By Ashley Stead-Morine
It’s nearly been three years since December 28, 2017 — the day I was diagnosed with ocular melanoma — a.k.a. my “cancerversary.”
On December 28, I received “the call” as I laid in my bed, three days after Christmas, in the arctic, 8,000 km away from my family, while my husband was at work.
I hung up the phone — most of this moment is still a blur, but I remember that I vomited, then I called my mother. Any problems I experienced prior to diagnosis seemed infinitesimal now. My life had changed forever.
As you can imagine, Christmas that year was ruined. I was anxious through the holidays as I awaited my diagnosis. The New Year wasn’t celebrated; instead it was spent with inundating thoughts of my mortality. Would I see another year? I was scared, and felt so alone in my fears.
Initial radiation treatment began early January, followed by MRIs, PET scans, blood work, and numerous visits to my oncologist for chemo shots.
I survived 2018. Every day post treatment brought new challenges — hair, weight and vision loss, loss of job interest, and marital issues.
As 2018 drew to a close, I couldn’t believe what I had endured. I was proud of myself and my newfound bravery and strength. I vowed I wouldn’t spend Christmas in the sad state I was in the year prior.
So, I decided to celebrate my first cancerversary. I’d have the magical Christmas that cancer robbed from me the year before, and I’d celebrate making it through the toughest year of my life.
Where is the most magical place in the world at Christmas? Germany and its Gluhwein and Christmas markets! My husband and I celebrated Christmas in Nuremberg and my cancerversary in a town called Baden Baden in Germany’s Black Forest Region. It was a dream. I had so much to be thankful for — mostly my health.
Year two, post diagnosis: Quarterly chemo shots, ultrasounds, and biannual MRIs. I was also given the opportunity to participate in genetic testing and research, which indicated the chance of metastasis or cancer recurrence was low.
I celebrated my second cancerversary in Halifax. I watched my sister get married, had a beautiful Christmas with family, and spent December 28 in my favourite little town in Canada, Lunenburg, toasting to another year of growth with a ShipBuilders Cider!
Year three, post diagnosis: Quarterly check ups, ultrasounds and biannual blood work, tumour stable. COVID-19 hit, and the small arctic town I called home for three years felt even more remote and isolated than before, so I moved home to the east coast, filed for divorce, then moved to New Zealand. (See my previous blog post for those details)
December 28, 2020 is fast approaching. Year three. This has been the biggest year of change for me. In 2017, when I thought I was going to die, I knew deep down I wanted to be exactly where I am today. I knew I had to make changes in my life, and this year, I’ve done just that. A new home, a new job, and new love. I have a lot to celebrate. This year, I’ll be in New Zealand with my new “mates” in the beautiful Hawkes Bay region, drinking my favourite Chardonnay.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not celebrating my cancer. I hate it. Rather, I’m choosing to celebrate what I’ve learned about myself through the journey.