That is enough of that

This past weekend involved my travelling to Toronto to meet, share and learn with a group of ladies who had in the past been diagnosed with cancer (A bitter sweet experience. On one hand, it’s amazing to get together with women and chat-chat-chat ourselves silly about fertility, chemo, treatment and diagnosis . . . on the other hand, stepping back from the tea and biscuits, it’s also a little bit sad so many wonderful people had to have gotten sick.). The idea here (and in this case, it’s specifically a breast cancer charity, though similar sorts of support are offered through many cancer centers, such as Wellspring.) is that those newly diagnosed can reach out for information or a quietly listening ear from those who have ‘walked that walk’ before.

Really, it’s all about the sharing. There are times when we desperately need to share, to reach out, to connect. Personally, I had a negative first experience in terms of finding support. I’ve told this little story before, and now I’ll tell it again: when I asked the breast cancer nurse (moments after being told about the cancer) if there were any breast cancer support groups in the area, she basically said:

“Not for a women your age, at your stage of treatment.”

Gag. Really? Really? Then she went on to tell me that I was in an exceptional position, and the last time a woman around my age was diagnosed was maybe two years ago. I guess considering the surgeon performs several mastectomies and bilaterals a week . . . this ‘one every few years’ thing was small peanuts.

But I digress.

Support is a great thing. Before finding Facing Cancer Together (my first and still very important experience of peer support within Canada), I guess there was the blogging. To share, even with just my family and the people they referred Bumpyboobs to, was alleviating.

It wasn’t because people could write back with all the answers, and it wasn’t because writing would carry away my problems . . . it was because . . . . . . because I could share.

Release that ball of pressure. Let others know how I felt without having to make things ‘nice’.  (Or at least, not too nice. My grandmother was reading that blog, so I’d be lying if I said there was no censorship . . . but it was, on the whole, a very honest medium.)

So there I was last weekend ready to volunteer my time and energy to a program I think is essential (i.e. Peer Support for Young Women with Breast Cancer).

And here we go – into training! Friday starts with some emotional ‘what inspires me’ stuff, then Saturday rolls into picking apart pity versus compassion, and all the while we eat-eat-eat (sushi & Thai food for lunch . . . ahhh, so good. I made some Thai last night just to recreate the experience.) and as we eat, we chat-chat-chat.

“Fertility. Babies. Children. Drugs. Surgeries. Options. Chemo. Radiation. Depression. Exercise. Side Effects. Projects. Reconstruction. Discovery. Advocacy. Research. Doctors. Diagnosis. Family. Energy. Nausea. Work. Sick Leave. Hair growth. Marathons. And so on!”

I really should have known better. Saturday night following the training, I ought to have curled up in the hotel room with room-service pizza and ordered some stupid movie for distraction. But instead, since this was a great opportunity to meet people (and it was, which is why I couldn’t say no), I went out for dinner with the ladies. We ate this gorgeous pizza, and we talked-talked-talked.

“Babies. Children. Drug Plans. Lymph nodes. Prognosis. Treatment. Studies. Genetics. Birth Control. Fertility drugs. Family planning. Tamoxifen. Herceptin.”

Listening-listening-listening. I felt my head get heavy and the room tilt sideways.

What the heck was happening?

This is what happening: I suddenly had had enough. Exhaustion replaced interest, and I basically fell asleep in my pizza before interrupting the conversation and asking to be taken home. The following Sunday involved a lot of role-playing (very useful but also intense) and I think everyone had had enough of ‘cancer’ by the time the weekend was over.

Which is why I think, really, sometimes it’s better to focus on the “Everything else we go through” as opposed to the cancer. Yes, sharing is incredible. Meeting like-experienced others is confirming in the ‘you are not alone’ sense. This is all so very good, so very supportive, so very helpful.

But it’s also a wonderful thing to breath and be quiet. To remember that the sun is shining. To lose yourself in a book. To run that mile alone. To just let yourself be everything and anything except a person who has had (or has) cancer.

Stepping away is a wonderful thing.  So for me, this week, I’ve tried my best to step away. This post speaks otherwise . . . but along with writing this post, I’ve been working on Narrative Nipple, looking at places to move, applying for jobs, and arranging a reading group. Not bad, eh? :)

So, here’s to stepping away and letting it go. Those are the best moments, after all. The moments where you’re nothing but yourself, and the pressure is forgotten. Just let it go. Once in a while . . . just let it go.

Choo-Choo! Chuga-Chuga.

Sitting on the train: rocking and rolling toward Toronto for a weekend of peer support training with the classy organization, Rethink.  Frankly, I find train prices in Canada to be drastically more expensive than the European (or US) system . . . but hey – at least there’s internet. Though I’d rather save half the price of a ticket and not be able to check my email.

Zsolt is at a bus station as I type this waiting for the Greyhound. He’s coming down to Toronto to meet me later in the day. (Why aren’t we travelling together? Well, my trip was arranged by Rethink,  and Zsolt’s was arranged by Zsolt . . . bookings did not coincide. Plus, when paying out of pocket, the bus is way, way less expensive.) The poor guy was dropped off this morning at about 7.15am for a 9.30am ride to Toronto. Goodness knows what he’s been doing these past two hours.  But I imagine it involves the playbook, and a whole lot of Fruit Ninja.

