Joycelyn Merkley, from Shelburne, Ontario, describes herself as: a girlfriend, mother, grandmother, sister, and daughter. She has lived 53 years embracing these roles when in July of 2021 she was thrown into another role: breast cancer patient.
After a routine mammogram detected a tumour, she was diagnosed with stage I, grade 2, HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer on July 6th. Just over two weeks after her diagnosis, on July 22nd, Joycelyn had breast cancer surgery followed by 20 rounds of radiation. She’s now taking tamoxifen for 5 years to help prevent a recurrence.
“I noticed something different in my breast before my mammogram. I just thought it was a part of aging. I wish I had acted on it.”
How did she feel when she got the diagnosis? “Very emotional. I had difficulty digesting the information. I felt very overwhelmed and very uncertain about my future.”
While it all happened so fast, Joycelyn feels fortunate that she has received great care from her family doctor, her oncologists, and her surgeon. But managing her emotional wellbeing has been the most difficult part of this journey for Joycelyn. She’s suffered from anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia since her diagnosis. She worries for her children, and their wellbeing. She feels uncertain about her future. And she is surprised by how frequently women are being diagnosed with breast cancer.
To improve her mental health, she has started cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) through her family health clinic and has embraced mindfulness practices as well. Her family and her friends have also been a source of emotional support, along with her partner who has remained positive in the midst of hardship and uncertainty. Working on her mental health has become her biggest priority.
She encourages every person who may be facing a breast cancer diagnosis to be their own advocate and put themselves first. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Apart from her emotional wellbeing, Joycelyn has also suffered from physical side effects of her treatment. She’s experienced some lymphedema and uncomfortable side effects from the tamoxifen. Exercise, physiotherapy, and massage therapy have helped her manage these side effects.
With the help of a broad and supportive network of fellow breast cancer patients and survivors, she has begun to learn more about this disease, the different types of breast cancer, and how it can affect each person in unique ways. She would like to see that all women aged 40 and older are able to receive routine mammograms across the country and she hopes for more education and awareness around dense breasts.
Ultimately, she wishes for a cure for all types of cancer. But until that day, her key message to other men and women newly diagnosed with breast cancer: “Educate yourself regarding your diagnosis, treatment and recovery.”
Her motto: Be Kind
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