Thursday, November 29, 2012


Goofy & I - Disney 2006
The week after I found out I that I had to have a biopsy we had a trip planned to Disneyworld in Florida.  We left on July 18, 2006.  I think this was probably the best thing that could have happened at the time.  An escape to a whole new world.  There was so much excitement about the trip and we were all busy with getting the laundry done and packing and making arrangements for the house and Bailey (our dog) while we were away.

This was our first time going to Disneyworld.  I had been once as a child but Mike and the kids had never been.  We had saved up for this trip for a long time and had surprised the kids with the announcement at Christmas.  So, they had been looking forward to it for over six months.  I had planned our itinerary according to what everyone wanted to do the most so that we could fit in everyone’s “must sees”.  This was probably going to be a once in a lifetime thing so I wanted to be sure we saw everything at Disney, Epcot, MGM and the Animal Kingdom.  We also put in some time to just relax at the resort and enjoy the pool and other activities.

Tarnowskis 3D - Disney 2006
My kids were beside themselves about the whole transportation element to the trip.  They had never been on an airplane before.   Alex flew with me from Ottawa to Toronto once but he was only two years old and couldn’t really remember much about it.  They were actually really excited about the fact that we would be taking a taxi from the airport to the hotel.  A taxi!  Wow they had never been in a taxi before.  (Yeah I know, we don’t get out much.)  It was so amazing to me to see everything through their eyes for the first time just like they were experiencing.  I let myself just forget about the whole wide world and everything in it except for my beautiful kids and my wonderful husband.  I was secretly hoping that he was going to stay wonderful for the whole week because he really hates crowds and heat so Disney in July was going to be somewhat of a challenge for him to say the least.

Sleepy & Happy
(just like the dwarfs) - Disney 2006
For anyone that has been to Disney you will know that you sort of get consumed by all things Disney while you are there.  I was able to totally escape and relax and really have fun with my family.  I felt like I was 10 years old and I just loved every minute of the trip!  I found that I didn’t give much thought to the upcoming biopsy or anything else outside of Disneyworld.  I let myself be consumed.  We were busy from early morning until late at night and we all fell asleep exhausted but happy every night.

That all changed when we got home and we were snapped back to reality.

 A Whole New World (Alladin & Jasmine)

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Sunday, November 25, 2012


Mike & I - Summer 2006

I hung up the phone after getting the news that I had to go in for a biopsy.  At that point I think, deep down, I knew.  I got outside as quickly as I could.  I didn’t care that I was at a work event and that I had a ton of things to do urgently.  I just had to get away and when I got outside I just started to cry.  I was shaking.  I was trying not to break down because I was at work and I didn’t want anyone to see me like that but I couldn’t help it.  Meltdown.  I kept hearing my doctor’s voice, “They don’t like the looks of it”.  WTF did that mean?!?  It kept repeating over and over in my head as I tried to wrap my brain around what was happening.  I called Mike right away.  I had a hard time speaking due to the huge lump in my throat but I managed to relay the conversation that I’d just had with my doctor.  Mike, as always, was very reassuring and vowed to be with me every step of the way no matter what direction we ended up going.  I felt better after we spoke and promised to call him later that night.  As always, we ended our conversation with the words “I love you” and “I love you too”.

So, I wiped my eyes, took a deep breath and went back into the convention centre.  It was all very surreal and I don’t know how I got through the rest of the day but I did.  I suppose it was a good thing that I was so busy because it kept my mind focussed on other things.  A bit later on in the afternoon I got another call from my doctor.  This time it was one of the administrative staff calling to give me my appointment times for the biopsy and an appointment with a surgeon “should that be necessary”.

This phone call disturbed me further.  I actually had no idea what a biopsy was.  I had heard this word of course and knew of other people that had gone for a biopsy but I really didn’t know what it was all about.  It also bothered me that I was given a time to see a surgeon “should that be necessary”.  What did that mean?  I had a million questions running through my head.  Why would I maybe need to see a surgeon?  I was reeling from all the unknowns and what-ifs so I just had to stop that.  I looked up “breast biopsy” on the internet and found out what it was all about.  That was a start.  I learned that the mammogram and ultrasound were not enough to establish a diagnosis of anything conclusive.  There would need to be an extraction of tissue from the lump in my breast so that the cells from this area could be analyzed under a microscope.  They would be looking for cancer cells.  Cancer cells?  How did I get to this point?  Could I really be on a website reading about this stuff?  Why did I need to know about this?  This can’t be happening can it?  Of course I kept reading and googling.

