Joanne, Canada

All stories

13-centimeter tumor

30% chance of surviving five years

Stage IIIb breast cancer

I had every confidence in my health care team but knew the responsibility for getting well rested was on my shoulders. I had to pick up the shattered pieces and create a different mosaic, a different way of being. And I had to re-evaluate and reconsider those well-honed, left-brain tendencies that had served me so well for the first forty-nine years, seven months and seven days of my life.

I stayed on that linear path for several weeks. Between appointments, I cleaned and organized closets and cupboards, bought new patio furniture and comfortable clothes, and arranged for weekly cleaning and rides to the Cancer Centre. I programmed myself for success and expected to sail through cancer. I bragged about organizing my cancer, ignoring the raised eyebrows and tight smiles of my friends and colleagues.

And then cancer responded or, more accurately, reacted to my left-brain control tactics.

I lost my hair.

I lost my appetite.

I couldn’t keep food down.

I couldn’t sleep.

Nothing was working. I had to regroup and figure out a new way to navigate the twists and turns of the uncertain road that lay ahead.

Affirmations. Visualization. Yoga. Meditation. New Age practices. I even called up a miracle worker in the province of Quebec and asked her to include me in her prayers. No strategy was too far out there. I was open and willing to try anything and everything.

Most important of all, I stopped telling everyone I was fine and started asking for and accepting help.

The response was overwhelming...

Five angels - Karen, Judy, Magda, Fil, and Carla - stepped forward and offered to visit, arrange outings, accept phone calls 24/7, accompany me to appointments, and listen to my rants.

My brothers, friends and colleagues visited often, entertaining and distracting me with their lively conversations.

My mother (who lived three hundred miles away) and her friends attended mass regularly and offered many prayers for my recovery. Relatives and friends in Italy made pilgrimages to Lourdes and the shrine of Padre Pio and prayed on my behalf.

The staff at St. James Catholic High School gathered to pray for me several times during my cancer journey. Many of them also included me in their own morning and evening prayers.

School and board administrators with Wellington Catholic sent notes and flowers, calling often to offer support and encouragement. When I returned to teach for the three remaining years of my career, I was welcomed and accommodated.

Volunteer drivers with the Wheels of Hope program organized by the Canadian Cancer Society drove me to and from the Juravinski Cancer Centre. I was especially grateful during the cold, blustery winter months.

February 2016 - I am cancer free and living a happy, healthy life.