2.23.2020

“I Was Diagnosed With Breast Cancer at 24 - Here’s What It Taught Me”




Sarah Maxey

Back in 2014, I was originally diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer. It was shocking. I left my job immediately; going on to do six rounds of chemotherapy, a mastectomy, and a full month of radiation (with my mom! Remember when she was diagnosed with cancer right after me? Sometimes I feel like it wasn’t acknowledged enough because I was the priority).

During this time, I started my blog. Through writing I found a true way to express myself. I found something to work on, giving me purpose. It helped me sort out, record and remember my feelings. Mostly, though, I was able to connect with you guys. 

This February marks my fourth year with Metastatic Breast Cancer and this past November marked FIVE years since being diagnosed with cancer. My life has completely changed, so when I re-read the words I had written below, I smiled and nodded, tearing up at how innocent and unknowing I was about the future. I feel like 5 years later, they still ring true.

I read this now and I feel like I want to hold her hand. To stop anything from popping her bubble of a cancer-free life. That the view from those rose coloured glasses would come true. I yearn to be this naive again, but it hurts to think that way. I don’t know her anymore. So instead I’ll leave it here. 

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 24 - here’s what it taught me”


Originally published on Hello Giggles July 14th, 2015. 


When I was 23, I had a couple of things on my mind. How I was going to stop my face from breaking out? Wasn’t that supposed to stop after I left my teens? Could I somehow swing going out for drinks when I worked at 5 a.m. the next morning. 

What I wasn’t thinking about was the small, hard lump I’d found in my breast late July 2014. I also wasn’t thinking about renewing my health card or going for a checkup at my family doc. I’m young and healthy. Drinking Starbucks a few times a day is healthy… right

By the time October rolled around that small lump had turned into a large, rock hard one and I was getting nervous. I took the leap and made a doctors appointment. My family doctor assured me: At your age, it’s likely just a cyst! Luckily, she was cautious enough to book me in for an ultrasound. When the imaging came back, I was rushed in for a biopsy (ouch). When they called me to tell me they would like me to come in on November 18, 2014 to discuss my results, I was too shy to say… November 18?! That’s my 24th birthday!

I had pancakes for birthday breakfast and told my boss at work that I was having some testing done but it was likely nothing to worry about. I remember thinking: OK, even if they did find something, I’ll take a few weeks off work, have it removed, be back for the Christmas rush. No biggie!

My mom, boyfriend and I went to the hospital where my surgeon told me the big news: Sam, it came back as a cancer. The rest of the appointment was a bit of a blur, but I remember hearing some scattered terms: chemo, losing my hair before Christmas, leaving my job immediately, surgery and radiation. I was given a letter stating that it would take a full year to beat this thing… so my battle with stage 3 breast cancer would begin on my 24th birthday and end on my 25th

I’ll spare you all of the details. Chemo sucks. It isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be in Stepmom (for me: very little puking, tremendous weight gain). Surgery, in my case, was a single mastectomy (no, they don’t let you keep your nipple). Radiation is exhausting and the open wounds and burns aren’t easy to deal with.

No one can prepare you for the fear and loneliness that accompanies a cancer diagnosis. Your friends and family won’t understand what you’re going through but they’re going to try really, really hard. You’ll start to see everyone around you get purple circles around their eyes and you realize that you aren’t the only one fighting this battle. Everyone will be strong in front of you but when the door is closed, everyone starts to fall apart.

I’m lucky. My cancer was caught at stage 3: it had spread from my breast to my lymph nodes but it had not gone any further then that. Had I waited any longer, my diagnosis could have been much, much different. My genes were tested and my results came back negative.

I finished my radiation a week ago, and I’ve had some time to reflect. Here is what facing breast cancer at 24 has taught me.



People are really good

It’s very easy to believe that our world is full of gun-slinging, blood-thirsty villains. But when you get cancer, your small town will rally for you. I wasn’t in a good place when I was diagnosed: I didn’t have health benefits and I definitely didn’t have any money. There were bottle drives, fundraisers, charity hockey tournaments in my name and even a full page in our local newspaper. Family, friends, friends of friends, strangers, colleagues, schoolmates: everyone started sending me their well wishes. People want to help in a time of need. People are good.



