It was roughly 12 years ago that I knew Michelle from my Squamish days working as a barista in Brackendale (when Bean Around The World was still Eagle Run Coffee Company). Michelle was a regular who often came in with her two small children. We didn't really 'know-know' each other but I knew her enough to say hi and, at the time, most likely remembered what type of drink she ordered.
So when I heard that Michelle had been diagnosed with breast cancer this year I wondered if she'd remember me or not... Either way I had hoped to meet up and it wasn't long before we connected in Vancouver on a day when we both had appointments. Michelle was in the beginning of her chemo treatments and I at the tail end.
Having cancer in common I often feel an instant friendship connection with people like Michelle... people who have had to face cancer, who know what it's like to feel truly awful and need the strength of family around them to keep them going.
Please enjoy this interview in which Michelle talks about priorities, support from family and friends, writing, sleep issues and how playing her favourite songs brighten her mood...
NAME: Michelle Pammenter Young
TYPE OF CANCER / OFFICIAL DIAGNOSIS: Her2+ Inflammatory Breast Cancer
CURRENT AGE: 47
AGE AT DIAGNOSIS: 47
HOMETOWN: Squamish, BC
OCCUPATION: Financial Advisor
HOW DID YOU FIND OUT YOU WERE SICK? My breast was huge and sore. After months of pushing I finally got an MRI and biopsy which showed the cancer.
WHAT LED UP TO YOUR DIAGNOSIS? A mammogram crushed my right breast and three days later it was huge and painful.
IS THERE CANCER IN YOUR FAMILY HISTORY? No
WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST THOUGHTS WHEN YOU WERE DIAGNOSED? No bloody way! This can't be true. It has to be a mistake.
HOW DID YOUR FAMILY REACT? They said you can fight this.
HOW DID YOUR FRIENDS REACT? They said you can fight this.
HOW LONG DO YOU THINK CANCER HAD BEEN IN YOUR BODY? I think it came as a result of the Mammogram crushing my breast in March 2012, so by the time I was diagnosed it was early June (therefore I think the cancer had been there 2.5 months)
ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC CHALLENGES YOU BELIEVE DIFFERENTIATES YOUNG/YOUNGISH ADULTS COPING WITH CANCER AS OPPOSED TO PEOPLE WHO ARE DIAGNOSED LATER IN LIFE? There are fewer young people with cancer, so it's harder to find someone to relate to.
DID YOU CONTINUE TO WORK AFTER YOUR DIAGNOSIS? No
DID YOU HAVE SURGERY? Surgery is scheduled for spring 2013
IF SO, WHAT DID IT CONSIST OF? Mastectomy and Tram Flap for replacement
WHAT HAS YOUR TREATMENT CONSISTED OF? Chemo (4 rounds of Adriamyacin and Cyclophosphomide, followed by 12 rounds of Taxol and 17 rounds of Herceptin (to end August 2013). Radiation started December 19 for 28 days.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT SIDE EFFECTS YOU HAVE HAD TO COPE BECAUSE OF YOUR TREATMENT? Nausea, tiredness, pain, depression, headaches, anxiety attack early on.
IF YOU HAD TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, WOULD YOU HAVE CHANGED ANYTHING? Yeah I wouldn't have cancer! Kidding! Nope I guess not, my cancer was too aggressive, I didn't have any choice regarding treatment.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT PART ABOUT THE CHALLENGE OF COPING WITH CANCER? Feeling so sick and not being the strong person I once was. Helping my children understand how sick mummy really is. Feeling completely useless.
HAVE YOU STRUGGLED WITH SLEEP OR FOUND IT DIFFICULT TO FULLY RELAX? Sleep has been a huge challenge, I don't sleep like I used to and it was my favourite thing to do. I now have to take something to stay asleep as I tend to wake every hour and a half.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE THE STRESS OF FOLLOW-UP APPOINTMENTS AND/OR SCANS? I don't find them too stressful yet.
THERE ARE SO MANY TOUGH DECISIONS TO MAKE WHEN DEALING WITH CANCER. WHO HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO TURN TO FOR ADVICE? No one really.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST HELPFUL FORM OF SUPPORT YOU HAVE RECEIVED? Other than the help from my family, the biggest support I have received has been from my friends delivering meals and taking care of the "little things" for me in my early terrible days of chemo.
SOMETIMES PEOPLE CAN UNINTENTIONALLY SAY THE WRONG THING. HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED THIS? IF SO, HOW DID YOU HANDLE IT? I have found that some people are uncomfortable with my illness, it doesn't bother me though.
HAVE YOU LEARNED ANY BIG LESSONS ALONG THIS JOURNEY? I have learned to relax a little more.
HAVE ANY OF YOUR PRIORITIES IN LIFE CHANGED SINCE CANCER? Yes for sure. I just want to live and travel with my family, no more chasing the almighty buck. I've also learned that possessions don't matter, experiences do.
WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER, GIVES YOU JOY AND HOPE? My family, my husband and children, my dog, hugs, Haagen Daaz, writing, looking forward to travel.
HAVE YOU ATTENDED ANY SUPPORT GROUPS? WHY OR WHY NOT? I have been to the Callanish Retreat which was fantastic.
HAVE YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY ALTERNATE THERAPIES OR METHODS BENEFITING YOUR OVERALL WELL-BEING? Yes, I saw a naturopath and have been taking supplements although not too regularly because I was so sick.
ANY TIPS FOR OTHER SURVIVORS? Keep as positive as you can. It really helps. I sometimes play my favourite rocking songs to feel better. Don't play sad songs!
ANY TIPS FOR THE PRIMARY CARETAKERS? Be patient, be brave, your loved one will have some terrible down moments and don't need you to fix it, they just need you to hold them and be there.
ANY TIPS FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF CANCER SURVIVORS? As above. Also, please don't treat us like we aren't people anymore. We want nothing more than for life to be normal like it was.
YOUR MOTTO / MANTRA OR FAVE SAYING: Cancer Sucks! Put on your big girl panties and deal with it. I can do it!
YOUR WEBSITE WHERE READERS CAN FOLLOW YOUR STORY: www.pammenteryoung.com