Lain's Log


I got a fantastic gift yesterday in the form of a swift, uplifting kick-in-the-butt from Cynthia Mulligan of CityNews. A few weeks ago, this beautiful TV reporter became my inspiration to launch a blog, after reading all the posts on her blog (Kicking Cancer), which she started writing after being diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago.

Not only did she go public with her battle, but also took a videographer along to capture many of the stops on the journey for everyone to see. My favourite is the day she went wig shopping with her two young daughters. After undergoing chemo treatments, she decided to get a wig sometime between starting to lose her hair and taking the plunge to shave it off altogether. She even showed the audience how quickly her hair was falling out, by yanking a hunk of it right out of her head on camera!

I had to laugh, watching her girls trying on a variety of wigs and the moment Cynthia donned a wild, long-locked look, tossed her head and quipped to the kids, “I look like Cher!”

Though I’d never met Cynthia Mulligan, I knew her work and wanted her to see the blog she’d inspired. I sent her a message on Facebook, asking if she might have time to speak to me about her experience. Just hours later, I was surprised to receive a response saying she watched me on Global for years, was very sorry to hear of my diagnosis and offered to talk to me or even go out for coffee!

Working around crazy schedules, we set up some phone time and ended up chatting for a full hour! When I looked at the clock, it amazed me that 60 minutes had flown by. I’m pretty sure she gave up her whole lunch hour, just to try and help me. In the course of the conversation, both of us laughed and cried and by the end, I actually felt like we were old friends.

She began by asking my personal situation, how the cancer
was discovered, what kind of support system I have and how I’ve handled the whole thing. She admitted this diagnosis, “Knocks the stuffing out of you. It’s a roller coaster, but it’s not a death sentence.”

Cynthia’s tumour started out at 4.4 cm., but after chemo, it shrunk to about 1 cm. Then she faced surgery (last October), for a
lumpectomy and removal of 14 lymph nodes, followed up by six weeks of intense radiation.

If you’ve seen my blog, you know all about my huge fear of pain. I asked her to tell me the truth. Cynthia stated, “I won’t lie to you. It hurt! But it wasn’t unbearable. I had a drain (under the arm) for a week. They sent me home with Percocet and Tylenol 3. I only took the Percocet for the first night. The day I went home, I took a two hour walk!”

She still finds it difficult to stretch out her arm, but admits her mobility is good. I told her it’s tough to remain positive when facing the unknown. While agreeing this is true, Cynthia told me, “Anything can happen. You could walk out the door and get hit by a bus. This was a wake-up call for me, a second chance at life. I appreciate it more, love it more and embrace this exquisite existence.”

People who’ve beaten breast cancer tell me they learned a lot during the course of their treatment and recovery. Upon hearing this, Cynthia quickly responded, “What have I learned? Two things.
1.) I want to have less in my life and live more.
2.) I’m not afraid of dying anymore.”

I asked how it was possible for her to continue to work throughout her treatment. She snapped back, “Work was my salvation!”

Once we got to talking about the 30 radiation treatments, I mentioned to Cynthia that her blog posts stopped at radiation zap #14, before much burning began. What happened when she got to zap #30? “I got very red and pretty uncomfortable,” she concedes, “but the hardest part was my life.”

Cynthia’s treatments were intertwined with much personal upheaval. Apart from the state of distress over her own health, her Dad suffers from severe Alzheimer’s; her colleague, (whom she refers to as, “a beloved cameraman”), Bill Atanasoff, was seriously hurt after being hit by a car this past November; and then, her longtime friend, Mark Dailey (“The Voice” at CITY), passed away of cancer in December while she was still undergoing radiation. They had been emailing back and forth between Sunnybrook and Princess Margaret and she was devasatated by his loss.

Perhaps these cataclysmic events led to her love and appreciation of the inspiring quotes posted daily on an easel just inside Princess Margaret Hospital. She urged me to be sure to watch for them. Her favourite says, “You can’t give birth to a rising star without chaos in your soul.”

When I revealed to Cynthia my apprehension about the moment of being wheeled away on the gurney on April 27th, knowing I won’t be the same on the other side of surgery, she recalled that feeling only too well. Her comments are the most reassuring words I’ve heard.

“I hated losing control and knowing I have to go under a general anaesthetic. But you’ve got to go with the flow. You are NOT in control of this. You have to give up that sense and just absorb, absorb, absorb. Stand up stronger and get through it one hurdle at a time until you’re ready for the next one.”

Following the death of Mark Dailey, another cancer patient she had come to know, gave her a note. In a voice filled with emotion, Cynthia recited a part of that message from this caring woman. It said, “Fall 7 times, stand up 8.” She was in tears when she read it.

Her blog entries are oh-so-positive and upbeat. I wondered, - didn’t
she EVER get angry? “You bet!,” she laughs, “and it’s OK to get mad and say, ‘Fuck you cancer!’ It attacks our femininity, but last summer, I bought some kick-ass clothes, some sexy dresses. Cancer can’t take away our confidence!”

This past weekend, Cynthia was presented the “Voice of the Foundation” award from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation in a ceremony at the Royal York Hotel. At the event, she proclaimed, “The best way we can beat breast cancer is to raise awareness about it, take away some of the fear, keep it out of the dark closet, put it in the sunlight and kick it!”

Link: Cynthia Mulligan honoured for breast cancer advocacy work

She sure did that for ME yesterday. She really made me cry when she said, “My oncologist told me the women who do the best are the ones with the strongest and best attitudes. Mind over matter. Keep on living through this. Keep walking. Keep moving. Keep laughing. I believe in paying it forward, and that’s what I’m doing with you. And Elaine, someday, a year from now, you’ll be doing this for someone else.”

It’s very hard for me to imagine this could one day be true, but if it is, I can only hope to be as open and honest as she’s been with me.

Be sure to catch CITY News at 6 on Tuesday April 26th (date changed from the original air date I blogged previously!) Cynthia will go wig-free for the first time since shaving her head and has decided to donate her expensive real-hair wig to someone else in need. She’s nervous about unveiling the new look, which she describes as, “Mia Farrow short.” I can’t wait to see it!

In May, Cynthia will reward herself with a weekend trip to New York City with two old girlfriends who stood by her through the entire cancer experience. She looks forward to running in Central Park. After all she’s survived, she says, “We’re celebrating life!”

Thank you, Cynthia, for everything!



At April 19, 2011 at 2:12 p.m. , Blogger Keithera said...

Elaine -
What a surprise when I read your post on Facebook today! I had no idea you had cancer! Not sure if you ever posted about it - - if you did then I must have totally missed it.
Wishing you all the best - my fingers are crossed that everything goes well with your surgery.
It has been a very tough year for you, hasn't it? But you have one of the most positive attitudes of anyone I know - I know that counts for so much - - - not only when dealing with an illness but when it comes to life in general.
You are in my thoughts.

At April 20, 2011 at 2:57 p.m. , Blogger Camille said...

ah man... this is hard to read, but also inspiring and beautiful. this kind of thing brings us back to the core humanity within us, doesn't it?

yes, from my mother and family's experience, it seems that one of the most ideal ways to handle this is to accept and let yourself feel the big range of emotions that come from living with cancer... and then to accept that you can't control everything and to let go of those thoughts once you've had them. they may come again, but if you learn to let them go, they will come around less and you will be more prepared to deal with them.

i'm still reading and wishing you the best of luck. and as for being angry, go ahead, there's even humour to be found in it. I showed a photo of a t-shirt that said "Hey Cancer, Fuck You" to my mom and she laughed so hard! So when she was in pain or feeling down, she would say that angrily... But would end up dissolving in giggles. :)


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