We Can Rebuild Her
Better than she was before… Better, Stronger, Happier. A Breast Cancer Journal

A Long-Overdue Apology

It hit me during Bif Naked’s un-freakin-believably honest, poignant and entertaining address at the conference last weekend.
And it hit me hard (thanks to you).

With a dramatic roll of her eyes, Bif described how breast cancer had saddled her with the pieces-picking-upping of her inconsolable family and friends. And the survivor crowd gave a massive been-there roar.

With all the whining that I did about inappropriate reactions, complete collapse (well, even the slightest tearing up) was a possible reaction that had never crossed my mind.

I blasted the world with my news as soon as I got it. By email, SMS, twitter, blogs, newsletter, gchat and in person, I shot my message out with faith that the returning vibes would get me through it.

Not a single adult cried. Not even Mark.

And, no matter how scary things got, my close friends and family always shrugged my worries off. And I guess I followed suit.

I realize now, it was not because they didn’t care. It was because they did.

So thank you, my beautiful friends and family, for shielding me from concern.
And please accept my sincere apology for not appreciating it sooner.



Andrea Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer October 6, 2009 and intends to survive and thrive. You can read more from Andrea here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea November 5, 2010

November 5, 2010 at 5:53 pm.

9 comments

Mystery Loves Company

I’m just back from Body, Mind, Spirit: The Canadian Breast Cancer Network’s National Conference for Young Women Living with Breast Canceralmost 48 hours solid of education and encouragement with 340 breast cancer survivors from every province and territory across Canada.

What a gift.

I left the conference with 14 pages of handwritten notes, a stack of books and brochures, and my brain abuzz.

The speakers and workshops were first class, the food was free, the facilities fitting.

And above all of this were the women.

340 women on journeys just like mine.
The lump-finding. The bad news. The pokes, prods and zaps.
The baldness. The isolation. The decisions.
The uncertainty. The losses, the triumphs and lingering impacts.
The crazy mood swings. The shockingly thoughtless comments.

Young families side swiped. With meals to be made and dishes to be done.

I’m back home. But I’m not alone.

Here’s a tiny sampling of my learnings:

  • Newfoundlanders rock. Thanks to Yvonne Jones for reminding me.
  • Cancer cultivates compassion. Thanks to Joy Smith.
  • I need to start each day with lemon water, add ginger to my daily matcha, and remember to eat 2 brazil nuts, 2-4 tablespoons of flax meal, some rosemary and 1 teaspoon of tumeric each day. Thanks to Dr. Natasha Zajmalowski.
  • Love heals. Death and recurrence do not equate to failure. Thanks to Dr. Rob Rutledge.
  • I won’t rule survivor advocacy out of my distant future. Thanks to Ryan Clarke.
  • It’s about time I explored Venus Envy. Thanks to Dr. Sally Kydd.
  • I can do my own lymphatic massage. Thanks to Anna Kennedy and Pamela Hammond.
  • Even a sexy, hilarious, intelligent, compassionate, super down-to-earth rock star feels stupid and isolated when she gets hit by breast cancer. Thanks to Bif Naked.
  • Sleep’s much more important than supplements and therapies. Thanks to Christine Maria Gross.
  • Your honesty reflects your intelligence. Thanks to Carol Anne Cole.

Massive thank yous to 340 strong young women from coast to coast to coast and to the inspiring survivors who put the conference together and shared their wisdom. And thank you to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation for the scholarship that made this enriching experience mine.

I can’t wait for next year!

Don’t take my word for it….Conference talk around the web:



Andrea Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer October 6, 2009 and intends to survive and thrive. You can read more from Andrea here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea November 3, 2010

November 3, 2010 at 12:06 am.

3 comments

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

I’m often asked for tips for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, their family and friends. But every situation is different — and it’s tough to tell which of or whether my choices have actually helped.

The best I can do is offer personal reflections on my various decisions.

