Embracing Resilience: Charity's Journey Through Breast Cancer

I've been wanting to feature a guest on my blog for some time now, and now I guess, is the perfect time, being that everything here is so shiny and new! Lets mess things up a little bit, shall we? For we all know the following topic is everything messy and then some.

The Beginning ~

March 10 th, 2023 was the evening I accidently made a discovery that would shift the course of my life in

ways I couldn’t have imagined at the time. They say your life can change in the blink of an eye. This may

have taken a little longer than that but the effect was no less profound.

I came home from dance class, having spent the evening laughing and enjoying myself at the end of a

long week, and jumped in the shower. Sudsing up while singing, I found a lump that I swear had not

been evident in Poncho before… huh… Nothing in Lefty though.

I’m not a woman that spends a lot of time rooting around her armpits for fun but I remembered the

lessons on Monthly TaTa Touching so I gave it go.

There was a very large marble, a real boulder if you will, that had taken up residence in my right armpit.

If I played with marbles this would have been the Mack Daddy of finds. Unfortunately, that is not a

hobby of mine so I was less than enthused about my discovery.

I had a doctor appointment already set up for the following Friday so I left it to deal with that day.

I did however call on my bestie the next morning to feel me up and confirm that I was indeed not

imagining said rocks in my breasticle. We both figured it must be fibroadenoma (per Dr. Google) as the

size of the mass was so large there was no way it could be anything else besides, I’m extremely diligent

about my health, diet, exercise, sleep hygiene… ALL the things that are meant to keep you in tip top

wellness so I just went about my daily business.

Fast forward a week and I was getting a clinical second base treatment and not liking the look on my

doctor dude’s face. We usually have a fairly light hearted vibe to our appointments but he had his

serious face on that day. A requisition for an ultrasound was made up quickly. He was not concerned

about the breast tissue hardening as that’s “normal” for an aged lady such as myself… I was 45 at the

time… really, Doc? However, he found the lymph node “concerning”. He said he was “hoping for the

best” as I was leaving… ummm… yeah… me too, Buddy.

Two hours later, I was at the dog park, trying to keep my life as normal feeling as possible, when I

received a call from DynaCare with an appointment scheduled for the following Wednesday for said

ultrasound. I was getting a sinking feeling that this might not be the “nothing” situation I was hoping it

would turn out to be. The next night I found another massive marble and a pea in the same armpit. I was

officially collecting oversized round things in my axilla.

Wednesday finally arrived. I spent most of that morning with my breasts out, bonding with the lovely

lady that was inspecting them -professionally with an authorized picture taking tool- and the radiologist

Doc. Both very sweet ladies. I suppose in that line of work, knowing what they’re looking at, kindness

and sensitivity are paramount.The boob smashing machine came next. That’s something I never planned on doing and I remain unimpressed with the experience.

That afternoon I got the report, a BI-RADS score of 5 (meaning a 95% or higher chance of malignancy)

highly suspicious of metastatic adenopathy, and an appointment for the following Monday for biopsies

of both the mass and the lymph nodes.

That five days felt like it took years to get through. I refused to give in to the mounting hysteria that was

threatening to take over. A part of me wanted to rage-scream, cry and shake my fist angrily at the sky

(didn’t I have ENOUGH on my plate already?!). Another part steadfastly refused to acknowledge the C-

word could ever be a thing that happened to me and this would all come out as a huge mistake… silly

ultrasound and mammogram machines screwing up the results and causing a fuss for no reason. Yet

another part calmly waited for confirmation either way, knowing that whatever was going to come was

going to change my life forever.

The day finally arrived. One more unpleasant procedure under my belt (or bra in this case). The tissue

samples have to sit for 24 hours before they can start testing them. I’m not sure why but my best guess

is travel fatigue… it’s a long trip to Edmonton for the little biopsies to endure. More waiting…

Thursday, March 30 th , I get the biopsy results:

Grade 3, Triple Positive (Estrogen Receptor positive; Progesterone Receptor positive; HER2+), invasive

ductal mammary carcinoma with multiple satellite nodules, multiple masses (the largest being 4.2 cms,

and two others of smaller varying size), necrotic tissue surrounding the masses from 6-10 o’clock, and

linear pleomorphic calcifications extending to my nipple. Stage 2b.

Multiple enlarged axillary (that’s the technical term for armpit…I felt pretty smart learning that) lymph

nodes positive for macro carcinoma. It turned out to be three in total… two big marbles and a pea.

Well shit.

I was truly the last person that I thought would end up with breast cancer given my extremely healthy

lifestyle. Seriously, I gave up smoking, drinking, sugar in any form and all the other fun stuff for this?

Forgive me for feeling ripped off.

I guess the results went a long way to answering the questions as to why I had been So Bone Tired for

the months before diagnosis, why the stupid rash on my face wouldn’t clear up, and why I’d dropped 20

lbs in a very short amount of time when I wasn’t trying to… But hey… I got in my goal pants, right? The

Sunny Side Of Breast Cancer.

