2019 in Review

1. What did you do in 2019 that you’d never done before?
– went to Hawaii
– made a 2 tier cake
– Had a biopsy done on my neck
– rescued a bat
– went to the top of the Space Needle
– went to the MET
– Went to the top of One World Observatory
– Saw Wicked

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions and will you make more for next year?
I don’t make resolutions. I’m always making goals for myself with varying degrees of success.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes my longest and best friend had a VBA2C and I got to be her doula. I also attended the births of 5 other families this year.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Lost 2 of my YACC (Young Adult Cancer Canada) friends this year. Tamara and Danika were strong amazing women and my life is better having known them.

5. What countries did you visit?
Just the US

6. What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?
One on One time with my kids and camping.

7. What dates from 2019 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Dec 14- Announcing Diamond Avenue Studios

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Setting boundaries with myself

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not writing as much as I had wanted to

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Noting more than usual. This year was about coming to an acceptance on my limitations and the side effects of cancer treatments and disability. Did have a scare at the start of the year but luckily it was nothing.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My trips and anything I got in NYC.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Liam. I feel like he doesn’t get enough credit for what a great kid he really is. This year he went to a full week of overnight camp. Only a year before he wasn’t close to ready and yet this year he went without fear (that he showed me anyways) he made new friends and had a great time.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Politicians

14. Where did most of your money go?
Day to day expenses. Kids activities. Travel.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
I get really, really, really excited about SO many things. The big ones this year were my trips and my dancing. Every single show I performed in this year was magical.

16. What song will always remind you of 2019?
Lizzo- Good as Hell
Salt N Peppa- Shoop

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
Happier or sadder? Happier
Thinner of Water? Thinner
Richer or poorer? Same

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Getting outside

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Being on my Phone

20. How did you spend Christmas?
On Christmas Eve my dad, his wife and my brother came over. We ate food all day, played games and laughed. Christmas morning we opened gifts and my family left early. The kids, my love and I just relaxed and had tacos for dinner. Was a perfect quiet, low key Christmas.

21. Did you fall in love in 2019?
Over and Over

22. How many one-night stands?
Nope

23. What was your favourite TV program?

Survivor, GoT, The Handmaids Tale
We canceled our cable this year and switched to streaming.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Nope

25. What was the best book you read?
2018 I read no books, I was set to changed that this year and did! Not sure how many I read it wasn’t a lot but I started the Outlander series and LOVE it. Couldn’t put the first book down.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Lizzo

27. What did you want and get?
To Travel. Went to Hawaii, Texas, Seattle, Oregon and NYC!

28. What did you want and not get?
To not have to fight so hard for accessibility and equal rights

29. What was your favourite film of this year?
We finally got to the small town theatre AND to the big city theatre a couple times this year. Lots of movies on Netflix. Frozen 2 was the best I saw in theatres.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Turned 36 this year! My birthday was on a Tuesday this year which is our busy activity day. Felt very special and loved the whole day. Went to brunch with a friend, went swimming with my kids and had pizza at home with my family.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Not having to fight so hard for accessibility.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2019?
Still lots of leggings. Have tried to wear jeans and accessories more often. Converse will always be my shoe staple, I think I need more. This year also saw way more nylons and glitter.

33. What kept you sane?

My Love! He grounds me so much.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Sam Heughan

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Finding out how many benefits have been cut from people with disabilities.

36. Who did you miss?
My Grandma Brook. I spent part every summer of my childhood with her on Long Island. She’s been gone a long time but going to New York and not going to her house hit me hard.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
This year was less about new people and really strengthening the Amazing relationships I have. I got a lot closer to some of the best people out there.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2019.
Boundaries! This has been a lesson that has been bubbling for awhile but it really came out this year. The biggest boundary I had to set was with myself. Recognizing my limits and not pushing myself so hard. As well as really thinking about what fills my soul. I took a HUGE step back from doula work this year and that was hard for me. It keeps coming back though in so many ways that I made the right decision.

This year was all about healing, learning and growing. Traveling is a big part of my soul even though I haven’t done nearly as much as I wanted to. The whole time I was sick I would day dream about getting away. The ability to learn new things, to immerse yourself in whatever that trip has to offer, to spend quality time with yourself and the your travel companions. I got that this year and feel so very grateful for it but also proud of myself for making it happen.
Dance is also something I did a lot more of. I really immersed myself in burlesque and it has been so good for me.

Photo Credit to Kendal Blacker Photography, Craig Cochrane and Kelly Schuster

The day it all fell down

I woke that Friday morning wearing my Terry Fox shirt and trying to smile. They told me I wouldn’t have the results of my biopsy until the following week and so I was doing my best to stay busy.

