Breast cancer prepared me for COVID. Actually, if I want to be really accurate, radiation prepared me for it and almost everything else that has come courtesy of the global pandemic.
When I was five, I fell from the top of the swing set in my backyard and onto my right side, breaking my elbow. Why I was hanging upside down from the top bar unsupervised I don’t know, but it’s safe to say I was copying my older sister and playmates. Even back then I was super competitive. If someone else was doing something I had to prove I could do it too. My stubbornness resulted in a sling and a hot and itchy cast that I wore and endured (not quietly) for the entire summer. The swing-set incident left me with a double-jointed elbow that in later years became a nemesis to my synchronized swimming coaches who would holler at me from the pool deck to straighten and tighten my right arm, which being double-jointed and all was not an easy feat…but more about synchro later.
Approximately once a month, we will be sharing stories from Adriana Ermter as a guest blogger. Adriana is a senior editor and writer who grew up in Calgary, Alberta and now lives in Toronto, Ontario. She has spent the past 15 years overseeing the editorial for and contributing to newspapers, magazines and online publications, while coaching synchronized swimming part time.
We all, at some point, need to take on the role of caregiver. For some of us, that time coincides with us needing care as well. At a time when my husband was recovering from heart surgery and anticipating a kidney transplant, where I was to be his donor, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My surgery was scheduled quickly, and I was spared the ordeal and trauma of radiation and chemotherapy, which I am forever grateful for. However, the emotional toll it took was immeasurable.
I am a 43-year-old mother of two amazing children, I have been in love with my wonderful Martin for 20 years now and I am a research professional in the health sector. Until August 2018, I was considered a breast cancer survivor. My cancer had been treated in the best way possible. My son was not yet one year old at the time (in 2012). I went through chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, a mastectomy and, finally, a breast reconstruction.
In October 2013, Allegra Kawa of Edmonton had surgery to remove both her breasts. She’s also considering surgery to remove her ovaries and uterus.
I remember the shock I experienced when I learned about lymphedema, a chronic condition with no cure that I would be dealing with the rest of my life. I was at a high risk for it as I had stage III Inflammatory Breast Cancer and I had all lymph nodes removed from my left arm pit. Twenty-five rounds of radiation to my chest and upper back also put me at a greater risk.
Living in a remote community like Labrador City, NL comes with its own challenges. We have one grocery store with very high prices, gas is $1.34/L, and we lack normal everyday amenities such as movie theatres and night clubs. Traveling out of Labrador means a very expensive plane ticket or driving 7-14 hours (depending on which direction you choose) on a partially paved highway that has often been called a cow path in some sections. The most critical challenge, however, is access to adequate healthcare. I experienced this firsthand when I was diagnosed with cancer.
So, we could begin like all meeting group sessions do:
— Hi, hello. My name is Rebecca, I'm 37 and I have breast cancer.
— Hello Rebecca.
We could. Yeah.
According to breast cancer survivor Cathy Hemeon of Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, “Breast cancer patients offer up the best lived experiences and advice in terms of what the priorities should be for research.” Cathy, a CBCN board member, was therefore very pleased to participate in a national meeting that brought together Canadian patients, caregivers, and clinicians to set the top 10 priorities for research on post-mastectomy breast reconstruction.