i have been keeping a secret from you, oh loyal band of merry followers. well, many secrets actually, but now is not the time for all - just for one. a very special one, nonetheless. one that you can be a part of if you really wanted to.
my dirty secret is that i have lost a little of my gumption, my purpose, my what-for, if you will. yup, it’s the truth – this place has literally beat the shira out of me and i have started to wonder “why the f*&k am i here again?”
anyway, these days, in addition to going on a bear-hunt to rediscover my internal kick-ass-tastic warrior, i am working hard to find my inspiration in places other than my work. and one of these places is my sweet caroline.
now normally i try to avoid real-life names on this ‘ol teenage telephone conversation of a blog, um mostly because i like making up fake names and all, but this one is real. her name is caroline, and she is in fact very very sweet.
if you’ve been around for a while then you have heard me talk of the fav family - and sweet caroline would be one of them. they are well-known around these parts for many things: they brought the baby who calls me auntie al into the world, they got married in the most wonderful of ways and they sent an infamous box of love to india.
and well, they also got diagnosed with cancer.
sure, they didn’t collectively get the big ‘c’, but upon finding out that the fav daughter – aka caroline - was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer earlier this year at just 23, they may as well have all been diagnosed. that’s just the way they roll, and i love them for it.
a few weeks ago when i was thinking about my stories, you know, the ones that keep me up at night writing posts in my head -miss caroline came to mind. simply put: her story, and her, have helped inspire me to keep on keeping on despite feeling like i’ve lost my reasons for being.
when i asked her if she’d be interested in making an appearance on the blog, the much obliging caroline enthusiastically agreed to let me share her tale. and oh lordy, i had all these super grand plans to mould her story into a work of literary genius, using techniques like pathetic fallacy and foreshadowing. pulitzer quality stuff you guys, freeking pulitzer.
but in the end after a few tears and some failed attempts, i realized that caroline’s own words moved me more than anything i could ever write. so, here she is:
it all started in late october or early november 2010 when i found a lump in my left breast. i instantly panicked and asked my mom to check it out – she said that while it’s common for young girls to have cystic breasts, i should still get it looked at. so i went off to the doctor that evening.
my doctor assured me that since the lump was ‘shallow’ (i.e. close to the skin), was painful (breast cancer is most often not painful) and that it was close to the centre of my breast (breast cancer is usually under the armpit and deep to the ribcage), that it was not cancer.
regardless, he did a needle biopsy right then and there. he sent the sample away for testing and a week later it came back as a fibroadenoma - which is just like a cyst but fluid filled. to try and reduce the swelling – which was causing all the pain – he put me on a water pill and off i went.
well, a few months later nothing had changed. i was not sleeping and could no longer wear a bra with underwire because the cyst was still so painful. so i went back to my doctor and begged, yes begged, him to remove the cyst. he was really reluctant because of the scarring potential, but on march 23rd of this year i finally had it removed.
on april 4th i was at sickkids hospital doing my work placement with the brain tumor research lab when i got a call from my mom saying i needed to get in touch with the doctor’s office right away. the office receptionist told me that i should come home immediately as the doctor wanted to check my incision. i found this weird because he had already checked it since the surgery – so naturally i ran to catch the next train home…stopping only to grab a mcflurry!
on the way to the doctor’s office my mom and i stayed calm, not speaking about what we thought the real reason for the visit might be. i cant quite remember what happened from the moment we got into the doctor’s office, only that i recall him saying: “well, it’s worse than we thought,” and “a very rare form of breast cancer”.
i cried very hard for what felt like an hour but was only really a few minutes. my mom hugged me and tried to stay calm, i really don’t remember much else about that appointment except for him telling me that i had a bone scan, mammogram, and ultrasound all booked within 2 days and that i should inform my university that i wouldn’t finish the semester.
honestly, the very first thing i thought after receiving the news was if my pregnant sister, who was 8 months along at this point, would be ok when she found out. i was so scared for her and the baby.
after finding out the news, we immediately called the whole family together and told them. everyone cried, asked questions and googled (obviously!) the disease and treatment processes. from this point on, the whirlwind truly began.