So, here is a rambly whack of them…

The Good: I’m glad I chose to…

Insist on a Port-a-cath
Although I was fairly terrified leading up to it, the port-a-cath installation procedure turned out to be a total breeze — and well worth the cyborg result. My port-a-cath saved a good length of vein from chemo-induced damage and allowed me unrestricted, convenient use of both arms for my 18 weeks of chemo.

Mark’s pretty eager to have it removed, but as long as I have blood-work to be done, I’m thrilled to have this built-in valve.

Look to real-life role models
This journey would have been lonely and dismal were it not for the brilliant examples and support of friends like Caroline, Laurie, Derek, Gloria and Eden, whose dignity, courage, resilience and generosity showed me that life is what you choose to make it.

I am so immensely grateful to these shining lights.

Stay active
I’m convinced that getting up and out of my PJs each morning, doing breakfast and walking to school with Luba, sticking to a fairly demanding exercise routine and taking care of household chores helped my body and mind cope with the rigors of treatment.

Chemo threw my emotions into turmoil one week every three, and staying active kept me myself and helped me climb out of that trough again and again.

Enjoy Energy Therapy
Throughout my treatment, I benefited regularly from the talent, generosity and skill of three energy workers. I’m sure the resulting insight, healing and optimism played a major role in minimizing my treatment side-effects, improving my outlook and speeding my well-being.

I am so grateful.

Ask for and accept help
I’ve never been comfortable doing either, but asking for and accepting help not only solved the many logistical problems posed by hectic medical schedules and diminished physical abilities, it deepened friendships, introduced our young family to the beauty of community, filled me with healing gratitude, nurtured my always-battered self-esteem and left me longing to pay-it-forward.
Capture and share our story
We broadcast my diagnosis as soon as it hit us. Right from — and especially at — the very beginning, we audio-recorded and snapped photos of our journey: sharing the news with Luba, attending appointments, celebrating milestones and living life in between.

I believe capturing our journey gives me a sense of moving forward, of anticipating the victorious sense of looking back, and at the very least preserves precious memories for Luba.

Sharing our journey, specifically and authentically, allows me to help those who may, unfortunately, follow. And distilling overwhelming situations to web-sized chunks helps me get to and focus on their vital core.

Juice veggies
As gag-inducing as these morning concoctions are, the ritual of selecting, chopping, juicing and somehow ingesting a whack of fresh vegetables every morning makes me feel like a healthiness hero.

My daily juice includes beet, carrot, celery, ginger, swiss chard, lemon and, if I have it, bok choy, broccoli or cauliflower. Powerful veggies but possibly more powerful superstition.

Daily juicing of fresh cut wheat grass is a salubrious luxury that I only wish I could afford to keep up forever.

Embrace temporary baldness
Our head-shaving party (video) helped me take control of my impending hair loss and enter temporary baldness with a resounding sense of support, victory and even joy.

Choosing funky, friend-infused hand-made hats over wigs and baring it all when temperatures permitted, gave me the comfort, freedom, acceptance and playfulness that I don’t think hiding under a wig could.

Supplement Vitamin D3, Curcumin, Vitamin C, Resveratrol and Green Tea Extract — and drink lots of Matcha
I’ve tried a tonne of supplements during this journey, but after reading numerous books and articles (and not retaining the details of any) this is the handful I’m left feeling starve cancer best.

This feeling is far from scientific. I’m sharing it, anyway.

Reboot me
I’m so grateful that I have taken this time to examine my life, my thinking, my habits, relationships, choices and outlook — trying to toss out what wasn’t working and deliberately striving for new patterns.

My daily practices of gratitude and forgiveness have been far from perfect, but I feel lighter than my old self, and I feel much better about myself and my world.

Celebrate every victory and milestone
Ever since that lump turned up, we’ve been pulling our way through time by anticipating the celebration of milestones and victories, big and small.

When there is something to look forward to, life is good.

I’m so grateful that, as a family, we look for and find these things.

The Bad: I’m glad I chose not to…

Regularly consume sugar, white flour and other simple carbs
Research shows, high GI foods, such as sugar, white flour, potatoes and white rice, trigger hormones such as insulin and IGF growth factor which, in turn, lead to inflammation and cancer growth.

