Mar 2023

Michelle's story

Calgary, AB
Breast cancer

My husband was away in Austria on a ski trip when I found out I had breast cancer. Leading up to the diagnosis, doctors had repeatedly told us not to worry. I had gone for a biopsy and a mammogram, but the doctors had assured us that I was too young to have cancer, and that it was sure to be nothing. 

I’d been having frequent, recurring mastitis following the birth of my second child. There was a lump in my breast, and doctor after doctor told me not to be concerned. But they were wrong. I ended up needing chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, and radiation. While I was dealing with that first cancer, I started to suspect that I had this other rare breast cancer called Paget’s disease – but I couldn’t get an oncologist to take me seriously. They told me it’s the rarest type and that young women never get it. But my symptoms continued to worsen until I finally demanded a biopsy. I knew there was something wrong. Soon after, I was diagnosed with a second breast cancer. A single mastectomy and more treatment followed.

“The doctors had assured us that I was too young to have cancer, and that it was sure to be nothing.”

I was 36 when I was diagnosed, and my kids were one and three. They really needed me. I was growing in my journalism career, and in the first years of my marriage. Nobody really understood what I was going through, although I had amazing support from family and friends and neighbours. What I really needed was someone my age who could relate. I’m a community-builder, so I took matters into my own hands and started a breast cancer support group for young women in Alberta. We now have over 200 members – the group has grown and grown and grown. 

Today, I’m finished my treatment but cancer is still a pretty big part of my life. When my hair grew back and I returned to work, everyone was like, ‘Oh, she’s back to normal.’ Actually, not at all. Survivorship is really tough. Cancer takes a lot from you – it took my hair, my breast, and a lot of my confidence. I’m trying to figure out who I am now, post-cancer – because I’m not the same person that I was before. I’m working through some pretty bad PTSD, dealing with a lot of cancer-related fatigue, and trying to reconcile with a body that betrayed me.”