within a week i had MRIs, 9 biopsies, meetings with one of the most world famous breast cancer oncologists (due to the rarity of my case and my age), meetings with my new surgeon, and multiple family doctor visits to make sure mentally and emotionally stable.
originally it was thought that the doctors could just go in and do another lumpectomy to get the rest of the cancer – end scene! but as it often goes with cancer, nothing is ever quite as it seems. they decided to do a full mastectomy when the tests showed that the cancer, all 9 cm of it, was multi-focal (i.e many lumps all over the breast).
the big surgery was quickly set for april 27th. a week before the mastectomy my friends threw me an amazing “bye bye boobie party” and i made a mold of my breast with my sister and best friend.
the surgery went well, all things considered, and my whole family was at my side until i came home from the hospital on the afternoon of the 28th. i had home-care nurses for about 5 days to monitor healing, change dressings, and eventually take out the drains that were needed to get rid of all the fluid.
luckily my body healed ahead of schedule and i was up and moving just a few days later. i did many puzzles, took a whole lotta drugs and watched quite a few movies. i finally got a tv in my room because of this, hello bonus!
during the mastectomy they took out a number of lymph nodes from under my arm to test to see if the cancer was spreading through my body. we all waited anxiously for the results, which would help to decide next steps with the treatment.
when the results came back clear a few days later, my mom, sister and i cried our eyes out and danced around to “sweet caroline” in the kitchen. ah-mazing!
so with this important information, i had appointments with my radiation oncologist and my regular oncologist to decide whether or not further treatment was necessary. it was determined that i would need preventative treatment, so nearing the end of the summer had a 28 day cycle (6 weeks) of daily radiation.
my mom drove me each and everyday to the hospital where i had my radiation treatment. to my surprise, the treatment didn’t hurt at all or anything. however, after heading home i was usually exhausted, so i would often sleep for the rest of the morning into early afternoon. when my treatment was over, my parents took me on a celebratory trip to the bahamas – a much-needed vacation!
and that brings us to today – cancer free.
while this whole thing has been difficult and painful, it has also been an empowering adventure. yes, i have been sad, but i did my best to not feel sorry for myself as it would not have accomplished anything. i didn’t cry very often and i didn’t whine very often – i just tried to get up every morning and smile and know that i’m going to be okay and that something good has to come from this.
my new saying is “ikigai” – it means “the reason you wake up in the morning”. i just have to believe after all of this that my reason is to make a difference. i don’t know how, or when, or why right now - but one day i will know and i will take action.
although a life-event of this magnitude can often change people for the better, i can confidently tell you that caroline has just simply always been this pure of heart. and while i have long sat in admiration of her, sweet caroline’s story has reminded me that i must rise each day – the frustrations of kolkata or not - with a bone fide sense of purpose.
i am grateful to her for being so bad-ass and showing me the importance of being positive and proud – despite whatever real or metaphorical pile of shit you have stepped in that day.
so, with her story and general awesomeness in mind, those around caroline have rallied together to express their gratitude and support in the form of the ‘care bears’ - a brilliantly named team participating in the october 2 canadian breast cancer foundation ‘run for the cure’.
well, you may or may not have noticed, but i live in india. thus, i am not able to truly join in with the ‘care bears’.
instead, i am asking you, wonderful followers, to help turn my dirty-little-secret around by supporting one of caroline’s siblings – the fav family – in their fundraising pursuits as the ‘care bears’. if not because you were moved by caroline’s story, but because you have a similar tale of strength you wish to celebrate. and celebrate it, you must.
donate now to a member of the fav family running on caroline’s ‘care bears’ team and support breast cancer research. to donate, choose a campaign page: fav brother, fav sister-in-law, fav sister or fav brother-in-law.
(huge high fives and thanks to those who can offer their support!)
well, i will soon start back at work after 2 weeks off. i can guarantee you that – while i may still be searching for my broader purpose - i will be applying “ikigai” in honor of caroline to rediscover my reasons for living here each day.