- About Us
- Cancer Survivors
When I opened up the mail from Fertile Future recently and read that I was a nominee for Jennifer Berrigan’s Memorial Fund I was so touched and very honored to even be nominated amongst what I am sure are other women whom have been through so many varying levels of struggles. Jenn’s story touched me very deeply and once again I was reminded about how unfair cancer is. Unfair, not only because it shortens men, women and children’s lives too often, but unfair also because of the impact it leaves as a footprint physically and emotionally if we survive it. My story isn’t just my story; I hope to share with you the story of all three women in my family who fought a too often unbeatable disease that out of us three, only I am able to tell the tale of having endured through.
Reading about how giving and loving Jenn was reminds me of my mother and grandmother, whom embodied the same qualities and whom were ripped away from us by breast cancer. The pain cancer caused our family started with my grandmother (my mothers mom) being diagnosed with breast cancer. Although they removed her breast, the cancer still metastasized. She passed away when I was only one year old. My grandmother, whom we called ‘maman Amanai’, was only in my life for a very brief amount of time, but her spirit of genuine love and kindness was so strong that when I heard stories about her it felt as if I had known her a lifetime. Too often it got repeated to me that even while being very ill, my grandmother remained strong, getting up early every day to aid my mom and my aunt with my cousin and I by preparing bottles and meals for us and looking after us, no matter how difficult it was getting for her. Until the end she was portraying love and kindness to everyone in her life. When I was 9 years old, cancer struck our family again, and this time it couldn’t have come at a worst time. We had just immigrated to Canada and my mother, whom had been ill for a while, was given the news that she had stage 4 bone marrow cancer. My mother didn’t let the news slow her down and thought about the greater good of her loved ones and her community. She continued to volunteer, working with immigrant families as a Farsi interpreter, aiding them in their transition to a new country. Despite being a new immigrant herself and her illness, which was advancing daily, she felt a greater need to give back to others and continue following her greatest passion, teaching. We never found out if her cancer had started in her breasts but it is highly possible as my grandmother’s cancer had spread to her bones also. I heard the stories of my grandmother’s struggles with cancer, chemo and surgery. I watched my mother lose her health and the battle to cancer, and the treatments had come too late. My last words to my mother were that I love her. It brings me immense joy, knowing we parted with those words said one last time and it furthered my drive and ambition to win the fight against cancer, not just for myself but my mother and my grandmother.
Due to my family history, I was always very cautious about my health and made sure to check my breasts regularly from an early age. I found my lump during the Holidays of 2013. Prior to that I had in the past discovered a few lumps that were not concerning, so I didn’t think of this as out of the ordinary and didn’t assume it might be more serious. Shortly after finding the lump in my right breast I was distracted with some exciting news when my boyfriend, proposed to me on boxing-day. I put off checking the lump till late January 2014. I will never forget the day I went in for a mammogram. As I was in the waiting area an elderly woman in her near 90’s was there also waiting for her mammogram. She turned to me and said “gosh those machines sure hurt aye! Good thing I only have one!” I enquired about what she meant and she explained that she had lost one breast in her 30’s but she has now been healthy since and has gone for regular check-ups. In that moment my anxiety immediately reduced, and I took that as a sign from my guardian angels my mother and grandmother that, I too was going to be okay, no matter what happened next or what the results showed.
During the time I was diagnosed, despite it being an exciting time for me due to my recent engagement, I was also experiencing a lot of other stress both from my personal and work life. I think that if I could say that this experience has taught me one big lesson, it is that I need to balance my personal and professional life with equal self-care time for myself. This is a must for me because, I too just like my mother and grandmother, am a woman that wears her heart on her sleeves, and when I have people in my life that need me, I give them my all. My fiancée and I are both very close to our families and provide our time and financial support to our parents, who both raised us as single parents. My fiancé has a seven year old nephew Mateo, whose parents are unable to take care of him, therefore Mateo currently lives with my fiancé’s mother. My fiancé and I had moved to White Rock in order to aid and support Mateo and his grandmother. As our role grew in Mateo’s life, he now spends the majority of his weekends and many weekdays with us. We have taken the role of part time parents and are in discussion of giving Mateo a more structured, predictable family system by adopting him in the near future. So I guess you can say I have chosen a partner, that similar to me enjoys giving back to others, being there when needed and is deeply caring. As for my profession it is very demanding, with times that become high stress, but at the same time it is a very rewarding field of work where I get to give back to society. My heart has always been attracted to helping individuals with disabilities.