Hopes and dreams are nothing without your health

I love to work. For a while, it was kind of my thing. I worked a lot: 50, sometimes 60 hours a week for the last few years. I chalked it up to good experience, getting ahead. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I realized that I was very sick. And no, I don’t mean with cancer. My mental health had suffered, my skin was breaking out, my weight was on the rise and I was tired, unable to think straight. I had not taken any time for myself in years and it all caught up to me at once. Don’t wait for something like cancer to make you take a time out. Without your health, you can’t achieve your hopes and dreams.



Physical appearances just don’t matter that much

I am a girly girl. I love nail polish and shiny things. When I went in for my surgery, they changed me into a blue robe. I wasn’t allowed any makeup, nail polish, jewelry, or even a hat. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw me for the first time: bald, pale, and not looking very Sam-esque. But… I still felt the same on the inside. I still knew I was in there, the same old me. My outer appearance was shockingly different but I knew that it didn’t matter. And you know what? My new appearance made me more relatable. People are talking to me because they are interested in what I have to say, what I think. Since I decided to focus less on the outside and more on the inside, I have made more fulfilling relationships, I have been able to focus on what makes me feel full and happy at the end of the day. Plus, I’ve saved a ton of money on hair product while I’m at it. Hobbies are fun.



Make time to do what you love

If you don’t know what you love (which is where I found myself on a cold afternoon when a reporter asked me, so what do you like to do in your spare time?) then just try everything. This winter I read a pile of books, I coloured in colouring books, I started weaving, I learned to knit, I learned to cook, I scrapbooked and art journal-ed… the list goes on. It took cancer (and a year off) for me to explore hobbies, but the creative freedom, expression and sense of accomplishment you feel when you complete something as small as a colouring book page is incredible. Make time for yourself, whether it’s a bubble bath, a book club or 5 minutes to meditate in the elevator.



Have faith in something

I don’t care what you believe in, but you have to believe in something. One night, when I was going to bed, I was crying so hard I couldn’t stop. I kept asking “Why me?” Suddenly, I abruptly stopped crying and in my head there was a voice that told me “Because you are strong enough to deal with this.”

I have repeated this to myself ever since. I don’t know who, what or why this happened but I have had faith ever since. Little, strange interventions like this happened throughout my treatments. I always did my best to approach my situation with a positive attitude. I went in to my chemo appointments with all my lucky charms: prayer beads, lucky bracelets, healing stones and the socks that I wore when I got the job I love. I’m not an overly religious person, but my best advice to you is this: You have a choice every single morning when you wake up. Stay positive. Surround yourself with only the things that will lift you up.
Like yours, my story is longer and more complicated then I can fit into an article. But here’s what I want to leave you with: Cancer can happen to you. It happened to me. I’m just a girl. Cancer can happen at any age, on any day, in any situation. You are not exempt from cancer, or for any other potentially scary thing in the world. But this isn’t something to fear. It’s something that can motivate you. Be proactive, and appreciate what you have, whatever stage you’re in.


Samantha Price is a 24 year old business graduate who works in visual merchandising. Outside of her work, she has a handsome boyfriend and two sweet kitties (Oatmeal & Pancakes). She spends her quiet time reading (blogs, books, magazines, cereal boxes), pinning, scrapbooking, and watching Netflix. 


To leave on a high note, here’s what we’ve been up to this week:




 I’m off to enjoy some beautiful February weather (we don’t usually get 5 degree weather in our Canadian winter!)

xo

Sam

1.01.2020

2019: The Times They Are a-Changin



2020



2019 was a strange year. If my screen time did a year in review, I almost certainly would have spent a large chunk of it on my phone. Now - I don’t hate that. I read and listen to audiobooks on my iPad, message friends all day when I’m alone and the only person that hears my voice is Mavvy. I call my parents and my sister nearly every day. I’ve gathered a ton of inspiration and jotted down notes of things I want to complete but didn’t start. This year I want to start.

Before I tell you all about my hopeful plans for 2020, I thought I would do a 2019 recap. I can barely remember what I did in the last week anymore, so this year has been a blur. Recapping a decade?! Trust me, I was going to try but I don’t need that kind of anxiety in my life!

After saying to friends “All I know is that in 2019 I did nothing” (ha), I was reminded that the year wasn’t bad at all.  

                                      
2020 Mood  

Life

I went on a trip in February, saw more then a few shows, celebrated weddings and in August, I started brainstorming my ideas for what was going to be my new fundraiser; Turning the Page on Cancer. 

