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Meet...Ann

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It's time to get to know another wonderful member of our community. Please take a moment to read more about Ann's experience with cancer and her important message about the value of helping others.

Hi, my name is Ann. You may know me as ashcon.  I live in south-west Ontario, just outside of Waterloo. I moved here from Ottawa (just after the ice-storm of ’98) with my two (then young) daughters. I have also called Montreal, Toronto, Owen Sound, Ohio, and Bath (England) home. I was the last, or tied-for- last, of four children.  After my twin sister and I were born, my parents said “no more”!

In July 2017, just before my 54th birthday, I was diagnosed with the most common type of breast cancer (invasive ductal carcinoma), but the not so nice version of it: triple negative.

Like a lot of people, before cancer entered my life, I had no reason to believe I would get it. I was healthy and active. My two beautiful daughters were now in their 20’s, doing well out in the world on their own, and I was enjoying my empty nest.  I was enjoying a great career at a wonderful company, working with some fabulous people in training and project management. Work was incredibly busy – probably too busy and stressful in hindsight – but I found time to break away from the rat race by volunteering and doing yoga – I even taught a dance fitness class for a few years.

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Then one day in late June 2017, I discovered a lump in my right breast while in the shower.  I had just had a “clear” mammogram six months earlier, so wasn’t immediately worried; it was probably just a cyst. I’d had one before.  I called my GP, to be safe, and she sent me for a ‘stat’ mammogram and ultrasound.

I then went away for a pre-booked, week-long escape by myself to a cottage in Muskoka, Ontario, where I swam, hiked, and kayaked every day.  I remember thinking “I can’t have cancer, I feel fine!” On the day I got back from my vacation, I got the call from my GP. “It looks worrisome” she said. Another ultrasound and a biopsy confirmed it was cancer. I was told I would need surgery (a lumpectomy would do the job), then likely just radiation.  OK, I could handle that.


The surgery went pretty well. One week after the surgery, a tornado came through the area.  I live alone and I don’t have a basement, so I grabbed whatever I thought I would need to survive – my pain killers, water bottle, and cell phone – and crouched in the front hall closet for 3 hours till the all-clear was given. Crouching in that closet gave me lots of time to think. About my mortality, my daughters, and how many great things there were in my life that I didn’t want to lose.  The tornado situation was not lost on me; I realized I was probably feeling the same way that Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz must have felt when she knew her world was about to be ripped apart. I knew I would need a lot of courage, brains, and heart to get through this. 

This is when I reached out to a Cancer Information Specialist for the first time, and joined this site. I also started an email communique out to friends and loved ones to keep them up to date on my progress, appropriately named, “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore”.

Like many initial diagnosis plans, things change once the pathology report comes in.  In my case, the good news was that the tumour was removed with clean margins.  The not-so good-news was that it was aggressive, Stage 3, triple negative breast cancer.  What?  How could I go from a clear mammogram to a stage 3 diagnosis in 6 months, and not feel sick at all?

So, chemo was added to my dance card, along with genetic testing.  But I wasn’t out of the woods yet.  Two weeks after I started chemo, more lymph nodes flared up.  I was told a second surgery would be done after I finished chemo to remove the remaining lymph nodes (25 in total).  I remember being so angry – mainly at the cancer. I screamed at no one in particular, “why can’t I have just ONE bit of good news?”

When chemo was done, I met with the surgeon and he agreed to do a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy (no reconstruction) at the same time that he was removing the lymph nodes. After this second surgery, and six months since my diagnosis, I finally started to get some good news:  the pathology report said no sign of cancer was found, and my genetic test results did not raise any red flags.  It was a happy day when I told my daughters these things!

While going through treatment, I took advantage of a great program offered by my cancer centre and the University of Waterloo that offers customized fitness training classes for cancer patients.   So, with the exception of the times right after my surgeries, I was at the gym twice a week throughout chemo and radiation. I think this really helped me not only in my recovery, but also to keep me distracted between doctors’ appointments and treatment sessions.

My treatment finally finished in April 2018, with 25 rounds of radiation – “the cherry on top” as my surgeon called it.
            
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Two months later, with a short stubble of hair on my head, I was in a dragon boat, learning how to paddle for the first time and being buoyed by the friendship and support of 25 other breast cancer survivors.

Today, I am NED (No Evidence of Disease). To celebrate, my best friend and I went to Costa Rica for 10 days in December 2018 where I knocked off one of my bucket-list items: ziplining!

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I am blessed to have an incredible support network in my corner.  My “powerful posse” includes my daughters (“whatever happens, Mom, we’re going through this together”);  my older sister (who joined Gilda’s Club to get the support she needed); my co-workers (who did a charity fundraising in my honour); my best friend from high school and my ex-boyfriend (who always made sure I had company, and lunch, on chemo day).

Today, I continue with my volunteer work, providing First Aid at local community events. I also:
  • Advocate for better screening and notification guidelines for women who have dense breast tissue.
  • Spoke at a local Relay for Life event, and I captained my Dragon Boat team in the “Run for the Cure” event.
  • Volunteer here on this site as a mentor.
  • Helped my local cancer support centre review their programs to improve community access and involvement.

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Cancer, and the wonderful people on this site, have taught me the importance of support, community, and connection in the healing process. I wish I could have just clicked my heels three times to discover this, but I guess I needed to go through something like cancer to truly understand it.  I now really understand what Oprah means when she says, “Helping others is the way we help ourselves.”

                                     Thank you so much Ann for helping us get to know you better and for all the support you show our community members!















 




Comments

ashcon‍  Anne - Thank you so much for sharing your incredible story. It made me cry in the best way! Yes I too , if I read you right, have found BC to be a great teacher,  
in good ways..., even though ..... Anyway, fantastic, thank you and I really wish you well . Thanks for the inspiration.
Dolphin‍ 
 
  • Posted Thu 03 Oct 2019 02:14 PM EDT
Hi Dolphin
Thanks for the wonderful words. Very kind of you.
I remember reading one of your posts where you talked about the beautiful and therapeutic connection to nature that helps us heal through this thing called cancer. When you talked about trees I was reminded of that quote, "A tree with strong roots laughs at storms." 
That's us, isn't it? 
I hope you had a good summer and enjoyed lots of mother nature. 
  • Posted Thu 03 Oct 2019 03:53 PM EDT
Very emotional nervous about chemo and losing my hair! I hope that I will feel more courageous as time goes on.
  • Posted Wed 14 Aug 2019 06:54 PM EDT
There's no place like home, there's no one like Ann.... What a remarkable journey with so much love and support.  Thank you for sharing...we need to find you some ruby red shoes!
  • Posted Thu 07 Mar 2019 04:35 PM EST
Inspiring story! I am at the very beginning of mine and I am very 
  • Posted Wed 14 Aug 2019 06:50 PM EDT
ashcon‍  you are an incredible person, so brave and strong and you give such amazing support to others on the site ;-)        I am very inspired by your courage and strength.    
  • Posted Tue 05 Mar 2019 09:07 PM EST
Ann you are a beautiful and strong woman - inside and out. See how you inspire everyone around you (including me)? Thank you for sharing your journey. It will help many who are on their own journey. Hugs my friend!
  • Posted Tue 05 Mar 2019 06:52 PM EST

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