By Alison Kidd, originally published by Look Good Feel Better
How a Young Mom is Handling Cancer After Giving Birth
After giving birth to my second child I found out that I had a malignant 5 cm tumor in my breast that would likely require a mastectomy. I went through all sorts of emotions while experiencing the hormonal rollercoaster ride I was already on from giving birth. I found it all unfathomable.
I quickly learned that I had stage 3 invasive mammary carcinoma. That was when I received my prognosis and was told by my oncologist that my disease is curable. Hearing that news was music to my ears. That is when I shed my last tear and told myself from that point on, all I could do was stay positive and fight for my life.
While it was a relief to hear, I knew that there was a long road ahead of me. For 16 weeks I would undergo dose-dense chemotherapy, followed by a bi-lateral mastectomy and then radiation. A day before my second round of chemotherapy my hair started to fall out. I was a lot less devastated than I thought I would be and decided to hold off from cutting it for as long as I could. About 3 days later, I found a strand wrapped around my newborns finger and decided that it was time.
My hair is naturally long and brunette so I decided to have a little fun with it and go short and blonde.
My partner buzzed it for me and the first thing that I said when I looked at myself in the mirror was, “I still feel beautiful.” I think it was more devastating for my partner than myself as I had prepared for the day. Now I wear a wig that is attached to a baseball cap and I can just pop it on and go.
There are many effects of cancer treatment that are uncontrollable so I think it is important to be in control of what you can. I do believe that looking good makes you feel a million times better, since you feel more like yourself. I feel like I can go out in public and people do not look at me as a cancer patient, although I would also feel quite confident going out with a buzzed head.
Now that I don’t have to wash and blow dry my long thick hair in the morning, I spend that extra time putting my makeup on. It makes me feel a little livelier, less tired looking and more like myself again, despite what other symptoms I am experiencing.
Feeling comfortable in your own skin and good about yourself is essential, and whether you usually wear makeup or not, the LGFB workshop really helps you feel better.
Even though I did not get the chance to meet the other participants in person, it is nice knowing that you are not alone and that others are also experiencing what I am going through. I have learned plenty of information to help me get through my chemotherapy treatment during the online workshop. I now know how essential cosmetic hygiene is while applying makeup, and how you can avoid infection by using cotton buds, q-tips and disposable mascara wands instead of brushes. Another highlight was how important it is to keep your skin moisturized through chemotherapy.
Through it all I have come to understand how important perspective is to handling cancer. I do not feel like a cancer patient at all. I wake up every morning to my daughter climbing into our bed or my son crying for milk, then do my skincare routine, put my makeup and wig on and start my day.
When were you diagnosed with cancer?
I was diagnosed with stage 3 mammary carcinoma in April 2020 when I was 37 years old. It was 1.5 weeks after giving birth to my second child, Ronin. Days before welcoming my son into my life, I noticed a change to my right breast which both myself and my obstetrician initially thought was related to pregnancy. The morning after my son arrived I was on the phone with my family doctor booking an assessment, ultrasound, and mammogram. My doctor booked me an urgent appointment with a breast surgeon and soon after that I received the call. I was cooking eggs and toast for my 2 year-old daughter, when my phone rang. I knew immediately it was the doctor with my diagnosis. I called down to my husband, who was working in the basement to come up and watch the kids as I took the call up to my bedroom. I sat on my bed, and listened as it was confirmed that I had breast cancer. After I got off the phone, I went back downstairs to break the news to my husband. We cried together, but then gathered ourselves in an almost sense of relief – at least we knew now, and could begin my journey to fight and heal.
What was going on in your life when you were diagnosed?
At the time of my diagnosis the world had just gone into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Daycares were shut down and I was not only dealing with the hormones brought on by my new baby, but my toddler decided that she no longer wanted to nap. Sleep was not a part of my life. My days became extremely long having two young children at home, and I was exhausted. I initially thought that there couldn’t be a worse time to be diagnosed with cancer but I tried to put a positive spin on it and I actually think there could not have been a better time (next to no time of course.) My family and friends were all home from work and were 100% there for me and my young family. I did not miss out on any social activities. Walks and porch visits with friends were easy to schedule. Losing my hair in the middle of a heat wave really wasn’t that bad, and traffic from Milton to Toronto was light and parking downtown was free. Maternity leave was in no way how I had envisioned it, but the pace of life was one that I could handle.
What has your experience been like since then?
At the beginning of my journey, Covid-19 had just forced hospitals to put restrictions on their visitor policies, so I had to walk into the hospital for my CT scan, bone scan, echo cardiogram, biopsies, MRI all by myself, which was quite intimidating. I kept reminding myself that even though I did not have anyone physically beside me, I had an entire village outside of the hospital waiting for me. I have had an incredible amount of support from family and friends along the way, which has helped me to stay positive and make the journey much more tolerable. Chemotherapy wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be and I think that has a lot to do with the care my family and I received.
I wish someone could tell me what caused my cancer so I could make the changes needed to prevent a recurrence, but unfortunately that is not possible. I have suddenly become afraid of many potential triggers such as sugar, alcohol, beauty products for my family, cleaning products, etc. I have made drastic changes and minor changes to hopefully prevent a recurrence from happening, which gives me some comfort in being proactive with the things I have control over.
“I am strong, I am brave, and I believe that I will be cured of this disease. That is my mantra and my answer to ‘why me’?” – Alison Kidd
A lot has been taken away from me through this journey. I was unable to breast feed my new son; spending time with my children has been limited during treatments, and I have lost my sense of security with every new ache and pain that I feel. Dealing with all the uncertainty has been the most challenging for me. I have many distractions in my life which only seem to cross my mind for a second then go away. I try my best not to dwell on the negatives by reminding myself that I am being treated at one of the best cancer centers in the world, and that I am very lucky to have been referred to Dr. Philippe Bedard of the BRAS Drug Development Program at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Dr. Bedard has been very warm, knowledgeable, efficient and can quickly put my mind at ease. I feel 100% confident under his wonderful care, along with the rest of the breast team at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
I thank myself daily that it is me walking through the doors of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and not one of my children. I am strong, I am brave, and I believe that I will be cured of this disease. That is my mantra and my answer to ‘why me’?
My next step: Double Mastectomy Sept 17, 2020, and then full reconstruction surgery in the Fall of 2021.