Name: Heather Shurgot
Hometown: Edmonton, Alberta
What is your diagnosis? Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and DCIS breast cancer, node positive
What school did you attend? University of Alberta
What are your career goals?
To own our own repurposed home décor business and run a hobby farm.
What is your occupation?
Part-time Environmental Scientist and part-time Furniture Maker (check it out at birdmouse.ca!)
Your cancer experience:
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
I found a lump in my breast myself. My doctor did not even do a breast exam and I was told it was likely a cyst. I put off going back as I was not worried about it. One year after noticing the lump I went back to get it checked out again. This time the doctor was concerned and I had a mammogram, ultrasound and core biopsy and was diagnosed.
What year was it? What was your age at the time? April 2011, I was 28.
In which hospital(s) are/were you treated? The Cross Cancer Institute
At what level of education were you at diagnosis? Bachelor of Science Degree
What did your treatment consist of?
I had a lumpectomy (performed by our neighbor, in a hospital, not his basement!), followed by six rounds of TAC chemotherapy, 20 radiation treatments and will have five years of tamoxifen. The side effects were worse than I expected. People kept telling me that some people still work while on chemo and that the anti-nausea drugs have come a long way, so I think my expectations were a little too optimistic for the reality. Each round got easier, however. Being bald was easier than I thought it was going to be and wig shopping was fun. Although I was very eager for my hair to grow back in once my treatment was finished.
What is your current medical status? Cancer free!
How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually)?
Physically I feel much weaker. I’ve lost quite a bit of physical strength which was very apparent when I thought I was ready for a regular yoga class one week after treatment. This lead to a quite embarrassing public breakdown with tears and hug from the yoga teacher!
Despite the previous sentence, emotionally I feel much happier and calmer. Life feels too short and fragile to waste on being sad or feeling sorry for myself. Those feelings still come up, of course, but I choose to not let them linger. Socially I feel a bit isolated since the diagnosis, but this is slowly fading as I move forward. What is lacking in social connections I feel I have gained in a feeling of spiritual connectedness. Meditation has helped with this.
What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?
Having to postpone our wedding. Fear of recurrence.
What was the best lesson you took away from your challenge?
Perhaps a bit cliché: to not put off living my dreams. We are in the process of making some big changes in our lives and we now feel the urgency to shape our lives how we really want to live them. Second biggest lesson: help each other. Our friend held a fundraiser for us on the weekend our wedding was supposed to be while I was about half way through chemo. Her kindness sparked a whole community of generosity that helped to support us financially and emotionally to get through the next half and to distract us from a “we were supposed to be getting married today” pity party. We have since helped others. Reach out and help each other.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?
I feel like I needed the wake up call. I was living relatively healthy—active, not a big drinker, vegetarian—but very prone to stress and was living my life just going through the motions. Now I live with much more purpose, compassion, and do not take the positive things in my life for granted.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
Yes, I attended the Arts in Medicine yoga and leather journal making (taught by another neighbor, small world!) courses. I participated in an e-mindful meditation study which was so amazing. I also attend a weekly coffee meeting. I am the youngest by a decade or more, but I find it very helpful to relate with other women going through similar situations.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?
I found it via Internet search.
If you are interested in connecting with Heather Shurgot please email firstname.lastname@example.org.