Since sugar, unlike dairy, offers close to no nutrition, I ended up deciding to mostly do sugar socially. Way easier than giving up coffee (which also raises insulin levels). I’m glad I did.

Work during chemo, radiation and hormone therapy ramp-up
Yes, I probably could have worked during a good part of my treatment. And, yes, a lot of people do it.

I’m glad I decided not to. For me, the personal benefits of focusing completely on healing far out-weighed the financial benefits of working. I’m thankful for Mark’s job and that we all made adjustments to make it work.

Hide my situation from our daughters — or myself
None of us know what’s ahead of us.

And we always hope for the best.

But we’ve been honest with ourselves and our girls since the very beginning of this journey. And I’m glad of that.

Venture into public places during chemo
It was inconvenient, isolating and not absolutely essential, but avoiding public places for 18 weeks was a tiny price to pay to avoid the colds, flus or H1N1 viruses that may have stretched out my treatment — or worse.

My chemo-cocooning gave me time to exercise, reflect, create and, most important, heal. And it protected me from the world I had yet to find my new spot in.

Choose the attitude of fighter or invalid
I didn’t choose cancer. But I do get to choose my attitude.

There are lots of options.

I’ve been happy with mine.

The Ugly: I wish I hadn’t…

Fought so hard for bilateral mastectomy
I left my first post-diagnosis appointment absolutely adamant to remove both breasts. I remained so for three full weeks.

After several late night phone calls, and just days before my long-awaited surgery, my fabulous surgeon made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I reluctantly agreed to a lumpectomy.

Turned out cancer had reached all 3 sentinal lymph nodes and recurrence could be anywhere. Removing my breasts wouldn’t have helped.
I am so grateful for Dr. Lorimor’s perseverence and care.

Wasted energy on impossible relationships
My diagnosis and publicly shared journey gave me opportunities to reconnect with long lost friends and relatives, near and far. Those renewed relationships have enriched our lives.

My diagnosis also gave me an excuse to work on some very broken family relationships. But after wasting precious energy and effort, they’re right back where they started — or worse. I should have put that energy into worthwhile relationships and healing.

Bothered with daily Flor-Essence Herbal Tea
During much of my treatment, I bought this pricey powder, followed the 24hour brewing and straining procedures then woke up earlier than I otherwise would have each morning so I could prepare it, drink it and wait 30 minutes before I could eat or drink anything else.

I have no idea whether this or any of my practices did me any good, but this one was inconvenient and costly and I eventually gave it up.

Neglected my protein intake
Chemo eats away at muscle mass but I had hoped that by jogging, walking and doing strengthening exercises throughout my treatment, I would keep my muscles strong.

Turns out, my plan should have included more protein.
I ended up with two sets of tennis elbow and a brutal case of plantar fasciitis, which worsened after chemo ended and has prevented me from jogging ever since. Live and learn.

Deprived myself of coffee and dairy
I did not sleep one wink the night I received my diagnosis. And I guess, at that time, I figured I’d never sleep again. So, I cut out coffee. Cold turkey.

Four months later, I realized delicious coffee was a treat I deserved. No great loss, I know. But enjoying a delicious coffee treat makes me feel like me, so I wish I’d relented sooner.

As for dairy, it has a pretty bad reputation in certain circles, but with chemo-induced menopause and bone-robbery, skipping dairy was one of my stupider choices.

Sorry for this absurdly long post. I wanted it to be a one-stop shop for anyone who may need it.



Andrea Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer October 6, 2009 and intends to survive and thrive. You can read more from Andrea here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea September 12, 2010

September 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm.

7 comments

Andrea Needs to Care Less

During my twenties, I had the coolest boss. Handsome, hard-headed, capable and curious, he was a windsurfer, a motorcycle-driver and an incurable devil’s advocate.

For our seven years as colleagues, I was a star resource, but Steve often bemoaned two of my big failings: my need for confidence; and my need to chill.

This week, on this blog, Steve may have helped with the latter.

When I’m dithered by diet decisions or fretting over family fiascoes impending or past, I’m going to repeat my new Steve-supplied mantra, “Andrea needs to care less”.