This weekend we’ll be on hiatus from Ottawa. While Zsolt visits the Royal Canadian Museum (or something like that) to learn about the Mayans and their pyramids . . . I’ll be hanging out with other young breast cancer ass-kickers, being trained on how to give support to those newly diagnosed. Rethink is this entirely cool, flashy, worthwhile organization that supports young women diagnosed with BC. They are the folks who put out  the ‘Your Man Reminder’ app/you tube video. You can get a sense of their philosophy by watching that piece of work. (However, I cannot include a link because apparently VIA rail discourages streaming, and won’t let me access youtube to find the video. But seriously, it’s easy. Just search ‘Your Man Reminder Video’ in the search engine.)

Sitting on the VIA train reminds me of high school. Maybe it ought to remind me of Europe since Zsolt and I rode the train all over, but no – high school. Back in the days of awkwardness and poor fashion choices, I was a debater. Our club would take the train to tournaments held at U of T, Queens, Waterloo, McGill . . . and let me tell you, if you’re looking for great company, look for a pack of debaters. Generally you’ll find people who are full-on convinced of their opinion and perfectly capable of discussing it to death (followed by going out to a bar , having pillow fights, or riding around in the back of taxi’s with their legs sticking out). Frankly, I don’t even know how I managed to keep up . . . but it didn’t hurt to be one of the only girls. It never does. J

All that to say I’m on a train. Zsolt is still waiting at the bus depot. And there’s no snow on the ground in Toronto.

Let the weekend of adventure (and 9-3.30 training) begin!  

Rethink being alone

I’m writing to you from the Royal York in Toronto, seventh floor and on a queen sized bed, sitting on top of the white duvet (as I sip on my dark tea and hope not to spill). This is all thanks to FacingCancer.ca and the Mirror Ball (Twitter Ball it here) that’s happening this weekend – tonight, actually, and I’m really excited to attend this fantastic gala and report back with all the details. But since I had a covered trip to Toronto, I decided to couple this fantastic event with another, and that’s Rethink’s Breast Quest Film Festival.  This past mornng and last night (I was up way past bedtime) I’ve been attending Rethink events,  and let me say this: it was refreshing.

So, last night I attended a screening of a film that features ladies from the SCAR project, a powerful photography exhibit that shows young women and their scars after having had mastectomy, bilateral, reconstruction, etc. This film goes behind the photographs and actually taps into the story of several of those women. It’s freaking touching. There were four of us sitting there in the theater (plus Zsolt) who had had breast cancer, and we were all tearing up as again and again issues were discussed that had impacted us all.

And after the film, there was schmoozing. Zsolt put on his new ‘brave guy who networks’ hat and dragged me over to meet the photographer and a couple from the film, all of whom were attending the festival. That was quite something to hear their visions and listen to where they think the SCAR project might go next. (Maybe Ottawa? Though when I asked the photographer, “so will you bring the exhibit to Canada?” he turned it on me and said, “The question is, will you bring the exhibit to Canada?” Oh my goodness. I have never even considered the possibility. But this is an extremely powerful show . . . it might actually be an amazing experience to organize its debut in Ottawa. But anyhow, that’s an aside.)

Oh, this tea is really strong. I made it in the coffee machine, and it tastes like English Breakfast with heavy traces of coffee.

So there was the networking part of the evening, which was cool. But you know what was even better? The meeting of women. All these women, in one place, and all having been diagnosed with breast cancer. This early afternoon I attended a Lunchen (which involved an amazing quinoe & kale salad) and met girls like Joanne, and Ashley and Rebecca, and Terri and Katie, and Cat and this other woman who was really cool and chill, but had a name I cannot remember. All these women have been where I’ve been – we’ve all been the youngest in the treatment room, and we’ve all been sideswiped so unexpectedly while trying to forge a life – normally I can’t connect with these people unless I’m online. It was so, so, so nice – so very nice to meet them in person and share a laugh and a cry.

Next year Rethink will have another Breast Quest Film Festival – and will I attend? Absolutly. How could I not? This young and fresh not-for-profit has such a innovative and targeted approach (true it isn’t for everyone, particularly those who dislike the use of ‘boobie’ with ‘breast cancer’), I can’t help but feel excited every time I hear about their organization. And after this weekend, I’m 100% sold on the power of coming together  to live, laugh and learn.

SO that was today and yesterday. Whether or not I actually post this depends on internet access and whether I can motivate myself down over to Starbucks where the wifi is free, but the green tea isn’t. Last night Zsolt and I stayed in a hostel and had free wifi. Tonight we’re in the Royal York and it costs about 15 bucks a night. WTF.

However, this duvet is incredibly cosy, and I love the wall paper. Really, it is luxurious and gets me quite excited for tonight’s gala. But come people, 21st century. FREE WIFI, already!

PS. Everyone in Toronto seems to be around my age – at least in this Starbucks. . . yes, I’ve now gotten out of the hotel room and am having a green tea at Starbucks. Funny how time flies when you’re reading a blog post, you probably didn’t even notice that I got up, got dressed (more dressed) and walked outside and into the coffeeshop. But I did, all while writing this post.