It was my purpose to get out of bed. I woke up to an alarm, eager to get started. It ended up being overwhelming, sometimes stressful, so much fun and reminded me why in my life, I have always kept busy. Although this time, I still watched Netflix and spent time with Jeff. No workaholic tendencies here. Balance. A huge achievement for me. 

Looking back, I remember after the fundraiser I didn’t feel the gratification. I felt my donation to the Canadian Cancer Society was BIG to me, but would be a small amount to them. On reflection, I realized that while I desperately wanted to work towards a cure for Metastatic Breast Cancer, I started feeling that what I was doing wasn’t going to make a difference. You know the - “one man can’t change the world” quote? This fundraiser was more then that though. It was seeing all of my friends, family and acquaintances (even strangers!) from every corner of my life come together. From book donations (my place became a sea of book boxes!), to great events with everyone generously donating their time to volunteer and join my team, raising funds for a cause that means so much to me, and in turn, means so much to them. We raised over $20 000 dollars after I set my original goal for $5000. This is something to be proud of and not only will it help make a difference, we spoke to so many and educated them on Stage IV. Next year I hope to make it bigger and better, start earlier. For now though, I’m still coasting and taking a break.


                       

                             
2020 - I’d like to stop doing this

Cancer

I started the year on a new Zymeworks trial. I ended up failing the drug in but I was grateful that it granted me more time. I spent a lot of this time overly anxious as communication on a trial (so I thought) was sparse and I regularly felt I was a number, not a person. 


In March I started Tykerb and Xeloda, both take home chemo drugs that come in pill form. They treated me terribly in the beginning, until I found the right dose. I travelled with a barf bag everywhere I went and if we weren’t close enough to a bathroom - I wasn’t going! I stayed on these drugs until November. By the end the sight of them made me nauseous. Even though I had figured out the right dose, the side effects less severe over time, I felt like my life revolved around taking pills 3 times a day. I was getting sick most mornings and I was so tired (although now I wonder, was I tired or was it anxiety and a hint of depression?). I would sleep in late and take the doses at different times each day. I lost my sense of taste and smell so food wasn’t interesting to me, nor a priority. I would take the drugs on an empty stomach, trying to cram them all into my increasingly shorter days. The day I learned I had failed this drug, I was devastated (this was my fault. I begged to try again. This time I wouldn’t take my life for granted). In all honesty though, I felt a sense of relief. I didn’t know what options I had anymore, but I knew I couldn’t continue on this drug. 


In May I fell and from that learned that a lesion in my brain was acting up. I went on steroids to try and shrink the necrosis (dead cells that have been zapped from radiation, taking up space. Equally as dangerous as an actual tumour) and when it didn’t, I had my second craniotomy in June. Brain surgery - and I was awake the whole time! No anesthesia. I will tell you, it wasn’t scary at all and since I wasn’t lucid what was a 6 hour surgery felt like minutes! I was out of the hospital within a day. Isn’t that crazy? 

In December I started SYD985, another trial. It came at a time when I was sure I was out of options and (so far) it has been kind to me. I will take the weekly appointments across the city any day. It’s showing promise in other patients which leaves me excited. I had my second round on December 23rd and I said to my Mom earlier that day - I need caffeine pills, this holiday is leaving me EXHAUSTED. Turns out, there was a reason for that. My blood (hemoglobin for cancer nerds) had dropped to 79, and I needed a blood transfusion. They couldn’t fit me in before Christmas and I mistakenly sipped a drink (which my Onc said not to.. Him: “Do cocaine instead!” Me: “I already do enough drugs”) and fell asleep before dinner.

I got it the transfusion on Friday and feel more energetic. I have a couple mouth sores making it hard to eat and sensitive gums! My eyes are dry and a bit bloodshot (which gets worse) so I’m skipping eye makeup for the most part. We’ll see if I feel like ruining the first bit of 2020 risking it for tonight!! 

Books

This year, I read 35 books. It was the year I started becoming really into audio books. I re-read Agatha Christie’s classic “And Then There Were None”, incredible fiction like “Normal People” and “The Tattooist of Aushwitz”, and some thrillers like “The Silent Patient” and “My Lovely Wife”. For me, though, it was a year for non fiction; eye opening pieces like “Radium Girls” and “Five Days at Memorial” to Jonathan and Tan’s books (from Queer Eye!). 

