When faced with the worst moments of life, we have two choices: lie down and die or stand up and fight. This was never truer than when I received my breast cancer diagnosis. I knew I had no other choice than to fight it with a smile on my face and as much positivity as I could muster – even if I had to fake it to make it, as they say. My boys looked at me with fear in their eyes and sadness in their hearts. This would be a defining time in their lives. I was (and still am) determined to make it a teachable moment: how to face life’s adversities and how your mindset can change everything, a lesson we could all learn.
I’m writing a different type of article because October is Canadian Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This article isn’t just about me or you. It’s for all of the women who are currently or yet to be diagnosed with breast cancer. So I need to be blunt.
I was diagnosed in December 2019 at the age of 47. I was healthy, happy and at the height of my career. Just as I said to my husband of 25 years “Life just can’t get any better”, our world came to a grinding halt - “you have breast cancer”.
Breast cancer awareness is about more than pink ribbons. Yes, we said it! It’s more than telling the world that breast cancer merely exists. We all undoubtedly know that it exists, and we likely all know someone touched by breast cancer. And yet, time and again, we hear patients say, “I wish I had known.” Because there is so much about breast cancer that goes unspoken.
It’s safe to say I think about my breasts a lot. Wait. I just wrote breasts. Not boobs, tits, coconuts, gazongas or even The Girls. Breasts. Ugh. Having breast cancer has done this to me. It’s made me think of my boobs as breasts.
My name is Katharina and I was diagnosed with stage 2a breast cancer in March 2020 just when the pandemic was starting. I was 25 years old at the time. I had to go through testing and treatment alone without any support person by my side.
Do you ever think that you have another tumour? I don’t mean a recurrence with a breast cancer lesion, but a secondary cancer. And if you do, do these dark thoughts catch you by surprise in random pockets of moments, like when you feel an ache in your shoulder, or a knotted muscle along your spine, or when you take a deep breath and experience a sharpness of pain before you fully exhale? When this happens, do you immediately think, “fuck, I have a tumour,” and then have to talk yourself down from this mental, paranoid ledge? I do.
I lost my cat, Trixie-Belle. She died from a squamous cell carcinoma, an aggressive type of mouth cancer, one week before the winter holidays last year. There was nothing my veterinarian could do to save her. She simply woke up one morning with a spot on the roof of her mouth and then, after performing every possible examination and a round of drugs, she was gone.
Tell me if any of this rings a bell…
The Beginning: Get up, find a lump, feel confused, panic inside, see the doctor, see a specialist, get a mammogram, see an oncologist, have an ultrasound, get an MRI, biopsy the lump, do it all over again and again and again, receive a breast cancer diagnosis, feel in shock, go home, make a plan, fall into bed and don’t fall asleep.
Chances are, if you have breast cancer you’ve heard about Tamoxifen. I remember the first time my oncologist talked to me about the chemo-infused hormonal-therapy drug. It was during my weekly check-up when I was still having daily radiation. He explained that because the cancer cells found in my right breast were 95 per cent estrogen and progesterone receptor positive, my body’s natural hormones could attach to the cancer cells and help them grow. Obviously I didn’t want that, so I said yes to the drug without even hesitating.