Using my work experience background, going into cancer treatments I went in with the same advocating mind-set for myself in that I wanted my treatment and care to be person centered and not just one size fits all. I feel fortunate from the outcome and my wish thankfully came true. The first opinion I got from the Cancer Agency on the “stage of my cancer” was, that they wanted me to go straight into Chemo right after surgery, right away after removing one or both breasts (which was already a big choice to make) and so without giving me a scan, they told me I did not have time for fertility treatments. This news stabbed me in my heart way deeper than the ‘cancer diagnosis ’; cancer had hope in it and the news of ‘infertility’ without hope was a dead end that I was not ready to accept that. My fiancé and I had waited for the “right time” to have children and have always dreamed of the day when we can start a family. The cancer agency did give a pamphlet for Fertile Futures and the Genesis Fertility Clinic that day, but again, they reminded me that it looked like I had no time to look into these options.
I went for a second opinion a couple days after to see a very experienced private retired Oncologist whom has come out of retirement to consult patients on a one to one bases; working out of his own clinic. He recommended I have a scan before we decide if I have time or not for fertility treatments. He treated me as an individual. After the scan results I decided to have a double mastectomy, which was also very heart breaking because I had always wanted to breast feed. But the hope I was given encouraged me through it. Even though I would never get to breast feed my children, I was given the opportunity to have children when this doctor gave me the “go ahead’ and worked with the fertility clinic to treat me according to my needs. This doctor’s efforts and the efforts of the wonderful team at Genesis clinic have brought us here where we are now. Where I am done with treatments, although I am currently not menstruating, it may still be a possibility I have been told. Regardless, my fiancé and I have 7 tiny Embryos stored for the near future when I have completed my medication. This would not have been possible without the opportunities provided by Fertile Futures, Genesis Fertility clinic and Doctor Klimo. I often tear up and become emotionally overcome when I think of the blessings I had through my journey. I wish this for everyone else who has to face these difficult times. I saw firsthand what non-person centered care did to my mother, and possibly my grandmother’s case. I understand sometimes even with the best efforts cancer will take cherished lives but I still believe that it is key to ensure that the care people are given is as individualized as possible. One might need more spiritual support and another more emotional and another more medical. I hope and wish that the way of the future for cancer care is that people are treated holistically and individually.
It is now a passion and purpose of mine to give back by helping women and children that are going through these difficult times. I want to help in any way I can to keep their spirits and will up to never ever give up. To never ever accept “NO” for an answer. I have been working closely with Genesis Fertility clinic in volunteering to speak to some women that are going through this by attending their awareness fundraiser. Also at the end of this month my fiancé and I will be shooting a video for the clinic sharing our story and hoping to share the hope that exists. In the near future I am also planning to link up with Canuck Place and work with children facing treatments. In the beginning of our fertility treatments our story was also featured in the local paper for “national infertility month awareness” and we were more than happy to participate. As my journey is nearing the end, I truly believe that my mother and grandmother paved the way for me to succeed through their sacrifices. After my treatments ended I got my first tattoo, a small crown on my forearm. It represents a famous quote by my favourite writer/poet Maya Angelou. She said “your crown has already been paid for, all you have to do is wear it.” I am forever thankful to my mother and grandmother for buying me such a beautiful crown, I hope to wear it proudly and I plan on building a beautiful crown to pass on to the future generation.