Kagawong - Summer 2006
The biopsy itself is a very small operation that can be done in a few different ways including an extraction of tissue with needles or with an incision.  They might even decide to remove the entire lump in some cases.  For me, I was going to be having a stereotactic core biopsy.  That means that they would take out several pieces of the lump with a needle and then examine the tissue for cancer.  I was encouraged to read that the statistics for biopsies show that in 80% of the cases there turns out to be no cancer found.  That sounded like pretty good odds.  I still didn’t feel all that convinced about it though.

I was busy for the rest of my stay in Vancouver and spent lots of time hanging out with Vicky.  It was great that I was with such a close friend like her so that I had someone to talk to about how I was feeling.  It helped to make the time go faster until I could get home and talk to Mike about it some more.  I finally went home at the end of the week.  It seemed like I’d been gone forever.

Keep Holding On - Avril Lavigne

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Thursday, November 22, 2012


Manitoulin Island - Summer 2006
On July 4, 2006, my wedding anniversary, I went to the medical imaging centre and had the mammogram and the  ultrasound.  (Now wasn’t that a fun thing to do on my anniversary?!?)  This was the first mammogram in my life.  The mammogram didn’t hurt but it was uncomfortable and awkward.  If you’ve ever had one you know what I’m talking about.  It really makes you feel like your breasts are just a piece of meat getting squished around on a slab of cold metal by a stranger.  It is like the rest of your body doesn’t exist.  I wasn’t crazy about the whole experience but I knew it was worth it to get some clarification on the lump.   After it was over I felt like I had to shake off the yucky feeling it gave me.  Kind of like when you’re a kid and you are trying to shake off the “cooties” that someone might have passed on to you.  Having said all of that, never forget that breast cancer screening can result in early detection to ensure more positive health outcomes, more treatment options, less likelihood of spreading and could save your life.  So go have an awkward moment ladies!

The whole mammogram process didn’t take all that long but then I had to wait for the ultrasound.  The waiting part was kind of awkward since I was sitting in a very tiny little space the chairs placed very close together.  I was wearing the bottom half of my clothes but had just a paper robe kind of thing on the top.  It was the same outfit that all the other women in that waiting area had on.  Nobody really spoke to each other but we did manage to smile the most comforting smiles we could muster even though we didn’t know why each was there.  I guess we all figured it was all for the same thing.  Mammogram, ultrasound, and wondering what the results will tell us.  We were like lost children just waiting for someone to come and find us and tell us that everything was going to be okay.
Me near Whistler - Summer 2006

The following weekend I flew to Vancouver for a work event.  I chose to go a couple of days early to spend some time with one of my oldest friends, Vicky.  (I must clarify that Vicky is not old but rather an old friend.)  She met me at the airport and whisked me away to Whistler for the weekend.  We had so much fun that I was able to put the mammogram and pending results out of my head for a while.  We’ve been friends since we were 15 years old so it’s easy to be together.  It’s like being “home” when you’re with an old friend like that.  I eventually told her about the lump that I’d found because it was starting to take up more time in my thoughts and it felt good to tell someone.  I was glad to get it out and talk about it a bit more.

On the second day of my work event, my cell phone started to ring and I froze when I saw that it was my doctor’s office calling.  It was my doctor herself on the line.  That was my first alert.  My heart was beating really fast.  My doctor wanted to tell me that she had received the mammogram and ultrasound results.  “They don’t like the looks of it” was what she said.  My heart just about jumped out of my chest!  She said that she couldn’t really tell me much more than that at this point.  She explained that the mammogram couldn’t conclude anything so that is why she wanted me to come in for a biopsy.  What on earth is a biopsy I remember thinking.  I asked her if I should be worried and she said that was not an easy question to answer until we got some more information.

