By: Emily Piercell
I was 27 and had just moved to Toronto to pursue my legal career and finally live with my husband. We were married the year before and living long-distance while I was in law school. On August 26, 2015, I had to put my career on hold to endure a year of treatments for triple positive, stage three breast cancer. I had five months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, 25 radiation treatments, a year of Herceptin treatments, three other surgeries to fix my reconstruction and am currently doing hormone therapy for the next ten years.
My story is not unique. I hear the same story from so many other young women who have been diagnosed with cancer. The doctors told me I’m too young for cancer and since I don’t have any history of breast cancer in my family the tumour in my breast must just be dense tissue. It took several months to get my breast cancer diagnosis, after I had to advocate for myself and insist on a biopsy. At the time of my diagnosis we knew it was already in my lymph nodes but luckily it hadn’t travelled beyond that.
Exactly one month after my last radiation treatment, I started articling at a law firm. The articling hiring process occurs the year before you actually start working, so before I was diagnosed I had this position lined up. My doctors had advised me against starting a full-time stressful career so soon but I was determined to be called to the Bar the following summer. It was tough to deal with incredible fatigue, chemo brain and my many doctors appointments while working in a new profession but every week my brain fog would clear a little more and my stamina would improve. Mostly, it felt great to be using the skills I had worked so hard to develop over the last few years and to not be “just the sick patient” anymore.
A year later, I was called to the Bar, finally becoming a lawyer. Unfortunately, the firm I was working at was unable to hire any students that year, so I was back to the job search but in the meantime I secured a contract position at Rethink Breast Cancer, which has since turned into a full-time role. Pre-cancer, I chose a highly stressful and demanding profession because I thought it would be a stable industry that I could excel at. Post-cancer, this lifestyle is not realistic for me. Exercising, eating healthy and getting enough sleep is so important to my mental and physical health, including helping with the lasting symptoms of the cancer treatments and hormone therapy.
Since getting the all-clear to resume regular activities from my doctors in July 2017, I have started a high intensity exercise program, have ran two half marathons, started coaching running clinics at the Running Room and am volunteering with the Pink Pearl Foundation. My work with both organizations has helped me find purpose in my awful diagnosis. If I can help a newly diagnosed women feel less alone or encourage someone to advocate for themselves, I know I’m doing something important.
To follow along with my life after a breast cancer diagnosis, please follow me
@emilypiercell or read more of my personal blogs.