As usually my toddler woke up and wanted “boobies!” We snuggled in bed, nursed and took happy smiling pictures.

I took my big kids to school and took K to strong start (a parent/tot drop in) we weren’t there for long when the call came. I knew that number. I asked someone to keep an eye on K and went outside. I paced. I was wearing leggings and a tank top. I should have sat down. If no news is good news then news days early is definitely bad. I can’t remember the exact words. I know she said invasive ductal carcinoma, I know she said aggressive. I sat on the concrete steps- I was trying to breathe and not cry while on the phone but that meant trying to get off the phone as quick as possible. I made phone calls, I cried, I gasped for air. I got K and we went to a friends house who gave me exactly what I needed at that time. She let me sit in her couch, she made me tea, she took care of K and she just let me be. I took phone calls coming in faster than I could process. Appointments with my new oncologist, my new surgeon, appts for scans and blood work. I’ll forever be grateful for a friend that knew the true meaning of holding space.

I don’t remember much about the rest of the day. It’s a blur. I know my brother came over. I know I collapsed into my loves arms as soon as he got home. I know flowers from a friend arrived at my door. I remember finding the words to post to FB and IG knowing I wanted to get it out of the way.

“Apparently this year in order to prepare for Breast Cancer Awareness Month I actually got Breast Cancer.

No this is not a joke. Yes I am serious.

After finding a lump in a breast, an ultrasound, biopsy and mammogram I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer at 33 after 18 years of being cancer free.

I am heartbroken, I am overwhelmed, I am tired, I am frustrated and I am angry. Right now I don’t want to be strong or positive. Today I am crying, feeling, grieving, processing and being human. Today I am feeling the unfairness of it. Today I don’t care about cure rates. Today I wish my biggest concern regarding my boobs was how much they sag.

I don’t know yet what this diagnosis means yet. All I know is that cancer fucking sucks. I also know it’s messed with the wrong person. I am determined. I am loved. I am supported. I am strong.

Love, light, prayers, glitter and sparkles are all welcome and appreciated.”

Most of all I remember being angry. I remember wanted to scream. I remember crying myself to sleep.

It’s been 2 years since that day and so much has happened that it feels like a lifetime but the way I feel about reminds me that 2 years is nothing. In 2 years I lost my breast, my hair and ovaries. I’ve gained truth, resiliency and love. I’ve learned many lessons. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried (sometimes at the same time) I’ve had ups and downs. I had moments I thought I would truly break and moments I felt on top of the world. I’ve continued to learn what I really want from this life. The best part is In 2 years I’ve gotten to watch my kids grow and fallen more in love with my love. Which is all I really need and want. Here’s to each day. To finding something everyday that makes you happy. To being human and real and vulnerable. Here’s to life- because it can change in the blink of an eye.

The days before it all fell down

This week…..

Fuck this week.
Fuck the ptsd.
Fuck the memories.
Fuck the physical way my body is holding onto this trauma.

I’m remembering. 
I’m breathing. 
I’m trying to just be. 

On Sunday I woke up with a blinding migraine. The pain so bad I could barely open my eyes. Telling myself not to vomit. Ice on my head. Repeating to myself “you’re ok” and “you’re safe” over and over. Pushing out the voices that creep in saying “maybe it’s cancer.” 
Through the pain I remembered what day it was….September 15th. 

On September 15, 2017 I woke up alone. No kids and no partner for the first time in years. I tried to work except the nagging in my head wouldn’t stop. “you have no excuses, go to the walk in clinic, go now.

The day before I had finally googled my symptoms. I was going to prove my partner wrong. I was going to put his worries at ease. The lump was breastfeeding related. The lump was nothing. 
Instead one red flag after another. Instead each new website giving the same information.  

Lump is painless- check
Lump is unmovable- check
Lump isn’t smooth- check

Check.

CHECK

CHECK.

It was a Friday morning and the walk in clinic was dead. Almost eerily quiet. I went back right away. The Dr seemed almost surprised how quickly and easily he felt the lump. He did not tell me I was too young for breast cancer and he didn’t put my mind at ease with “it’s probably nothing.” Instead he asked me if I still had an oncologist from my bone cancer.  Gave me a requisition for blood work and an order for a CT scan. 

I walked out of the clinic numb. I left a voicemail for my oncologist, got my blood work done and was surprised with how quickly she called back. Again no reassurances just “breast cancer is very treatable” 

It was then that without knowing I knew. 