Meh… that may be overselling the silver lining rhetoric.

I immersed myself in a metric shit tonne of reading and learning because that -and very dark humour- is

how I respond to stress.

The number of tests I had to undergo did surprise me. A CT scan to ensure that it had not metastasized,

a bone scan to rule out osseus metastasis (no evidence found!), another CT scan to make sure it hadn’t

moved into my brain as HER2+ types really love to move there (all clear!) then a surgery consult shortly


I was looking at a bilateral mastectomy (prophylactic on the left so there will be less chance of regional

recurrence there… and so both breasts will match after reconstruction) plus a lymph node removal

surgery on the right axilla. I researched rebuild options and found a surprising lack of “implants that can

shoot glitter and sunshine” choices and that was very disappointing, not going to lie. There went the

hope of channeling my inner Care Bear on demand to help get me through this.

Given the very slow healing process I deal with due to the multiple comorbidities that I manage, I knew I

going to need help to do life through chemo and surgery. I also knew that I was a hyper-independent,

single woman that lived alone and would rather chew her own arm off than feel comfortable asking for

help. All innate trauma-responses from hurts past that I would get ample opportunity to stare down

during the plethora of therapy sessions I pursued to help me survive this leg of life’s journey.

My Heterosexual Life Partner For Life, aka the aforementioned Bestie, put her life on hold and opened

up her home to me and my dogs. I sold my house, put off treatment until I could let the dust settle from

all that comes with selling, packing, downsizing, and moving. I took up residence on May 13 th and started

chemo on May 25 th .

The Chemo Chronicles

The Red Devil. That is what one of the drugs in my chemo cocktail is colloquially known as and is aptly

named if I do say so myself. Picture an alternative version of The Devil Went Down To Georgia where the

devil had a way better, exponentially more kickass violin than Johnny. A demon violin that created

stormy skies and fired lightning bolts with such ferocity it literally knocked your hair off your head. So

powerful it made eating next to impossible (mouth sores are complimentary!) and completely change

the foods you can actually tolerate from what you like to whatever you can keep down. Coffee, my

beloved first kiss of the morning, the reason I get out of bed with any amount of enthusiasm and joy,

became undrinkable. Fatigue descended like a thick blanket of fog yet sleep was next to impossible for

any number of hours in a row. The morning after my first round of chemo, I tried to eat and nothing was

doable. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and the anti-nausea meds were not kicking in fast enough.

It really hit me how hard life was about to become and I just cried out of sheer frustration and


Through trial and error, I discovered I could tolerate 6 things. Lettuce rolls with prawns, pickled

asparagus, turkey slices, cottage cheese “bread” that I made, cherry tomatoes, and very strong black

tea. I had to eat every 2 hours, throughout the night as well, or I would get extremely nauseated. My

body could tolerate exactly zero amounts of fat. This really hurt my feelings as I normally eat a very high

fat diet. Nothing was normal anymore.

At the start of this diagnosis, I had also reached out to a Naturopath with a specialty in Oncology based

out of Calgary and started doing alternative treatments there around every chemo session. I did

hyperthermia, high dose vitamin C infusions, started taking Turkey Tail daily and giving myself mistletoe

shots a couple times a week. I firmly believe these treatments combined with the chemo allowed my

body to have a really good cancer fighting response. I don’t know if they helped me to suffer less side

effect severity from the chemo but I know that doing chemo with no steroids to counter the nausea did

mean a slightly rougher road through treatment.

{Side note: I’m intolerant of steroids so they weren’t an option for me. This meant a couple things for

the course of my treatment: I wasn’t able to do the last 9 rounds of chemo and I didn’t gain the 60-100

lbs I had been told by other patients they gained from the steroids. My treatment had to move to the

Herceptin stage (a biological drug that targets the HER2 protein that causes the cancer cells to divide

and proliferate more aggressively) and that meant no more Red Devil because both drugs can cause

heart problems. A switch in chemo drugs was required. Unfortunately, the only chemo drugs they were

offering required the use of dexamethasone (the steroid) to have any chance of weathering the side

effects which were profound and egregious. I chose to move forward only doing the Herceptin and I

upped my naturopathic treatments to weekly for eight weeks until my surgery date.}

Let me back up… I underwent two more chemo treatments and the side effects compounded every

time. I could eat less foods and it would take me a bit more time to get back to feeling relatively normal.

Enough that I could do dog park walks and Pilates classes, both things I very much looked forward to

that helped keep my mental health more stable.

Life was becoming as unrecognizable as my reflection in the mirror.

What the hell was staring back at me?

Who was this under-muscled, BALD alien?

