Fourteen years ago this spring I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in my early forties and had been through a painful divorce (aren’t they all?) I’d just moved to Victoria, British Columbia in April, and was preparing for another season in The Canadian Rockies leading bus tours. I had arranged for a friend from Jasper National Park to live at my new apartment and look after my dog while I was on the road. She wanted to be on the coast to be near the daughters of her best friend who had died from breast cancer several years earlier. (Irony abounds in the world, I think)
Through my friend I met the girls and their father and we became very friendly, quickly. Finally I had my medical in place and my new association moved me to find a family physician and get an appointment before I started my first tour in early May.
At our first visit, my doctor asked me if I had any particular concerns. I mentioned the large lump on my right breast that I’d had for more than a year. It felt like a golf ball and sometimes hurt and had started to pull at the skin. I’d heard that cancer did not hurt and since it seemed to change shape a bit I thought it was nothing, really, just a large lump. She immediately scheduled a mammogram and an ultrasound for that week before I went on the road. I was busy getting settled in my cool basement apartment in my funky Victorian neighbourhood and getting ready for a summer mostly away.
On the day I was to take the ferry to Seattle, and as I was opening the envelope from my lawyer saying my divorce was final, the doctor’s office called and asked me if I wanted to come in to talk about the results before I left. Naive me, all I thought was how thoughtful they were to get that out of the way before I started work.
The radiologist had called my family doctor immediately to say, get her to a surgeon, lines of calcification, high probability of cancer. I was totally surprised. I felt good, I loved my life and I’d faced the dark side when I left my husband and did a year of crying and therapy. Did I really need another lesson in appreciating life?
My first thought was, if I die, what will happen to Jasper? I was his main person and I knew he was happiest with me (he smelled bad when I was on the road) and he wouldn’t understand when I never came back. Buddy.
My doctor arranged for me to have an appointment with a surgeon when I was in Victoria between tours and then I got on the fast ferry to Seattle, checked in to my hotel and had a bad night. There’s nothing lonelier than being in a hotel by yourself with a fresh cancer diagnosis.
I had a day off before the tour and the next morning I woke up with a plan. I would research, modify my diet and take supplements, network and visualize. I went to the book store and got several books including, Dr Susan Love’s Breast Book, What to Eat if You Have Breast Cancer, and a book about vitamins and supplements.
For networking I first called my friend Niki in Seattle who I knew regularly went to see naturopath healers and she said that she would get me an appointment to see her naturopath scheduled for when I finished my tour in Seattle in twelve days. Then I called my friend Ann, in Maine, who had a lumpectomy the previous year.
I said,”Ann, tell me about your cancer experience.” and she said,”Oh,no!” She recovered from the shock and told me about biopsies and staging and what she did and affirmed that my plan of attack was a good one. I’d been thinking about diet and we talked about that.
I decided to stop eating meat and only fish if it was wild caught because I did not want to eat anything that might have growth hormones. I have never (except my fishing days) been a drinker of alcohol but I decided I would not drink at all or only one per month. I made a plan to cut back on caffeine until I was weaned in a week and I cut way back on dairy products.
The next day it was showtime. I met my group and my driver and we headed west and north toward the Canadian Rockies. I put on the happy face and enthused about all that they would see and experience and put my diagnosis on the back burner.