Its third-person perspective seems to squeeze issues down to a less scary size.

Maybe I’ll be chill yet.



Andrea Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer October 6, 2009 and intends to survive and thrive. You can read more from Andrea here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea May 14, 2010

May 14, 2010 at 6:41 am.

1 comment

The Reintegration Challenge

Being back in the real world has been a treat: the freedom, the friends, the whiffs of pre-c simplicity.

Balancing freedom and caution — that’s been the rub. Deciding which food habits to resume, and to what extent. Which conditions merit exceptions, and how often.

Dairy, coffee, meat, caffeine, alcohol, refined carbs, even grains and beans.

It’s shocking how consuming these decisions can be, how frequently I tackle them and how convincingly I can make myself see both sides of each issue.

But it’s only been two weeks. I’m sure I’ll figure it out.



Andrea Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer October 6, 2009 and intends to survive and thrive. You can read more from Andrea here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea May 4, 2010

May 4, 2010 at 6:02 am.

6 comments

To Zap or Not To Zap

Five days ’til radiation.

But I’m having second thoughts.

Living the aftermath of chemo — the swollen eyes, the mounting fatigue, the weakness, the aching, the blurriness, frustration and fog — I’m questioning the wisdom of this four-fold onslaught.

Mark’s concerned that turning down radiation and hormone therapy would make me low priority for any relapse treatment.

It’s a tough call.

Related Posts:



Andrea Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer October 6, 2009 and intends to survive and thrive. You can read more from Andrea here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea April 28, 2010

April 28, 2010 at 1:14 pm.

11 comments

Stride

I’ve had a recurring dream throughout this journey.

I’m biking on a remote, rural highway, alone. It’s almost dark. I’m without lights, panier, or even a lock. And I can’t believe I’d set out for some destination more than 200km away without any preparation.

In last night’s version, I was on foot. Still alone, on a darkening, remote, rural highway with no supplies and miles from anywhere.

But this time, I made the scary decision to leave the road for a wooded path.

The path morphed into a university library and the librarian held up a line of complaining clients while drawing me a little map.

He told me the path was frustrating but it should only take me 30-45 minutes.

I’m not making this up.



Andrea Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer October 6, 2009 and intends to survive and thrive. You can read more from Andrea here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea April 11, 2010

April 11, 2010 at 6:41 am.

12 comments

This is not an April Fool

In December, 18 weeks seemed like an eternity. Now it’s April and we increasingly talk about stages — particularly the most scary stages — of our journey in the past tense.

Cancer treatment comes with a lot of stresses, uncertainties and decisions which make any period in the future a scary place to be heading. When I think about my concerns waiting for Andrea’s MRI and then for the results, I’m instantly transported to where my mind was and the feelings I was experiencing at that time. The same is true of her surgery and awaiting the pathology results which we repeated for a second surgery. There was also the cardiac scan and bone scan.

Chemo has always been the beast that scared me the most. Today, chemo will deliver its last strike and in a few weeks we’ll be able to speak about this stage in the past tense.

I think I’ll celebrate with a big ice cream.



Mark is primary support, cheerleader and project manager of Andrea's recovery. You can read more from Mark here and on Mark's real blog, MarkBlevis.com.

Mark Posted by Mark April 1, 2010

April 1, 2010 at 6:05 am.

9 comments

Survival in Small Talk

We’re having a glorious taste of spring this week. The sun is shining, Snow Drops are blooming and once empty sidewalks are full of smiling, sauntering humans.

Where in winter’s grip I could roam the neighbourhood with my chemo-cocoon in tact, outings this week have been much more social.

And chance meetings with acquaintances have introduced the challenge of responding to pitying looks and casual/earnest inquiries of “Oh, Andrea! How are you doing?”

What can I say?

I’m actually doing fabulously, all things considered. I’ve made it through the initial horror, the decisions, the surgeries, the injections, scans, x-rays, potions and two-thirds of the chemo. I’ve faced the loss of my occupation and income, insurance theft, my own mortality and a huge wallop of uncertainty — and I’ve stayed pretty sane.

