There was so much going on in the world when I was diagnosed. Everyone was already hurting so much. It was the very beginning of the pandemic when I started having odd symptoms. The world was in lockdown. I could tell that something wasn’t right with my breast, but I was in denial – and it felt like we were all dealing with so much already. I didn’t want to raise my hand and cause any commotion.
Way before I was diagnosed, I already had a complicated relationship with cancer. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 35 and died at 40. I was 16 at the time, and as the oldest of three kids, I was expected to take care of my younger brothers. Fast forward a few decades and my dad died of cancer as well. And I’ve lost everybody in between – aunts, neighbours and friends’ parents – too. When I hear the word “cancer,” I think, “Oh, no, that doesn’t end well in our family.”
When I finally called my doctor, it took forever to get in. Doctors were overwhelmed and everything was being pushed back. I started to panic. Months went by. I knew that I needed to advocate for myself, but I didn’t know how or who to push out of the way. It was a real internal struggle. Everyone was going through something so I felt I needed to shoulder it quietly. Finally, nearly a year after my first symptoms, I had the necessary tests and got the answer that I knew was coming – I had breast cancer.
I had a double mastectomy with reconstruction, went on hormone therapy, and did 25 rounds of radiation. There have been a lot of challenges and side effects, but I’ve gotten past them.
In some ways, it was both the best of times and the worst of times. It’s obvious why it was the worst – cancer is already so alienating and COVID complicated things, slowing everything down and forcing me to go through the treatments alone. But it was also the best because as I was hibernating, so was the rest of the world. Everyone was working from home, and my two kids, who are in their 20s, came home. I had 24/7 care from my husband and kids, which I never would’ve had during non-COVID times. It was so special that we had that concentrated time together. I was also able to heal on my own without people rushing over to visit, and I was able to rest without any pressure or guilt – because that’s what the rest of the world was doing, too. Everybody was going through something and everyone could relate to that feeling of isolation.
COVID brought some good stuff – and one of them was being able to do the Look Good Feel Better skincare workshop from home. I don’t think I would’ve had the energy or the gumption to head into a room full of strangers for a workshop, but being able to participate virtually was really liberating.
I’ve always been the caregiver, the stronger one – from the time I was a child. So it was a real reversal for me to suddenly be the one being taken care of. My family said, “It’s your turn now, we’ve got this, we’ve got you,” and that meant everything. And COVID allowed them to cocoon with me at home. I’m so grateful that I have such a wonderful support system. My friends really showed up as well. I had one friend who lives on my street who would do things like walk a heart in my driveway after a fresh snowfall and then text me, “Go look out the window.” Sometimes, the simplest things can be the most meaningful. And sometimes the darkest times can also be the brightest.