She didn’t know where to tell me to set my “worry meter”.  My “worry meter” had just skyrocketed through the roof!

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing - Jack Johnson

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012


In June of 2006 cancer claimed the life of a wonderful man named Louis.  He was the father-in-law of my brother.  My brother called me to give me the sad news.  When I answered the phone that night I had picked it up with my left hand.  Then I sat down at the desk.  I put my left elbow on the desk and I was kind of leaning on the phone and slouching with my right hand sort of in my armpit between my arm and the outside of my left breast.  I felt a lump.  It felt like a marble but bigger more like a gumball.  What the heck was that?  I’d never felt it before.  My heart dropped into my shoes.  It was Saturday, June 3rd, 2006.  As soon as I got off the phone I checked out the situation more closely.  I bent my body in every way I could and the lump was still there.  I did not have a good feeling about it.  The lump was still there the next day.  And the day after that.
My Garden - Spring 2006
My husband, Mike, was out of town so I had to make the road trip to the funeral alone with our kids.  I kept thinking about the lump.  I didn’t want to tell anyone about it but at the same time I really wanted to talk to someone.  That was hard because I was going to be seeing my Dad and other family and friends when I arrived.  One night I spent the evening with my dear friend Trish and after a few glasses of wine I almost mentioned it to her.  But I didn’t.  Even though we have been friends since ninth grade and she was my Maid of Honour, I kept it to myself.  I wanted to wait and find out more before I talked to anyone about it, even Mike.  I also wanted him to be the first one that I talked to.

When the kids and I got home from the funeral Mike was home too.  So I told him.  I just couldn’t keep it in anymore.  He was very calm about the whole thing and was convinced that I should see my doctor but that it was probably nothing to worry about.  That’s , cystpretty cliché but everyone always says it anyway right?  I think he truly figured this would amount to nothing.  I called my family doctor and made an appointment to see her the following week.  In the meantime I kept thinking that the lump might just go away.  It didn’t.  I spent hours trying to think of all the possibilities to explain the lump.

My kids at the beach on
Manitoulin Island-June 2006
When I went to see my doctor on June 14, she too could feel the lump.  She ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound to be done as soon as she could get me an appointment.  I’d never had a mammogram before and the thought of it was a bit scary.  Wasn’t that something that older women had to get done?  I had just turned 40 for goodness sakes.  I didn’t really know what a mammogram was anyway.  The learning curve was beginning.

I learned that a mammogram is basically an x-ray of the breast that looks inside the breast and takes pictures of the tissue inside.  Mammograms will show if there is anything unusual or suspicious that might need further investigation.  The ultrasound won’t find anything in detail but it can detect other elements in a certain area where you already know there is a lump.  Ultrasound waves are sent into the area and will travel through the lump if it is filled with fluid but will bounce back if the lump is solid.  Cysts are fluid-filled and cancerous lumps are solid.

Since we had already planned to spend the last week of June on Manitoulin Island, my appointment for the mammogram was scheduled for July 4.  I had no idea what to expect.

I Need a Doctor - Dr.Dre / Eminem / Skylar Grey

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Monday, November 19, 2012


I guess I have had a pretty normal life for the average person.  I’ve had ups and downs like most people, I’ve had experiences with family and friends both happy and sad, I’ve lived in different places and traveled here and there, and I have tried to be the best person I can be.  However, I’m not perfect and I have my flaws just like most people do.

Kayaking with Vicky - Vancouver 2011
I have always been a very healthy person but I was a smoker for a few years when I was younger.  I eat fairly well and I have always been involved in sports and exercising.  I actually enjoy it!  Especially outdoor activities, running, swimming and playing hockey.  I really suck at hockey but it is fun!  I don’t think I’ve ever been overweight in my life except for post-pregnancy for a few months.  I have never really been ill either except for the odd cold or flu once in a while.

