Monday, November 28, 2011

My Cancer-Free Weekend

Last weekend was by far one of the best weekends of my life. Friday, I got to Toronto and was lucky enough to attend a film festival devoted to breast cancer ( Friday night, a number of us had dinner together. Across the table from me, one woman was introducing herself to one of my friends and she turned to me and said "Hi, I'm Terri". I think my response was something like "Uh, I'm Katie" like she should know who I am, like "THE Katie". Anyway, it was fellow-blogger Terri from afreshchapter. Terri who, when everyone else was saying "Yeah, you're half way through" after my third chemo, said "I won’t sit here and say, you’re halfway through (insert peppy look and cheerleader first pump), instead I will say, ugh…you’re half way through." Terri is pretty much awesome, both online and in person.

From dinner, we headed to the ROM, met up with Catherine (Bumpyboobs) and watched a screening of 'Baring it All' which is a documentary about 'The Scar Project'. What an incredible film and quite the amazing photography exhibition (having seen it via the film). One of the women from the film was in the audience and was part of the Q&A afterwards along with her husband, the director and the photographer. She was my age when she was diagnosed and I think we had the same stage of cancer as well. We had similar treatment and her husband reminded me a bit of Keith. Needless to say, I related to this woman very easily. Near the end of the film, she explained that after breaking her finger, and going to the hospital to get it looked at, tests showed that her cancer (that she thought was gone) had moved into her bones and she now had stage 4 cancer. The girl that I related to the most, the girl who had a similar diagnosis to mine now has stage 4 cancer. I didn't fight any harder than she did, and my treatment was the same as hers so who's to say that it's not going to happen to me? Sometimes, it boils down to "it's just not fair". I can be as positive as I want, drink the special wheat-grass cocktails, never smoke, stop drinking, exercise all I want and cancer can come back. I spoke with her at the reception afterwards and thanked her for being a part of the Scar Project and for representing women like me.

The rest of the weekend was spent with other young women who had been 'there' and knew words like 'expander' without having to explain what it was and understood that 'chemo' isn't just a five letter word that means cancer treatment but instead represents the hardest months of my life and without having to utter one word about it, I knew that they knew what it was like. I don't know how many women I spoke to this weekend whose names I never learned because names didn't matter, we were united through our experience. It was so relieving to not see the face of sympathy when I said "I was 26 when I was diagnosed" and instead be met with a "me too." It's amazing that cancer is what connected us all and yet for the first time since I was diagnosed, I felt like I had a cancer-free weekend. I didn't stand out because I had cancer because everyone there had had cancer. I was an individual for other reasons than having breast cancer and it felt amazing.

In the middle of this incredible weekend was the once in a lifetime night; it was the CCTFA's Mirror Ball. I won't go into too much detail as afreshchapter (Terri) and Bumpyboobs (Catherine) have already hit the nail on the head with both of their descriptions, but what a magical night. The three of us were lucky enough to speak during the night's events and like Terri said, during the soup portion of the meal (we were previously told that we were going to speak right after the soup was served), I was pretty nervous.

We were all gathered and brought back stage. I was still nervous but then I thought (and I think verbalized) "If we can get through cancer, we can go out and speak for a few minutes about having it" and seriously, my nerves went away. I led the way onto the stage, was introduced along with the other two, and when the spotlight shone on me and I went for it. There were over 700 people staring back at me, waiting for me to talk about having cancer, and I think I did a pretty good job. It felt natural, and everyone cheered when I said 'I finished chemo 2 months ago and officially kicked cancer's ass' and it felt so good to be on stage with two other women who were there for me during my treatment when it was so difficult to connect with anyone.

A week later, I am still on a high from Saturday night. We had so many people come up to us afterwards and thank us for speaking, and tell us that we're an inspiration. I loved every minute of it. It's almost like cancer has turned me into this warrior that isn't afraid anymore. I'm not afraid of someone commenting of the size of my hips (or ass for that matter) because my message is so much bigger (even though that's hard to believe) than either one of them. I'm not insecure about walking in heels, something I never do, in front of hundreds of people because it's not my walking that should be evaluated, it's my words.

So, the magical night is over and I am back to reality. I made some incredible friends last weekend and although my contact with most of them is restricted to online, knowing that these incredible women exist and that breast cancer at such a young age doesn't have to be so isolating is so empowering.

Back to reality means back to the world of worry, and doctors and day to day issues. Keith and I were decorating our Christmas tree the other night (as a kid, we weren't allowed to put the tree up much before the 20th of December so I am totally rebelling and putting mine up in November now that I'm an adult and I can make grown-up decisions like that). We had the 'Holiday Hits' station playing on the television and as Tony Bennett sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" my eyes filled with tears. Back in March, I didn't know if I was going to make it through the summer let alone to Christmas and here I was decorating a Christmas tree. It was such a surreal feeling, like out of a movie. I find out my blood test results and if I have the BRCA gene this week and go for a mammogram next week to identify the lump in my left breast. Regardless of the future test results, I will make it through (probably with some sort of smile on my face too).

Here's to the next 75 Christmases and if you are a young women who was just diagnosed with breast cancer, please reach out to other young women, we are out there and I can now tell you that it is such an incredible feeling to be just one of the girls again instead of the cancer girl.

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