Wednesday, May 23, 2012

If I Could Turn Back Time...

Where do I begin? Well, I've taken a few weeks off from writing because I have been in beautiful Alberta; we started the trip with a cancer retreat and finished with visiting some friends. To be honest, it has taken me a while to get back into the swing of things but I am slowly getting there.

The retreat that we went to was for young adults who are/have facing/faced cancer (ages 18-35) and it is put on by Young Adult Cancer Canada and the cool thing was that both survivors and supporters were invited. If you are a young adult who is facing cancer, you need to check out this group. Anyway, we spent from Thursday afternoon until Monday morning together and we discussed issues that affected us youngins in a different way than those who are in their 40s, 50s and 60s who are dealing with cancer. Issues like fertility, financial instability, isolation (from friends, family, or even other older survivors), recurrence, and many many more were discussed. It feels so good to connect with so many other people who 'get it' when the people in your life who are the closest to you couldn't possibly understand what you're going through. I loved that everyone at this retreat understood that cancer doesn't end when treatment does and I think that's a hard one for me to try to explain to those who are around me.

Anyway, I had said in my previous post that I was nervous that I maybe had some lingering issues that I had not dealt with since my diagnosis but after the retreat, I think I am relatively well adjusted. The one thing that I definitely realized was that I need to be as gentle with myself as I am with others. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best cancer survivor that there is (whatever that means) and I am slowly learning that there is no right way to do this whole cancer thing - there is only your way of doing it.

As I said, after the retreat, we then explored Alberta a little bit and then headed back to Ontario last week. I am slowly getting into the swing of things but I am a little slow at finding my routine. Now that I am back into my routine, I had agreed to do an interview this week for a cancer article and one of the questions that they sent to me (part of a guideline) was 'If you could go back to your 25 year old self, what would you say to her?'. That question has stuck with me ever since I read it. What would I say to her? Take cancer out of it - what would any of us say to our younger selves?

I took a long time with this question and I think I came up with a few answers. First, I think I would give the 25 year old me a hug and without trying to scare her, try to convince her that she was strong enough to do just about anything. I know I wouldn't tell her that cancer was in her future and there would be no 'live life to its fullest' but instead I think I would keep it simple. I would tell her to keep laughing even when it gets so hard, laughter really has been my best medicine. I would tell her to cherish her relationships because it is those relationships that will outlast any careers, money, or belongings. I would tell her to slow down and absorb the day instead of trying to get through it and say 'yes' when a friend asks you to go for drinks - sleep can wait - working early the next morning is no longer an excuse.

Then, once I was finished thinking about the past, I started thinking about the future. Exactly 52 weeks ago from tomorrow, I started chemo. I find it hard to remember my life before cancer, before worry and fear and oncologists and rogue cells. I find it hard to remember my life before I knew what chemo felt like and when I had two breasts and when having a baby was a choice not a hope. I sometimes find it hard not to talk about cancer anymore because it has become such an important part of my life. I find myself trying to change the subject when I was the one who originally brought it up just because I feel like I am making others feel uncomfortable. Every time I look at my hair, it's a reminder that my wish is to have long hair but my reality is that chemo made me bald.

Even with all of these thoughts and the overwhelming impact that cancer has had on my life, I am happy. I'm sure that cancer will not be as consuming as time moves on and my oncologist appointments are farther and farther apart but until that time, I plan on being happy. When I say happy, I don't mean a smile on my face and in a wonderful mood all the time - I just mean doing my best to follow the advice that I would give to the 25 year old me; know that you are strong, absorb the day, cherish all of your relationships, new and old, and for God sakes, keep laughing.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Katie. I think about this often because none of us ever do see it coming do we? Though strangely enough, due to a fork in my "life line" on my palm, I've lived with a nagging suspicion all my life that "something big" was going to happen to me in my 30s. Not that I'm a big believer in palmistry or anything. But yes, you can't help but wonder. Like now I wonder if all those years of believing something would happen actually manifested in, well, something happening. But never in my wildest imagination did I think it would be cancer. An accident of some sort, perhaps. I've been healthy my whole life, doctor and hospital visits were alien to me. So it never even occurred that a disease would strike me just as I was entering my 30s and almost claim my life. Wow. If I knew that back at 25, I'd be scared as all hell. It's a blessing that I didn't. But to answer your question: I think you've pretty much got it right. I'd give myself a big big hug and tell myself that no matter what happens, everything is going to be OK. That I am stronger than I think I am. Way, way stronger. That the people around me who matter, really really really love me. To stop and notice and pay attention to that. To give myself a little credit - yes you are loved not only by people who are closest to you, but by those you might think of as acquaintances as well. That you touch people's lives and they never forget you. To be kind to yourself and not thing "this is as bad as it gets." There will always be shit coming at you from time to time, but that light at the end of the tunnel exists and it's better than ever. To take risks and not be afraid of falling or failing - to enjoy the experience. And to hang the fuck on, coz the ride's only starting.

    1. We think very very similarly. So much of what you write rings true for me as well.

      Although it's not easy to think this way all of the time, I always know that there is someone worse off and that doesn't lessen my pain but I am aware that things could always be worse.

      Your last line made me laugh - because it's the truth.

      Hope all is well, thank you for your support!


  2. I wish I had discovered your blog earlier! Beautifully said, Katie. I really believe that everything happens for a reason and a purpose and you have met this challenge with extreme Katie-ness...strength, positive thoughts, and laughter. You, my dear, have such an amazing spirit and you should be so proud of yourself for everything you are doing to raise awareness and help others through sharing your story. The 25-year old you is wise beyond her years.

    1. What a lovely message. Thank you!

      Can I coin the term 'Katie-ness'? Although, I have a feeling that my friends and family might have a different definition that yours...


  3. Hi Katie,

    I was 25 when I was diagnosed (cervical 2b). I met my oncologist just days later, on my 26th birthday. I am now 55. I was single and worked full time, and unlike these days, there was no Internet or social networking. After my surgery and treatments were over, I just went back to work, being the "victor" of such an onslaught. Looking back, I put way too much on myself- like you said- to be the best cancer survivor.

    I loved what you said about "giving yourself a hug" and break- there is so much to deal with that even family cannot understand. It took me a long time to realize, they just cannot know, they've never experienced it. That's why I love Twitter now. After so long, I finally have found "a place" where others know what I've been through.

    I'm so glad you are getting back into "life". If I could give anyone any advice, it would be to make that your first goal- to live again. Adjust, yes. We have to. Start allowing life back in!

    All my love and support!

  4. Rann! Thank you so much for your message. It is so nice to be able to relate to you and you give me so much hope.

    I couldn't agree with you more about Twitter. I wish I would have known about it while I was in treatment because you're right, so many people 'get it' and everyone is so supportive.

    I love the idea of living again because really your life is put on hold - you're so worried about not dying.

    Thank you for message, please keep in touch.