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Meet Danielle

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It's time to meet another member here on our community. This month we're pleased to introduce you to Danielle, better known on here as DanielleDL. Here's more about Danielle in her own words.


Hi there!

My name is Danielle, I’m 35 years old and I’m a breast cancer survivor.

I live and work in the Rockies (Canmore, AB) and I love being outdoors.  You can often find me playing in the garden, hiking the wilderness, or perched up on a rocky cliff side.  A few years ago I was lucky enough to discover my passion for rock-climbing, and it’s what keeps me balanced, centered and peaceful, no matter what life throws at me.  
 
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My Story begins…

My cancer journey started in February of 2015, when I noticed a breast-self-exam sticker on the bathroom mirror at a friend’s house.  Later that night I did my first ever self-exam while lying in bed. I was stunned to find a hard pea-sized lump near my armpit! I had it checked by a doctor a few weeks later, and was relieved to hear it was a benign cyst.

Eight months later, things changed dramatically.

I had been travelling around eastern Canada and the US, spending my days hiking and rock-climbing, when I began to notice the cyst changing shape and size.  I also noticed a much larger lump deeper in the breast tissue. Alarm bells went off and I started to think about the big bad C-word. As soon as I got back to Alberta, I made an appointment to see my doctor. That’s when I hopped onto the rollercoaster they call cancer.
 
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Diagnosis and treatment

Two weeks later, after a battery of tests, I was told I had invasive breast cancer, triple-negative, Stage II, Grade III. I barely knew what any of that meant, but I went straight to the library (and the internet) and got myself educated as fast as I could. Not long after that, I had to move to Calgary to begin chemo treatments at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.
 
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As I watched the toxic/life-saving chemicals flow into my vein, so many emotions and thoughts were running through me.  I was terrified of all the nasty side-effects I’d read about, and wondered how my life (and body) would look after all this was over.  Who would I be? Would I still be able to do the things I loved?

Whenever I thought about my future, I would be overwhelmed with unknowns, so I began to live my life on a day-to-day basis. During the many difficult times, I looked for moments of peace and comfort. No matter how sick or depressed I felt, there was always something that I could appreciate and be thankful for. 
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Moving through the dark moments

Right after my diagnosis, I decided to learn Tai Chi and registered for a 4-month course even though I was about to start chemo. I loved it right away. The gently flowing movements and meditative aspect of this ancient art helped soothe me on so many levels.  It also gave me a goal and purpose during those times, and I was proud of myself for not missing a single class, no matter how tired I felt.
 
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Finding my “cancer family”

After about a month of chemo, I began to feel rather isolated. My family and friends were very supportive, and I received so much kindness and encouragement, but I didn’t know anyone who had been through cancer, so I felt alone in my experience. I felt a deep need to hear survivors’ stories, and to connect with people who understood what I was going through. I decided it was time to reach out to the cancer community.

I was shy and nervous at first, and didn’t know what to expect.  I went to Wellspring in Calgary and joined some art and fitness classes there. I joined the Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) group and met with other survivors my age.  I began reading and posting on the CancerConnection.ca forums, and e-mailing survivors all over Canada.  Everyone I met and talked to was so welcoming and understanding. Suddenly I felt like I had a second family, one where cancer was talked about as if it were totally normal, just a daily part of life.  I was able to express how I really felt, and I could even make jokes about cancer or get useful tips from other survivors.  I felt I had found a place where I belonged! Here were people who spoke my language and understood the highs and lows of the cancer rollercoaster, because they had all ridden it too!
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Choosing to stop chemo

Despite all the support, and the efforts of my amazing medical team, I hit my brick wall after 4 months of chemo. My mental and physical health was deteriorating rapidly, and my intuition was telling me that something was wrong and it was time to stop.  To my eternal relief, my doctors fully supported my decision.  I had completed 12 of 16 rounds, and my tumors had stopped responding to the last 2 rounds (in fact they had started growing again), so they agreed to stop chemo immediately and get me into surgery sooner.

I’m now 2 weeks post-surgery, and am recovering really well from a bilateral mastectomy and unilateral salpingo oophorectomy (try saying that three times fast!). I have no more breasts, and also had an ovary and a fallopian tube removed, but I’m grateful to be alive and feeling healthy again!
Much to my surprise, I really like my new scars.  They are my badges of honour, a testament to the incredibly challenging experience I have been through. I’m also happy with my choice not to get a breast reconstruction, because it means I will be able to get back to doing what I love (like rock-climbing) much sooner!

At the moment I’m waiting to hear if I need radiation, but I try not to think about that too much and just take each day as it comes.
 
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Reflections and new directions

Although I’m nearly done with my cancer treatment, I’m starting to realize that cancer is never really “over”.  It’s a life-changing experience that you take with you, and that changes you in many ways.  There is a wall at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre that has quotes written on it, and one of them says “Cancer is an opportunity to become the person you were meant to be”.  I agree with that 100%.  I am now more compassionate, more mindful, more grateful, and more satisfied with my life than ever before.  The little things that used to bother me don’t seem to get to me anymore.
I have begun to make plans for my future, and am no longer waiting for “someday” to start doing the things on my bucket list.  I’m also planning to give back to the cancer community, and am very excited about the idea of starting a rock-climbing program for cancer survivors. I believe that I can help survivors build strength and confidence, while at the same fostering a sense of community and fun.  Climbing and cancer have both changed my life in positive ways, and I look forward to bringing the two together and giving back to the people that have given me so much!


Gratitude

Last but not least, I wouldn’t have the positive outcome that I have today without the love and support of my family and friends (including my newfound “cancer family”), and the kindness and expertise of the nurses, doctors and support staff at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

Thank you all!
 
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We'd like to thank Danielle for sharing her story and photos with us. If you are interested in being featured in one of our monthly Meet your Neighbour posts, please send a private message to Nicole_admin, or email us at cancerconnection@cancer.ca.

 

 




Comments

what a beautiful attitude you have, Danielle...thanks for sharing your cancer journey with us...there is no question that cancer is a life-changing experience...I feel that cancer has allowed me to feel fully, knowing that my life can be taken so quickly and easily...living in the moment has been the most intense way to live...
  • Posted Thu 04 May 2017 02:08 AM EDT
thank you for your story. i just found out that i have breast cancer as well on May 31st.I will be having both breasts removed.this month has been fast moving from being told to surgery. thanks again for your up lifting story. God bless.
  • Posted Thu 26 May 2016 12:54 PM EDT
DanielleDL you are so cool in your posting.
Keep living life to the full, I really like your photos.
GraceMd Mastectomy
  • Posted Thu 19 May 2016 08:01 AM EDT
inspirational
  • Posted Wed 04 May 2016 10:25 AM EDT

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