But standing on a street corner in the sunshine, no response does this journey justice.

I’m thinking I’ll stick with, “Fine thank you, how are you?”



Andrea Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer October 6, 2009 and intends to survive and thrive. You can read more from Andrea here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea March 3, 2010

March 3, 2010 at 6:00 am.

5 comments

And For My Next Trick…

Aside from the obvious feats for the squeamish (injections, surgeries, claustrophobic scans and implanted heart vein stuff), the past 3 months have provided me with opportunities to perform the following impressive stunts (please hum “The Final Countdown” while reading this list):

  • lasting 3 weeks — and counting — without entering a store, coffee shop or restaurant
  • grinning and bearing various brutally insensitive so-you’ve-got-cancer remarks
  • surviving Christmas Day without coffee or chocolate
  • juicing and guzzling a potent veggie combo every single morning for 10 weeks, and counting
  • popping more pills and supplements than in my entire pre-c life combined
  • wearing the same 8 or so tights, T & hoodie day in and day out for weeks
  • enduring outrageous family flare ups without losing my mind
  • peeing red (Epirubicin portion of FEC chemo)
  • peeing blue (radioactive dye)
  • sharing my home, against my will, with … wait for it … RATS (yup! the vermin moved in 4 weeks into this challenge and have yet to vamoose)

Ta da! (AD)



Andrea Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer October 6, 2009 and intends to survive and thrive. You can read more from Andrea here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea January 11, 2010

January 11, 2010 at 6:52 am.

2 comments

Difficult Decisions

Being decisive is hard, especially when new information causes you to constantly revisit, rethink and even reverse your decisions. That’s par for the course when you’re dealing with something like cancer-related surgery.

We’ve had our audio recorders running during a good chunk of our journey. This includes conversations and telephone calls as we considered which of either a lumpectomy or bilateral mastectomy was the best course of action.

It was interesting distilling three hours of recorded conversations to this 10 minute story, and particularly surprising to think this process dates back three months already (this audio was recorded leading up to Andrea’s first surgery, October 26, 2009).

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We’ve had our audio recorders running during a good chunk of our journey. You can hear more audio collages here.

Mark Posted by Mark January 10, 2010

January 10, 2010 at 6:20 pm.

2 comments

The supporter experience #1: don’t panic

Don’t Panic. Those are the insightful words that grace the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the fictitious guide in the earthly book by Douglas Adams. I’ve tried to live by those words for most of my adult life. When our home was broken into in September 2006; don’t panic. When United Airlines lost our luggage last Christmas; don’t panic. When I discovered I didn’t have my wallet with me when I was at the grocery checkout a couple of months ago; don’t panic.

As the loved one and primary support of someone diagnosed with cancer, don’t panic is a golden rule. Throughout the process you will hear a variety of cancer experiences from people all too willing to share whether you want them to or not, whether they understand the impacts of their stories or not. Surgeons, oncologists, nurses and anaesthetists will use words you’ve never hear before and will talk about side effects and will likely allude to long term impacts from treatments.

You may even have an experience like we had a week after Andrea’s breast cancer diagnosis. Andrea’s dentist found a cyst in her mouth and suggested it be biopsied. Thankfully it turned out to be nothing (Andrea must have bitten the inside of her cheek). However, for four stressful hours, we dealt with the possibility that the cancer wasn’t confined to Andrea’s breast.

Don’t panic.

Being the primary support means you need to be rational and calm. New language, information and ideas need to considered as part of the whole and you need to remain coherent when throwing in the towel seems the logical thing to do. It’s completely okay to be emotional so long as you don’t let your emotions interfere with being an advocate for your partner, communicating with your medical team and making sound decisions.

I’ll talk more about emotions as I share more of my supporter experience.



Mark is primary support, cheerleader and project manager of Andrea's recovery. You can read more from Mark here and on Mark's real blog, MarkBlevis.com.

Mark Posted by Mark January 3, 2010

January 3, 2010 at 4:50 pm.

2 comments