crazy things to my insides, which if it gets bad enough, can make me violently ill. Occasionally maybe I will have a few sips of wine or some champagne for a celebration, but for the most part, I abstain. Being someone who does not drink has made me realize how much value people put on alcohol consumption. A lot of people look at you like you’re some sort of weirdo if you don’t drink. I know some people can’t imagine the non-booze life. For me, it is pretty easy. And it also makes me a really cheap date, which may or may not be why my husband chose to marry me (just kidding… I hope).

Okay, I think those are enough random tidbits for the time being. But maybe now you feel like you know a tiny bit more about me, albeit on a somewhat surface level. If you feel so inclined, all you wonderful strangers/lurkers/random people I’ve never met, leave a comment and say hello and tell me something about yourself, or your blog, or what you’re doing here. I meet people all the time who say “oh I know you, I read your blog” and I know nothing about them, which always feels a bit strange. So don’t be shy, say hi! Or at least tell me your favourite movie, so I can judge you swiftly, because really, that’s the only way to do it.

Cancer break

Lately I’m finding it very difficult to write about cancer stuff. I sit down at my computer, almost every day, feeling inspired to write a blog post or work on this “book” that I haven’t touched or really thought about in a long time. And then quickly, the motivation goes right out the door. I put on another episode of Scandal and instantly forget about whatever it was that I felt I needed to get down on paper (and by “paper” I mean “computer”… but that obviously sounds way less romantic and writer-ish).

I’m not sure why this has been happening, but I think much of it is due to the fact that I am majorly cancer’d out. I have not had one day where I haven’t had to think or speak about cancer in a very long time. It is exhausting thinking and talking about such heavy things all the time.

I keep trying to have a day where I don’t think about cancer once the entire day, but I have not come close to succeeding. People say that eventually the day comes where you realize, “Hey, I haven’t thought about cancer in a week!” Honestly, I can’t imagine that really happening. I might think about it less on certain days than others, but the idea of it being entirely absent from my thoughts just seems impossible right now. It is such a major part of my life. I didn’t invite it in, but there it is, and its presence is constant.

I read up on the “cancer news” all the time. It might not be the best idea, but I really can’t help it. This is my universe. You might work in marketing, or finance, and you probably keep track of what is going on in those sectors so you can stay up to date and feel in the loop. Well, it is the same for me. My world just happens to be a bit less flashy and a bit less “something to talk about around the water cooler.” But I like to keep informed. I want to know what’s going on. This is my life, and my health, after all.

Cancer is not just something I had, or something that is in the past. It has become a huge part of my life. I used to get emails from people asking me for movie or music recommendations. Now I get emails asking for advice about getting through chemo and radiation. This has become my new area of expertise. When people have a friend who is diagnosed, they send them to me. The cancer guru. The Dear Abby of planet cancer.

And really, I’m okay with it. I love helping people, however I can. I like reading about clinical trials and drug advancements and understanding a very complex world that until recently, I knew very little about. I am a passionate person and I become highly invested in whatever it is I am currently working on or learning about. And, as unfortunate as it may be, my “job” and my “work” has been cancer for over a year now. I am drawn to books and movies about cancer. I like talking to people about their own experiences with cancer. I suppose, like anyone, I want to feel like I belong. And as much as I want to just be a “normal” young woman, thinking about things like work, and social events, and all that regular-people stuff… that is not my life. It is part of my life, sure. But so is cancer. There it is, and there it will always be.

But all that to say that sometimes, I just need a break. Sometimes I am literally so tired from thinking about it and writing about it, living and breathing it, that I need to lie down and take a nap. Sometimes I just need to turn my brain off, from the research, the statistics, the drugs, the fear, and the reality. Sometimes I just need to turn on the TV and watch The Bachelor, which is pretty much the opposite of thinking about cancer. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to watch The Bachelor premiere (and you should too, so we can talk about it) and I’m going to give myself a whole hour, free from cancer, free from the heavy stuff. You might need a break from your screaming baby. Or your beeping Blackberry. Or your cancer. Whatever it is… sometimes, we all just need a little break.

Oh lordy, now I really wish I had a Kit Kat.
Oh lordy, now I really wish I had a Kit Kat.