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One woman’s jour­ney back to life.

There are a few piv­otal mo­ments in our lives when some­thing hap­pens to thrust us in a new di­rec­tion. Mo­ments when we are thrown off course and find our­selves headed down a new path—on a jour­ney we never ex­pected to be tak­ing.

My piv­otal mo­ment be­gan with a lump no larger than a lima bean. One lump, one mo­ment, one quick flash and my life changed for­ever. By Septem­ber 2012, I re­ceived what I had feared was com­ing: a breast-cancer di­ag­no­sis.

I had just cel­e­brated my 28th birth­day a few weeks be­fore. The shock of the news quickly turned into panic. Would I be able to get through chemo­ther­apy? Would I need a mas­tec­tomy? Would I still be able to have chil­dren? What would hap­pen to my job? But, above all else, I truly wor­ried about one thing and one thing only: Was I go­ing to die?

I wanted to wal­low and re­treat un­der my cov­ers and be an­gry, but there was very lit­tle time to sit around curs­ing the world. De­ci­sions had to be made, and they had to be made quickly. Cancer has no pause but­ton. There is no time to re­flect and process emo­tions, and I was thrown into a world of chaos and con­fu­sion. The year that fol­lowed was a whirl­wind of ap­point­ments with doc­tors, scans, surg­eries, drugs and many frumpy, in­cred­i­bly un­fash­ion­able hospi­tal gowns. I lost my breasts, lost my hair, lost my en­ergy and, at many points, felt like I was los­ing my san­ity. I had gone from be­ing a happy, at­trac­tive, healthy twen­tysome­thing new­ly­wed to a sick, bloated, bald, mis­er­able cancer pa­tient. Any prior am­bi­tions I had—plans for a ca­reer, a fam­ily, a fu­ture—were firmly placed on hold; my sole fo­cus was on get­ting through the treat­ments and com­ing out on the other side.

And here I am, on the other side. My treat­ments ended this past Fe­bru­ary, and now I’m down to a checkup with my on­col­o­gist ev­ery three months and a pill I take each night be­fore I go to sleep. My hair has fi­nally grown to a length that doesn’t scream “Cancer Girl!” My en­ergy lev­els have al­most re­turned to nor­mal, and I feel lucky and in­cred­i­bly grate­ful that I am alive.

As hard as I try to get back to a state of nor­malcy, there re­ally is no go­ing back to the re­al­ity I knew be­fore cancer came into my life. I live each day with the threat of re­cur­rence and the aware­ness that I might not sur­vive h

Join our new colum­nist, Stephanie Gil­man,

on her quest to lead a mean­ing­ful life.

Ev­ery­one thinks that cancer is some­thing you go through and then it’s over, but, in ac­tu­al­ity, the

most dif­fi­cult part is what comes af­ter.

this dis­ease. My life is full of un­cer­tain­ties and what-ifs. I am try­ing to make plans for the fu­ture and re­main op­ti­mistic that I will be around to see them through, yet I also feel ap­pre­hen­sion about think­ing too far ahead—as if I might some­how jinx my­self in the process. I don’t yet feel out of the woods, or even close to the edge. Cancer is lurk­ing, al­ways a few steps be­hind me, threat­en­ing to ap­pear and strike when I least ex­pect it.

I strive to con­tinue liv­ing my life as if none of this ever hap­pened, as if it were all just some hor­ri­ble dream that I’ve now wo­ken up from. But, de­spite my best ef­forts, it is im­pos­si­ble to neatly pack up all those fears and anx­i­eties and put them in a box so I can ig­nore them. This is the re­al­ity I’m stuck with in my post-cancer ex­is­tence: try­ing to move on from the past yet barely able to take baby steps to­ward the fu­ture.

And so that is the chal­lenge I am now fac­ing: How do I re­main grounded in the present in­stead of lament­ing over the past or stress­ing about the fu­ture? How do I shut out the noise (some­thing I’ve never been par­tic­u­larly good at), calm my brain and stop the thoughts and fears that con­tin­u­ally plague my sub­con­scious? How do I just be?

I was think­ing about these ques­tions when I hap­pened to meet Noreen Flana­gan, ELLE Canada’s edi­tor-in-chief. We were chat­ting back­stage be­fore I made my modelling de­but at Well­spring’s “Well Dressed for Spring” show at Holt Ren­frew in Toronto. I told her about my blog, pass­mean­other cup­cake.com, and how it had given me a pur­pose and fo­cus dur­ing my treat­ments. Now that I wasn’t an of­fi­cial pa­tient any­more, I didn’t know what to write about. My blog lacked a fo­cus—and so did I. Noreen asked whether I’d like to write about what it’s like to find mean­ing in my new, and of­ten con­fus­ing, life af­ter cancer. But I won’t only be writ­ing about me; Noreen wants me to be your #lifereboot guide. Whether it’s cancer or some other piv­otal mo­ment, I’m sure you’ve all reached a point—or you will­— where you want to lead a more mean­ing­ful life. So join me in this year-long chal­lenge as I test out ex­pe­ri­ences (ev­ery­thing from a mind­ful­ness re­treat to an im­prov-com­edy course) with the goal of re­boot­ing my life. I’ll be in the mag­a­zine each month, and you can fol­low my ad­ven­tures—and I in­vite you to share your own—at el­le­canada.com/liv­ing.

Ev­ery­one thinks that cancer is some­thing you go through and then it’s over, but, in ac­tu­al­ity, the most dif­fi­cult part is what comes af­ter. There is no guide­book for this part of the “jour­ney.” I’m en­ter­ing un­charted ter­ri­tory and a new chap­ter in my life—a chap­ter that, I hope, will be filled with mind­ful­ness, clar­ity, mean­ing...and a lot more hair. n

Chal­lenge #1 Fear. It’s the num­ber one emo­tion that’s hold­ing me back. Fear of cancer, for sure. Fear of heights—def­i­nitely. They say you should con­front the things that scare you the most: EdgeWalk at the CN Tower, here I come. Stay tuned for my Oc­to­ber col­umn! (The video alone will be worth it.)

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