According to 2018 special report from the Canadian Cancer Society, breast cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada, accounting for 13% of all cancers. Most breast cancer diagnoses are in women aged 50-69 (51%) and only 4-5% of diagnoses are predicted to occur in women under the age of 40.
So needless to say, I was part of the minority. Being so young with breast cancer brought forth many unique challenges. My cancer was hormone positive, meaning it was being fuelled by my estrogen. The doctors decided at the age of 31, I should be put into menopause to protect my body from future cancer growth. Hot flashes, mood swings, low libido, slower metabolism (weight gain) and fatigue were added to my laundry list of cancer treatment side effects. Another side effect of menopause is that you can't have children while you're in it. Since my cancer diagnosis was so delayed, there was no time to save any of my eggs before I started my chemotherapy. Unfortunately, I still don't know if having children will be a possibility for me.
To fight my cancer I had to undergo 16 rounds of chemotherapy, 3 separate surgeries and 25 rounds of radiations. Since my tumor was so large I had no choice but to do chemotherapy first to try and shrink it. This way during surgery there would be a higher chance of removing all of the tumour. Making the choice to get a double mastectomy was not an easy one. Technically my left breast was still healthy, but lobular breast cancer has a higher risk of spreading. With a heavy heart, I made the decision to say goodbye to my natural God-given DD breasts. I remember before my surgery a girl asking me if I was "excited" about getting my "new fake boobs". I remember thinking to myself, "I'm 31, I wasn't done with my old boobs. I didn't want a new pair."
After my double mastectomy and reconstruction, I looked down at my chest and cried. They were so much smaller then what I had before, and don't get me wrong, I was grateful but I still grieved the loss of my natural breasts. Going from DD breasts to a smaller size just ripped at my core, it was one more thing this horrible cancer had taken away from me. I went into a depression and would cry every time I looked at my bald, overweight, scar-filled naked body in the mirror.
As you can only imagine, this state of mind was very destructive. My husband was incredibly supportive but I remember after ripping into him one day he turned to me and said: "Why are you being such a miserable .......?" (I'll let you fill in the blank).
It was a big wake up call. I realized that because I had no control over my cancer or the future of my diagnosis, I tried to control everyone and anything around me. And when things didn't go my way...I became resentful and vicious. My husband, being the amazing man that he is, thought maybe I could release some of the anger through some physical exercises. He bought me a fitness package at a local gym called True Fitness. It was there I learned animal flow and began to focus on things I actually had power over. I began to see the positive results in not just my body (strength, weight loss, and flexibility), but also in my mind and the attitude I had towards life. I realized that I not only had control over my body but over my thoughts as well. Every negative or positive feeling we feel is directly related to a negative or positive thought. I always just thought I was depressed, but I was depressed because I was choosing only to think of depressive thoughts. So instead of focusing on everything cancer stole from me, I decided to focus on what cancer gave me.
I realized that during my treatments I felt so loved by so many people. They came to visit me, brought me food, gifts and sent me cards. I was supported every day by encouraging messages from people I knew and even people I had never met. I realized that my cancer gave me a new perspective on life and helped me prioritize what was most important, like spending time with my husband, friends, and family. My cancer helped me connect with so many beautiful, strong and inspiring women all around the world. I would have never experienced any of this if I hadn't been diagnosed with breast cancer.
If I could take away anything from this, it would be the knowledge that every event that happens to you in your life is neutral. It's up to you to decide whether or not you want to see it through a positive or negative lens. Whether or not you want to be the victim or the warrior. For me, I have no idea if my cancer will return, but I do know that I will do everything possible in my power (diet, lifestyle, and exercise) to make sure it doesn't.
I will be the leader of my life. I will be the one in control. Yes, I had cancer but cancer NEVER had me.
About the Author
Mercedes Buhagiar-Baillie is a Social Worker in a nursing home living in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Since her diagnosis of breast cancer in 2016, she has been a public advocate against breast cancer. She has worked with Rethink Breast Cancer and the Windsor Cancer Foundation to spread awareness and education for the cause. In her spare time, she works with her trainer Eric at True Fitness to perfect her animal flow skills and loves hanging out with her loving husband Peter and kitty Ziggy. You can find Mercedes on Instagram.