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Heather’s blog: The part we rarely talk about

YACC Retreat Yourself Alberta 2013

A few weeks ago, my life was the busiest it’s been in a long time. In the span of four weeks, I was planning, organizing, and hosting seven different events in both my professional life and personal life. It was crazy, but it was also wonderful. In all instances I was doing what I love, living the dream, and discovering some new ones along the way! Then, just as I was at the height of this summit, I received some news that caused me to slip deep down into a depression that I am having trouble pulling myself out from. Four weeks ago, I read a post that a dear friend I had met at YACC’s Retreat Yourself Alberta 2013 was no longer responding to treatment, and she would be flown home from Toronto to spend her last few days with her seven-year-old son.

Since being diagnosed with cancer and becoming connected with YACC in 2011, I have lost a lot of people; it comes part in parcel with being linked with this community. Even though most of us know this going in, and accept it in part because the gains outweigh the losses, doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. Every loss hurts, and for me there have been some that have hurt more than others.

Julie was a spirited and charismatic individual, with a dry and witty sense of humour, and a natural talent for storytelling that drew you in from the first word. We only spent four days together, but (and I’ve said it after attending many YACC programs) in those four days you share moments of such truth, honesty and authenticity that it creates this immediate bond of friendship and understanding that it feels like you have had it your entire lifetime; and it is so hard when you lose it.

My favourite memory of Julie is when, on one of our last days at the retreat, a group of us went for a walk down to the shops near our hotel. It was April in Alberta, and Lake Louise was still crisp and cold with fresh snow on the ground. I have never loved the cold, but with such an amazing group of people for company, I didn’t feel it at all. We shared stories, bought candy and souvenirs we didn’t need, and took pictures of our adventure that were silly because, like Julie, I rarely take a serious picture. Then, of course, there was Julie’s epic “Chubby Bunny” attempt at the talent show on our last evening of the retreat. I have never, and will probably never see again, such a small person fit so many extra-large marshmallows into their mouth at one time. Boy, could she make us laugh!

YACC Retreat Yourself Alberta 2013 - Me, Ashley, Robin, Julie - Silly

What may be the hardest part for me though, is that Julie was a mother to a handsome seven-year-old boy who, from the stories she told us, had the same creativity and exuberance as his mother; and now, he and her husband have to move forward without her. I’d like to say I can’t imagine, but I think that’s what makes this loss so hard—I can imagine it and I have imagined it, because I lived with the fear of that same outcome.

From the time I met Julie, I recognized and found comfort in how much our lives mirrored one another. She and her husband got married the same year as my husband and I, they had one child together who is the same age as my daughter and also lit up their lives from the moment he was born, and then shortly afterwards cancer happened. Knowing Julie made me feel less alone, and less like I was the only one going through this and having these feelings. Since being diagnosed with cancer, the thought of leaving my husband and my little girl alone has been my biggest fear, and although I can’t really speak for Julie, there was always an unspoken understanding we felt the same. While the thought of death creeps into your head constantly, part of you always hopes and believes that no one ever dies from cancer; life is supposed to be like the movies or a good book—the good guy always lives. So how can Julie be gone?

I mentioned earlier, how every loss of someone I have met through the young adult cancer community has been tough, but there are some that have just hit me a little harder or a little deeper. I think, for me, the passing of those who have shared my diagnosis or whose personal lives reflect similar images to my own have been more difficult to deal with because their death brings my own spoken and unspoken fears to the forefront; and death was never supposed to be the outcome.

So how do we deal with loss and grief, and find a way to move forward? Sadly, these feelings can pertain to so many aspects of our lives after cancer. This may sound backwards or strange, but I choose to deal with grief with a similar thinking of how I experience joy in my life; I give myself permission to live in the moment, and take it one day at a time. Today I feel sad, so I am going to sit with that and allow myself to feel sad and cry if I need to. Tomorrow, I don’t know how I will feel, but I am not going to look forward and try to anticipate or predict what is to come, because thinking ahead and having the expectation of how I should feel just causes me anxiety. I can’t live my life moving towards things I don’t know.

What I do know, is that as my days continue forward I will be sad that I lost a good friend, but I am even more grateful that I got to have her in my life at all, even if it was for just a short time. I also know, that even though the clouds of sadness may take time to clear completely, I have become part of an amazing community that will have my back even in my darkest days, and just like in my friendship with Julie, I will find comfort in knowing that I am not alone.

Live life on purpose.
Heather XOXO

Retreat Yourself Alberta 2013

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