No person truly understands what it’s like to be diagnosed with breast cancer until it happens to them. It can be terrifying and overwhelming and can take physical and psychological tolls on a person’s body. 1 in every 8 Canadian women will hear the words “You have breast cancer” in her lifetime and 5,000 Canadians die from metastatic breast cancer each year. That means 26,000+ women every year have to live through surgery, chemo, radiation and side effects like fatigue, depression, chemo brain, and nausea, all while balancing their work and home life. Understanding the lived experience of a diagnosis like this is imperative to improving support for patients, survivors and their families.
I’m from Ottawa. I was diagnosed de novo in March 2011 with metastatic breast cancer and metastasis to the bone. I am 53 years old. I am a mother, daughter, sister, artist, lesbian, atheist, and gardener.
“Go UP the stairs. Slide DOWN the slide. No, Sweetie. Go UP the STAIRS.” She could barely walk, but she was climbing up the slide. Then, and now. Spend ten minutes at a playground, and the appeal of climbing up the face of the slide is undeniable. I am acutely aware of the dangers of falling off the slide, the risks of children bumping into each other. I vaguely remember falling off a slide, decades ago--one of the old, tall ones—before playgrounds had soft surfaces. I like to see everyone going in the same direction. Up the stairs. Down the slide. Nice, orderly, predictable, and safe.
For Naomi Pickersgill, living with metastatic breast cancer and being confronted with her own mortality has been a “roller coaster of emotions.”
I have never been a fan of roller coasters, too much up and down, made me feel sick. Ironically, my life seems to have become a gigantic roller coaster ride!
For Shelley Scott of Winnipeg, a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis in November 2016 had a silver lining.
“It helped me appreciate the moments of my life rather than worrying about what might be, which is kind of a gift,” she says.
She tells the story of two coworkers she knew who planned a big trip for the time when they both were retired. They never made the trip because one of them died.
In August 2016, Erin Richard of Sydney, Nova Scotia was diagnosed with triple negative metastatic breast cancer. She was only 39 years old.