I remember the sun. 
I remember my fresh pedicure.
I remember holding in the tears as I went for a spa treatment. 
I remember cancelling my plans for that night.
I remember sobbing to my best friend on the phone. 
I remember sobbing to another friend at her kitchen table.
I remember trying to get work done.
I remember telling myself I was overeacting.
I remember my love racing home from his work conference.
I remember another friend come to be with me with snacks. 

I spent the weekend in a haze of what ifs.

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_______________________________________________________________________
Monday September 18, 2017.

Another sunny day. 
Another day being mom, getting kids ready for school, going to the park, making small talk.
Being distant because I could feel my life was about to change. 
Wanting so badly to connect with the parents around me and yet feeling like I was drowning.
Wondering if they could see the worry on my face.
The call came, a ultrasound and biopsy in 2 days. 

Today looked so much like that Monday in so many ways, in too many ways to count. In so many ways that it was impossible to not remember. It was impossible for my body to not feel exactly the same way it did 2 years ago on the brink of my life changing.

As I get closer to my official diagnosis anniversary I’m trying. I’m trying to process and navigate. I’m trying to honour where I was then and where I am now. I’m trying to let myself feel how I feel without pushing the emotions away. I’m being honest both with myself and those around me. I’m reminding myself that 2 years isn’t that long to heal. I’m giving myself love and kindness.  

Shifting

A couple weeks ago I went to my first therapy session in years. I cried many times. I told my story. I told her my life. I asked for help. We talked about my goals. What I want to get out of my time. One of the things addressed was identity. Who am I? Outside of motherhood, cancer, disability… who am I really. Who am I? It’s been the question on my mind constantly since that session.

Soon after I noticed something on my Instagram account. My engagement had plummeted. I looked into it and found  I had been shadow banned (meaning I can still post but only my current followers can see me, no one can find me under my hashtags) I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions as to why and at the end of the day IG is a business so I tried to play their game so to speak. I changed my hashtags, I never used the same hashtag more than once and yet nothing changed. I started noticing others had been shadow banned  too and were speaking out on it. What’s interesting is it wasn’t my friends posting about food that were affected by this, or the people showing pictures of their kids. It’s the straight or abled bodied people.  It’s people with disability. It’s trans people. It’s queer people. It’s advocates. It’s people who are trying so damn hard to bring awareness. It’s people who are making a difference. It’s people who NEED to be heard. Their voices are being taken away.

I’ve been away from IG for a week. Processing and reflecting on this. Do you know how gross it is to be censored just because you’re different? To be told we don’t want to hear your voice? Want to know what exclusion looks like? This is it. What to know what ableism looks like? This is it. It’s our society telling us again, we are not valuable. Our voices shouldn’t be heard.  No one should hear you. No one should see you. They don’t even tell you it’s happening either. Just one day they make you disappear and you are none the wiser. Was it the mastectomy pictures that were too much? Was it real pictures of my prosthetic and my amputation? Was it my call out of ableism or the use of the word fuck? I don’t know. All I know is how I feel. I feel tired. I’ve worked so hard to be heard and they shut me up. I’ve worked hard to bring awareness and they shut me down. I’m exhausted fighting so damn hard.

When people say that instagram is fake. It’s not just people with their filters and photoshop. It’s not just because people will show you only what they want you to see. It’s because even when you try so hard to be real, to be vulnerable, to be authentic the big forces stop everyone from seeing you. You only see what social media wants you to see and that’s fucking scary.

One thing this has done is helped show me who I am. I am strong. I am an advocate. I am a force. I will not be stopped. For now I am walking away from IG. I will not be a part of a system that continues to shut down and censor the people who are actually trying to make a positive difference in this world. I will still be writing. My voice will still be loud. My passion will not be dimmed.

The good news is this has helped me on my path to find my identity. I invite you to follow along here.

My Story….in pictures

When Kendal first reach out to me a year ago about her idea to start documenting I honestly didnt know why. I was very up front and told her that the story was mostly done. I had had my double mastectomy, chemo was done and while I was still mostly bald hair was definitely making a come back. While I still had a couple surgeries ahead I was already feeling the pressure to get back to normal. The rush to put cancer behind me. I really thought I had nothing to say and she wouldn’t have much to document. These last few months have very much proved otherwise. 16 months since I lost my breast  (has it really been that long?) Over a year since chemo and things are…different. They haven’t gone back to before. In some ways things are much better and in others I still struggle… a lot actually. Cancer will never be in my past but ingrained into the very fabric of who I am and I’m excited to share that and more. The more because I am so much more than cancer, so so much.

Check out the start of Kendals project here

My story through Kendal

 

Why I don’t hide.

I try to take my girls swimming once a week. 

I take them in the Womens change room when I could use the family one or even the disability rooms. 

I get changed with them in the middle of the room instead of behind the privacy curtains. 