I knew that I was going to lose my hair. At least I knew it subjectively. I had chopped off my long hair into

a pixie cut in anticipation of this very event. I thought I was ready for the (literal) fallout. I made a joke

out of shaving my head on a “Who Wore It Best?” post on Facebook… It was a tie between me and

Samuel L Jackson in Black Snake Moan, in case you were wondering. I was determined to learn to not

only accept but to love my appearance. I refused to wear wigs. It was also the hottest summer I can

remember in a long while and there was no way I would have been able to anyway.

I was not successful in achieving this goal.

I became more and more self-conscious. I tried to force myself to go out in public without a hat but

seeing the eyes of strangers avert quickly when you looked at them but not so quickly that you couldn’t

see the discomfort and pity they felt. No head covering was not an option. Head scarves only served as a

beacon announcing your sickness to the world. I ended up wearing an old ball cap anytime I left the


I checked out of having a social life except for a very few people and only at their homes. I would get

furious when friends would try to take my picture. I was genuinely concerned that if one more person

told me that I “rocked” the bald look that I would pop them in the mouth before I realized what I was

doing. Thankfully no lips were harmed during that time. I basically only went to the dog park and Pilates

classes when I felt well enough to go… with my trusty ball cap on. The majority of the regulars at both of

these places were extremely gracious and that helped me to have two spaces out in the world that I felt

less conspicuous in.

I felt like I lost my femininity. My body was unrecognizable. I couldn’t connect with what I looked like.

No curves. No hair. No eyelashes. I’ve never felt less attractive and more masculine in my life. There was

precious little of my previous self-confidence in how I was showing up in the world. Every morning I

would wake up and still be surprised by my reflection because in my dreams, I was normal.

Cancer had spun my life 180 degrees. In no time at all, my existence was marked into The Time Before

and The Time After.

I had to learn how to live with people again. I don’t know how to not present a strong face and brush

things off with flippant humour when around other people. Stoic and stubborn are oft heard descriptors

of me, saving my “weak” moments for when I was alone yet I crave a life experience more authentic

than a “stiff upper lip” can offer. I especially struggled with finding this balance of being real yet not

feeling a burden during chemo. I found I often touted that I was better than I actually felt in attempts to

alleviate stress in those that may worry about me… “I’m doing great all things considered… Things could

definitely be worse”. I was often complimented on my great attitude and positive outlook leaving me to

quietly think “if you only knew how scared and powerless I actually feel most of the time, you wouldn’t

be saying that”. That’s not to say I didn’t work hard at having a positive attitude and put focus on

gratitude for the good things in my life, I did, I just spent most of my time in survival mode. I tried to

hide my black moods lest I upset the loved ones around me. I was not always successful and sometimes

it put a strain on my relationships. My sense of humour started getting harder to find. It’s difficult to

allow yourself to experience the full spectrum of emotions this diagnosis brings when you have been

conditioned to go at things alone to an almost pathological level. These last few months, I have made it

a priority to sift through all of this, to learn better ways to connect healthfully and honestly with my

beloveds. I’m slowly starting to trust that there will be people there to catch me when I fall. The more

opportunities I allow for this, the more proof I get that it’s true… funny how that works out sometimes.

If Cancer is going to be credited with ushering in any positive aspects to my life, I would have to say that

it opened the door for me to begin to learn the grace of allowing others to support me in turbulent

times. That relying on your community is not you being a pain but allows the people that love you to feel

like they are a part of easing your journey. This process has deepened my relationships with both my

bestie and my mom. It has allowed people to really show up for me and for me to feel intensely loved.

The relationship that still needs work is the one with my mirror… This is how I ended up at the door of

Painted Light Photography.

I came as close to a breakdown that I ever have in a therapy session regarding my appearance, my

upcoming mastectomy, and what that means for my fear that I will *probably* never find the romantic

love partner that I yearn for (because what healthy man is going to want to sign on for this particular

ride but I digress), when my counsellor recommended that I do a photoshoot before the surgery then do

another once I have finished treatment (I have 14 more rounds of Kadcyla, a targeted Herceptin and

chemo drug, which will happen over the next 42 weeks) and all surgeries are completed. She

recommended Marlene because she knew that “she’s fantastic at making you feel beautiful” and that

she thought I would be very comfortable with her. I called her as soon as I got home and, through many

tears and high-pitched hiccups, I explained my story, what I was hoping to achieve -just to feel beautiful

again even for just a moment- and if she could please help before my surgery the next week. Marlene

made time in her schedule, got me in, and we had a really lovely afternoon making pictures together. I

left that day feeling the best that I had felt about myself in a long time. She approached me about

following my journey, documenting with both pictures and words, hence this blog was born.

The hope is that there is anything in my story that will allow someone starting down this path to connect

with and feel that they are not alone, that speaking about breast cancer, its treatment, side effects, life

effects, need not be in hushed tones; That the majority of us afflicted will come through this changed

but whole, scarred yet beautiful, battle-worn but wiser, more compassionate, grateful-for-the-little-

things versions of ourselves.