“My Voice” by Paula McCoy

Paula McCoy and Dr. Al Refae

In May of 2006, I was preparing to move out of province, where I would have work. I was living at home at the time; however, life planned it differently.

June 5, 2006 is a day that will always remain in my mind as the day that my life changed forever. I was just told that I had breast cancer, which was a shock as I was only 37 and felt fine, I didn’t even have a lump or anything.

The small area on my right breast had been warm to the touch, a bit tender and slightly pink. My gynecologist had sent me for my first ever mammogram, from there a biopsy was done. The cancer was not on that area, but the outside of my breast.

Ever since I was a young girl, I often said I hope never to have breast cancer, my fear was now reality.

I had no idea what would happen after I was given this diagnosis. It was not long before I was taken down the hall and directed to Hope and Cope at The Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, Quebec  and came across some of the most caring, understanding people.

I was so blessed to have been given the best of doctors, nurses and volunteers as well as all the staff.

As my mom and I looked around us, we saw not one or two, but so many people, young, middle age and older all facing the same news as I had just been given.

The next few weeks before I was scheduled for surgery, I experienced so many difficult feelings. I couldn’t understand why this had happened to me; I was angry at God and didn’t understand what I had done to get cancer.

Soon, I had felt as if I was sinking and couldn’t get up. I knew that I needed help. I was guided to 2 wonderful doctors on the oncology floor and was started on medication. Before long, I was put back on the road of facing this monster, this life changing dread I had been given.

Next came surgery, complications, chemo, loss of weight, appetite, hair, radiation, difficult days, weeks and months.

Seeing so many beside me, going through all avenues of cancer, all ages, I then accepted this detour and changes to my body- physically and emotionally. I charged full steam ahead, wanting to get this done and over with. The good and bad days were cushioned by my family and friends (some friends I had lost because they couldn’t understand or face the fact I had cancer).

My surgeon, oncologist, chemo nurses, oncology psychologist and oncology psychiatrist were there for me all through this journey and are still my greatest help.

I was also introduced to a mentor, who herself had breast cancer before me. We are still good friends today, she helped me so much.

May the lady who made it possible for the new oncology floors and Hope and Cope be truly blessed. It has been a gift to so many.

The new Wellness Center has been and still is a big comfort to so many, including myself. We attend lectures, exercise classes, yoga, art and much, much more. This is a place where everyone has a story, their own experience.

I was very lucky to attend one cancer retreat and 2 cancer survivor conferences. It has been a great help and very healing to meet other young cancer patients and survivors from all across Canada . Geoff Eaton the founder of Young Adult Cancer Canada group, must be commended for his concern and efforts to let it be known that there was nowhere to turn for young adults facing cancer, until he started this organization.

I have gained so much strength being all together with other survivors, listening and learning about other people’s journey. Some ended sadly, and others who have made it and realized our feelings and worries are real, our hopes are the same and our stories inspiring.

I believe that we are tested in life and given trials that we must sort out and face head on. We need more wonderful people like the ones I have had along this road.

I still have close follow ups, still have made it, thank God and pray to go forward. I know that I can face most anything now.

From this experience, I have become stronger, wiser, happier and more understanding. It has also brought me a very special person, the love of my life who also experienced cancer and traveled the same road.

During this ride, I was helped by some special chemo angels. Chemo Angels is a non- profit organization based in California that provides people going through cancer and its treatments with 2 angels who travel the journey with the person offering support and encouragement through cards and letters and little notes throughout the persons treatment. I have become a chemo angel myself and have offered encouragement to other women going through breast cancer as I know how important it is to have some support and encouragement throughout the journey.

After this journey, my message to other people is to never take life for granted, enjoy each moment in your life and always count your blessings. Also remember that this journey begins with one small step and day by day, you get one step closer to the end of your treatments. Stay strong and keep the faith.

Today, I am living with my mother and preparing once again to move out of the province eventually as I am engaged to be married. I have a diploma in Journalism, and have done some freelance writing for experience pre-cancer. However, my experience with cancer has given me a new perspective on life. I would like to become a counselor to help those going through the same ordeal.  Being a survivor means I have more strength than I thought I could ever have and I have a renewed purpose in life, I don’t take anyone or anything for granted anymore.