The Voice of Canadians With Breast Cancer

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Just Breathe

By Nicole Neidig

I was diagnosed in December 2019 at the age of 47. I was healthy, happy and at the height of my career.  Just as I said to my husband of 25 years “Life just can’t get any better”, our world came to a grinding halt - “you have breast cancer”. 

What came next (after a night of numerous shots and beers because what else do you do when you are told you have cancer?) was an absolute whirlwindfor me. Double mastectomy with lymph node removal, 6 rounds of grueling chemotherapy, 2 ½ weeks of daily radiation which will be followed by 10 years of endocrine therapy. I had to leave my career as a Director in Health Information Management and focus on saving my life. I lost my long glorious blonde hair. I lost my breasts. I lost my hope.

As I was adjusting to my scarred and disfigured body, mentally preparing to begin chemotherapy, my fears and anxieties were further heightened as the world began to shut down with the global Covid-19 pandemic. My son quietly graduated high school during mandatory quarantine, without his friends, without ceremony. My husband and son were both laid off from their jobs. A hidden blessing, this meant that both my boys were home to care for me and through much laughter and many, many tears, we fought cancer together, as a family.

We were so thankful for the support we received from friends and family for their visits from afar, errand running, food prep and friendship. We were fortunate to have an exceptional healthcare team as the majority of my treatments were faced alone. Visitors were forbidden due to pandemic precautions. Many visits to the cancer centre began with me dry heaving, retching with anxiety, and my husband in the truck outside, anxiously awaiting my texts. 

Still healing, mentally, physically and spiritually, my husband and I got matching tattoos – the words we would say to each other, multiple times daily. “Just Breathe.” Each tattoo is written in the other’s handwriting. A gentle reminder to pause and just breathe....

As I face further surgeries, years of medications and side effects from my battle, my husband and son stand steadfastly beside me. My hair is coming in thick and curly, and I have returned to the career that I love. We learned that cancer is only a word, not a sentence, and to “Just Breathe”.