The reason I mention this is because I get tired of seeing news stories and various research reports that talk about breast cancer specifically or cancer generally and how it could be related to obesity or environmental issues or smoking or whatever other things that could influence a person to believe that getting cancer was their own fault and could have been prevented.  That is a terrible way to feel.  Granted there are things that most of us know are not good for us and we should avoid doing but sometimes we do those things anyway.  We are told eat this or don’t eat that.  Drink this and not that.  Breathe here and not there.  I think most people now know that if you smoke on a regular basis you will no doubt have some negative health fall-out because of it.  It might be cancer or emphysema or bronchitis but you take your chances.  We also know that if you are extremely over or under weight that there are health issues that can come up due to that as well.  There are several risk factors for breast cancer but there is not a known, single cause of breast cancer at this point. 

Eating pie with my sister-in-law
& mother-in-law - 2010
I don’t believe for a second that having breast cancer was my own fault.  I will never let any studies or news stories influence my feeling on that.  Neither should you if you are ever touched by this horrible disease and you have been doing all the right things.  Sometimes you can do everything right and still end up with cancer.  That is what really sucks.  There are many women that develop breast cancer without having any risk factors or any family history of this wretched disease.

Nobody asks for cancer.  It is an unwelcome intruder that sneaks in to our lives and for most of us we will never know how it got in or why it chose our body to settle in.  It really doesn’t do any good to ask yourself “why me?” because that answer is beyond our grasp in most cases.  You are not being punished for something you did or didn’t do.  I remember when I had my miscarriage in 1997 there was a kind nurse that said to me, “Don’t worry sweetie.  This is not your fault.  It is not because you did or didn’t do something.  This just happens sometimes.”  She told me that I had no reason to feel guilty or to feel that I could have changed the outcome by having done something different somewhere along the way.  I just had to deal with it and move on with my life.  Seems relatively simple.  Sometimes really crappy things happen to good and healthy people.

So I guess sometimes shit just happens.  For me it started happening in June 2006.

No Sugar Tonight - The Guess Who

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Well here I am.  Just little old me writing my very first blog.  This is a whole new world for me and I find it fascinating.  Who am I and why am I doing this and who really cares?  Well I am a cancer graduate.  (I used to say “cancer survivor” but I recently heard the term “cancer graduate” and I like it.) 

Bailey & Me - Thanksgiving 2012
So yep I had breast cancer.  I wrote stuff down.  It started out as a journal for me.  Then I started writing email updates for family and friends to keep them informed and give them an “out” when they didn’t quite know what to say or what to ask.  Then it turned into a story for my family.  It grew into a manuscript for a book.  I even found a literary agent!  I have since discovered that life is too short to wait for a publisher to take an interest in my book.  So now my story has morphed into a blog for sharing.  That is really all I wanted to do was to share my memoir and hopefully inspire and encourage anyone with a personal connection to cancer.

You see (according to the book publishing industry) I am a “nobody”.  But that is exactly the point.  I am not a superstar athlete, a celebrity, a doctor or an established writer, but just an ordinary woman.  I am someone that people can look to and find something of themselves.  I am a woman, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, an aunt, a godmother and a friend.  I could be the lady who lives down the street, or the woman who works in your office, or the Mom cheering on her kids at the hockey arena, or the wife walking the dog with her husband.  I could be the sister-in-law of your best friend or I could be your neighbour’s daughter or your classmate’s Mom.  Or I could be you.

Back in August 2006 I was going about my life minding my own business and then all of a sudden I was slammed with a breast cancer diagnosis.  I thought that only happened to other people.  Boy was I wrong!  Not sure why I got it and if we are honest with ourselves I would say that most people would ask that question, “Why me?”  No great epiphany has struck me yet.  I will most likely never know.  However, if I can share my story with others and it helps somebody somewhere along the way then that would be a great answer to the question. 

It’s Not Forever, It’s Just For Now was what I kept telling myself when I was in the thick of cancer treatments and surgeries and medications.  It kept me going, kept me positive and kept me looking to a future with no cancer.

I know that there are thousands of people out there with a personal connection to cancer.  I also know that there are thousands of bloggers sharing their stories.  Today I am adding my story to the mix.  I am somebody.  Somebody with a story to tell.

Start Me Up - The Rolling Stones

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