Written by Holly Ireland.
Missed Part 1 of Holly's story? Read it here.
A Pinch in Time: My Unexpected Journey Through Cancer - Part 2
In the haunting stillness of the ultrasound room, what felt like hours passed, although it was likely moments. My friend and I, brimming with unease, exchanged awkward giggles as we wondered aloud when we could go to lunch.
The Radiologist entered the room with a grave expression. His words would change the course of that day, and indeed, my life forever: "Miss, we are going to need to perform a biopsy today; we want to take a closer look at this mass."
I couldn't help but audibly laugh, as if he had just offered me a free movie ticket, and replied, "No thank you, we have lunch plans."
"This was no ordinary day; it was a day that would forever alter the trajectory of my life."
Looking back now, this moment marked one of my earliest acts of rebellion, a precursor to the countless "no thank you's" that would punctuate my journey. My exchange with the Radiologist continued as we debated the seriousness of the situation. Reality dawned as I reluctantly acknowledged the gravity of the situation. This was no ordinary day; it was a day that would forever alter the trajectory of my life.
He eventually agreed to let us go for lunch and return in an hour. Armed with the knowledge of what was to come, and (barbarically) no freezing, I knew I was going need a little buzz for it. At lunch I pushed my food around the plate and downed three margaritas, I found myself grappling with the impending procedure's daunting reality. Looking back bracing my self with tequila wasn’t my best decision and isn’t recommended.
Upon our return to the hospital, they offered reassurances that it was probably nothing. The impending ten-day wait for results loomed like a shadow over my life.
To shield myself from the anxiety, I pack up my kids and hurried a few hours away to visit a friend, seeking refuge from the first wave of scan-related dread. The days blurred together during that time, but I remember receiving the call from my family doctor in less than ten days. Feeling avoidant, I chose not to rush back home.
Why would I? She hadn't sounded urgent on the phone and had given no indication that it was anything dire. Instead, I stayed and cherished moments with my high school friend, pretending to be blissfully unaware of the emotional tempest that was about to engulf my life. Ten days later, childcare arrangements were in place, but this time, I made no plans for lunch after my appointment.
Confidence masked my unease as I ventured to the doctor's office alone – a decision I would later come to regret. Little did I know that my life was about to take an abrupt and devastating turn.
In that sterile examination room, my doctor caught me in her arms and wept with me. "You shouldn't have cancer; I'm so sorry," she repeated as if trying to absolve herself of this cruel twist of fate. It was if she handed me a death sentence.
All I could think of was how my children needed me, I pleading for a different result. The intensity of my anguish was likely heard from the waiting room, as I walked out, one of my past hair clients appeared, offering her open arms, saving me from collapsing onto the cold, unforgiving floor.
I have no memory of the thirty-minute drive home; my thoughts were scrambled, and my vision blurred from sobbing. I knew I couldn't return home just yet. Instead, I sought solace in a place where I knew I'd be held: The Rad Life yoga studio where I’d been working and practicing for the last few months. Upon entering, I found the staff who had become friends waiting, their understanding eyes saying more than words ever could. They knew, and they held me safe for hours as my world crumbled around me.
Over the next few weeks, I embarked on a relentless quest for answers. I assembled a team comprising an herbalist, a naturopathic doctor, and, somewhat reluctantly, an oncologist. My diagnosis was stage 2 triple-negative breast cancer. The idea of chemotherapy initially filled me with resistance; I was prepared to confront it with coconut oil and positive vibes. However, my trusted naturopath aptly used a metaphor: "This type of cancer is a dragon, It breathes fire, we need to hit it back with fire." Reluctantly, I came around to chemotherapy. I had to work really hard on receiving the help of the conventional medical system, and It took many affirmations “Chemo is helping, Chemo is destroying the cancer” in order for me to trust what was being pushed into my veins was truly going to help me, and not completely destroy me.
I endured six gruelling rounds of chemotherapy over four agonizing months. Each dose was more punishing than the last, leaving me in excruciating pain for two to three days after each treatment. I sought refuge in my bathtub with Epsom salts, clutching my best friend via video chat for emotional support. My mom, was super Grammy to the kids during the hardest days, the drug boss who kept my daily meds organized, and sat with me for every single treatment. My community banded around me in unimaginable magnitude. The gratitude I feel for the people in my
life at that time can cannot be measured, and I try to express it to them as much as possible. Even though I was incredibly cared for it was a lonely time. Chemo stripped me of my hair, short-term memory, mental focus, and for a long time my quality of life. It couldn't extinguish my rebellious spirit, my determination to thrive,
and to inspire others along the way.
To be continued...
In Part 3, I share how I navigated the challenging decisions surrounding surgery and why I chose to stay flat after mastectomy, and what I’ve learned in my 5 years of survivorship.