That being said, my favorites that I read this year were...



Becoming - Michelle Obama

Daisy Jones and The Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid 

Dear Girls - Ali Wong

Know My Name - Chanel Miller 

I listened to Becoming and Dear Girls, they were read by Michelle and Ali themselves. It gives the book so much personality and context this way. 

I also listened to Daisy Jones. Narrated by all the different characters made it unique, however friends that have read it give no less then 5 stars either. 

Lastly, Know My Name is written by Chanel Miller, the girl found in the center of the Brock Miller case. This is a book that needs to be read so you can highlight quotes and re-read sections over and over. 

Music

This wasn’t a great year for music. Just being honest. I discovered a love for 70’s music and listened to a lot of old favorites. This was what I was most excited about released in 2019:



In case any of you were wondering where Jeff’s list was, he said overall in 2019 their weren’t any albums he loved but I suspect it has more to do with prioritizing laying on the couch watching Netflix :).

This is where it gets tricky. Yesterday I chose to make a best of the decade playlist (*clown emoji*). I then thought I should have a pop based playlist and an alt/indie playlist. In the end I mashed it all together and in fear of getting judged, I made it private and chose not to post. Here we are, though, and I’m unashamed to tell you my decade was ruled by Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga (Fame Monster). Yes I know it was released in November 2009 but it defined and ruled 2010, so it’s included. I know I am the only person who still likes Maroon 5 as well. This is my blog and my playlist though!!

I also made the hard decision of Best Song of the Decade and Best Album. In my opinion. OPINION. Okay?!

BEST SONG

“God is a Woman” - Ariana Grande. This song embodies what this decade was all about - the emergence of GIRL POWER. It’s an anthem. It slays when it comes to aesthetic. I will never get sick of it. Also, can we remember this performance please?


BEST ALBUM

Golden Hour - Kacey Musgraves

Her humble upbringing infused in all her music makes Kacey relatable. She’s hilarious, my personal style icon, throws around swear words and won’t be defined musically (originally Golden Hour wouldn’t be played under Pop or Country). Seeing her live, in an arena or small venue, is always intimate, her band is just as great as her and her personality oozes. I heard Follow Your Arrow for the first time when something clicked. Golden Hour is a traditional more “grown-up” version of the same message. One we need to bring into 2020. Accept everyone as they are. Give love. Be open with your feelings.




Oh, what a world, I don’t want to leave, there’s all kinds of magic, it’s hard to believe 


Ivy and Channel Orange (Frank Ocean) Body Talk (Robyn), Bahamas (Earthtones), Red (Taylor Swift), Anti (Rihanna), Born To Die (Lana Del Ray) and the 20/20 Experience (Justin Timberlake) were all contenders too!


Goodbye to the 10’s

I made a few personal resolutions I’m going to try and stick to:



1 - Set a bed time. Not a get in bed time and go on my phone and listen to my book. A time to actually sleep. I’m always up until the crack of dawn because I have “nothing to do tomorrow”.

2 - Get up earlier. Right now I don’t set an alarm. I usually sleep late into the day after going to bed late. I used to use the excuse that I was a night owl. I would be in my nightie when Jeff would come home from work and I want us to spend more quality time together. I want my days to be filled purposefully



3 - Get (some sort) of exercise. I am used to and accepting of the fact that I have a wardrobe for being a M, L, and XL. This isn’t about weight. It’s when I go to bed I still have energy. My legs get restless. I want to wake up and do some form of (safe, modified) exercise (auto corrected to excruciating, how appropriate). I’m hoping this will also encourage me to eat breakfast... something I don’t get up in time for *facepalm*.

4 - Change all the art of my walls. I need something new to look at. I have a big gallery wall, but since we aren’t able to paint, this feels like the biggest way to make a big impact.


I can’t bring myself to do a timeline of my decade. It was challenging. Even before cancer when I had normal problems.  While I’m “happy and sad at the same time” (get that Kacey reference?!), I haven’t come to terms with my diagnosis yet. I find it cyclical: learning- acceptance - relearning. I hope I see all 2020 has in store for me and find some peace.





Happy New Year xx


PS - A profile picture is supposed to go into the pink square on the right. I wrote a new about me but haven’t included links yet. I have one episode of You left and our Chinese Food is getting cold so... FUTURE SAM PROBLEM! 



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