 I’ll be honest though, this is hard. It’s one thing to take off my leg at cancer camp or when I am speaking to a room full of middle schoolers. It’s one thing to show my reconstructed breast to other women going through it or through a photographers lens. In a locker room where the people around me don’t know me or my story and have to come up with their own narrative is a lot more scary.

 I have no idea what they think when I take off my prosthetic to drain the water and change my wet stump sock into a dry one. Do they wonder if I was born like this? Do they think it’s gross or weird?

I have no idea if they look at my “breast” and wonder why I would get fake boobs. Or what thoughts they have about my “boob job”

It takes some deep breaths, some telling myself I am safe, some telling myself that what they wonder or think doesn’t matter. But I  go through this process each and every time I go to the pool, each and every time I get changed in a room of strangers. 

I know I am making a choice to do that. 

My choice in changing in a room full of strangers is intentional. 

It is intentional. 

Me dressing and undressing right in the open where other women can see me. I do it because I want to show my girls they don’t have to hide their bodies. I do it because I want them to grow up knowing what body positivity looks like. 

I am making that choice for me, to build my own confidence. To hope that one day I won’t wonder let alone care what others think about me. I hope to raise strong and powerful girls who can say “if my mom can love her body scars, amputations and all then so can I”

Today though the hard was harder than usual. Today a mom was nursing her baby. My girls are not shy and they engaged in a conversation with her. Soon it was talk about boobies. K made an observation “you have boobies.” The women looked at her and said “all mommies have boobies.” I could feel my heart in my throat. I wanted to cry because no, not all mommies have boobies. E piped up “my mom doesn’t, she had hers cut off” The women looked at me confused and half naked in a pool change room I told a small part of my story. Without preparation. Without wanting to. 

It will come up again. My children will make conversation and it will come up that mommy had cancer. It will come up that mommy had her boobies cut off. That mommy has a robot leg. They will hear their mom tell her story and one day they might now how hard that is sometimes and in knowing how hard it is I hope they see my strength. I hope they know I could have hidden but I chose not to. I hope it gives them the strength not to hide either. 

A night of Burlesque

I’ve been to a few burlesque shows. I have loved the glitz, glamour and art of seduction. I’ve always sat in the audience happy with my view from my seat.

Something happened last year though. A shift. A friend asked me to come to the local burlesque show with her. I was still recovering from my double mastectomy and about to start chemo and honestly I was on the fence because I didn’t know how I would feel. The night came and I just wasn’t ready to be out and about. I didn’t want to have people tell me I looked good or ask how my surgery had gone (I live in a small town, going out means being ready to see a lot of people you know)

A few months later my best friend asked me if I wanted to go see Dita Von Teese with her. You can read about that here. It’s what led me from being unable to even go to a show to being on stage a couple weeks ago.

As I practised my solo (honestly who the fuck does a solo their first time doing burlesque) I was so nervous. So many thought went through my head. “Why am I doing this. What if I mess up? What if I throw up” The first time I did my routine in front of all the other dances my heart was beating so loud I couldn’t hear the music. My timing was WAY off, I messed up, but I heard our leader say “keep going!” so I did, I kept going and it was ok. The world didn’t collapse and no one told me I was horrible. I came home that night and practiced over and over. I listened to my song on repeat. The next time we had rehearsal I was better, and the next time after that even better. With each practice my confidence grew, my heart was beating less. I could actually hear the music.

One night after I had practiced in front of my partner he has asked me why I was doing this. My first response was that I’m doing it for other women. That I wanted women in the audience to go “if she can love her body with one leg and reconstructed breast than I can love my body too”  Since then I’ve thought a lot about why I’ve entered this world of burlesque and here are my so many reasons why.

I do it because I don’t just want to find beauty in normal, I want to find beauty in all bodies period.

I do it because I’m told over and over again that disabled people are less worthy and I’m tired of it.

I do it as a fuck you to all the men who told me they would date me “if only you had 2 legs” and anyone else who has shown my pity because I only have one leg.

I do it because I love my body.

I do it because I love to dance.

I do it because I needed to take ownership of that this new body is in fact mine and mine alone.

I do it because I LOVE seeing people with disabilities challenging peoples perceptions of what we can and can not do.

I got on stage and I was addicted. The music, the lights, the audience. I went into another world. I got off stage after and it was all I could do not to burst into tears from the rush of emotions. I did it and trust me I’ll do it again.

 

Introducing…..Ms Eileen Wright 😉

Kendal Blacker PhotographyKendal Blacker PhotographyKendal Blacker Photography

 

 

All photos credited to Kendal Blacker Birth and Photography. Please do not edit or alter in anyway.