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

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

All is well

I’m just back from my first post-treatment mammogram and ultrasound.

And all is well. Woooohooooo!!

I learned a lot today:

  • That I have two staples in my right breast (!).
  • That my enlarged right breast may be a delayed reaction of radiation (?).
  • That the constant snapping of photos during the ultrasound is not necessarily a bad sign.
  • That no matter how unbelievably terrified I am during the tests, all the terror can be wiped away in an instant by a happy, happy result.

Happy, happy day!

Thank you to everyone whose good wishes got me through this week and to this happy, happy result.

Woooooohooooooo!!!



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 7, 2010

September 7, 2010 at 4:57 pm.

20 comments

Journey Learning #6: Family

This journey has led me to think a lot about family.

My Family Is Not

My family has not been my sister, Linda, from whom I’ve heard word zero for months, despite my email updates and her easy access to this blog.

My family has not been my brother, David, who popped into my life briefly following my diagnosis, who is, apparently, able to send me good vibes but has not bothered to follow this blog or to correspond.

My family is not my parents, Keith and Josie, whose only reaction to my journey has been self-pity, blame, hostility and poison.

My family has not been Mark’s sister, Barb, whose correspondence has been a total of two terse email responses to two of my email updates in the early days of this journey.

My Family Is

My family is Mark, Lucy, Bayla, Mark’s parents, Rhoda and Bert, my cousin Kelly and her family, my Aunt Barb and Uncle Wilf, our dear friends near and far, those of you out there with whom we’ve shared friendship, support, laughs, ups and downs before and during this challenge, and those with whom warm friendships have recently started to sprout.

And with whom we’ll continue to share friendship, support, laughs, ups and downs for years to come.

It’s been a painful learning but I am grateful for the realization and the healing which I hope will follow it.

And I am grateful for my family.

Related Posts:



More Journey Learnings here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea April 3, 2010

April 3, 2010 at 5:19 pm.

18 comments

Journey Learning #5: Braving Eye Contact

Christopher was a large crab who lived as a pet in one corner of a pull-out lobster tank at the generous and friendly Butland’s Seafood, just outside Fundy National Park.

Surrounded by lobsters of every size and colour, and occasionally picked up and showed off to lucky customers, he dealt with the terror by closing his eyes. If he couldn’t see us, then we couldn’t see him.

I’ve always done the same.

When faced with the terror of possible judgement, rejection, criticism or the source of a deep and open hurt, I simply refuse to look.

Family gatherings, group activities, crowded school yards, you name it, I protect myself by averting my eyes. If I can’t see them, they can’t see me. They can’t judge me, reject me or hurt me. They can’t see into me.

Reading this post by our friend Daniele Rossi, I realized this is another hamstringing habit that has to go.

To let go, to connect, to be fully alive, I need to open my eyes. I need to take in what’s really there.

I need to touch the burner.

Part of me knows I’ll be pleasantly surprised.



More Journey Learnings here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea February 1, 2010

February 1, 2010 at 6:18 am.

Add a comment

Frozen Forgiveness

There are tonnes of things I love about living in Ottawa, and the Rideau Canal Skateway is number one, hands down.

In twenty-four winters of hopes dashed or bettered, I have never had a harsh word for the skateway.

Even when I went through to my thigh in ice-cold water (which is what I deserved for skating out of bounds).

Even when I sprained my thumb and had to forgo my very first xc-ski race (which is what I should have expected when skating with a brain-injured friend — twice my size).

Even when it melts and freezes and melts and freezes, when it’s bumpy, or crowded, or narrow, or short or when snow-covered cracks threaten to send me flying.

I absolutely always excuse it. I fiercely defend it. I’m unconditionally grateful when it’s open. I focus only on what’s good.

If only forgiveness were always so easy.



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 24, 2010

January 24, 2010 at 6:19 am.

4 comments

Meeting Myself

Words of wisdom from Cheryl Crowe, breast cancer survivor:

I remember my radiologist saying to me, “Your mission now is to ask yourself every day, ‘Am I doing what I want to be doing?’” And  I do ask myself that, every day. I try to make the answer yes, even if it requires saying the word no and disappointing someone.

My experience was about letting go. It was about really experiencing all that was happening at the deepest emotional level, for that is where the big changes occur. That is where you meet yourself. Where you begin remembering who you are and who you were meant to be. I don’t believe you have to be diagnosed to come to these lessons, but sometimes the catastrophic moments in life force you to focus in on the immediate.

“Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips” by Kris Carr.
Skirt! Publications, 2007



More Borrowed Words here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea January 5, 2010

January 5, 2010 at 2:00 pm.

4 comments

Journey Learning #2: I Count

Years of early indoctrination infused in me an unshakable sense of worthlessness and, as a result, self-loathing. Despite huge efforts throughout my adult life, this injury kept me distracted from the great good that surrounds me and left me raw and reactive to the snipes and whims of every toxic family member or acquaintance.

The unabating care and kindess of friends, family and community members during this health challenge is providing me with a steady stream of invitations to boot my belittling beliefs, to accept and focus on the good, and to let the saboteurs slide.

Will I accept the invitation? I’ll certainly try.



More Journey Learnings here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea January 2, 2010

January 2, 2010 at 3:10 pm.

3 comments

Thank You, 2009

Mark mumbled early this morning some plans involving scotch and the ringing out of “this horrid year”.

But doctors believe breast cancer takes six to eight years to develop to a detectable size and this was the year we caught it, cut it out, clubbed it and commenced construction of kick-ass “KEEP OUT” mechanisms.

So I say, “Thank You, 2009.”

and good riddance!

Other happenings that rocked our 2009:

January 14

Nortel (my employer at the time) seeks Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States and Canada.

Not a huge surprise but it definitely rocked our world.

February 24

We adopt our pooch, Phaedra.

After 6 years of daily pleading, coercing, negotiating and plotting, we caved in. Little did we know she would become my very own Dr. White.

March 30

I leap from Nortel, and 22 years of software development, to a 12-month term position as a Technical Writer at EDC.

It was my first time without health benefits in my entire adult life, but it was walking distance from home and a chance to swap the stress of software development for the creative bliss of writing.

April 5

My “father”, Keith Ross, attempts to break into our home, spends who knows how long smashing on our front door, screaming through our mail slot and tearing out our mail slot and curtain.

As traumatic as this was for our entire family, it marked a clean endpoint of what has been an extremely painful, life long dysfunctional relationship.

July 6

Lucy attends her very first sleep-away camp.

It was a week at Time Travellers at Upper Canada Village where she and 40 other youngsters dressed in period costume and lived the role of an 1860s child. Lucy LOVED every minute of it!

August 15

I’m reunited with my long lost cousin, Kelly Clavette.

Kelly was my favourite cousin and a constant holiday companion throughout my childhood. We lost touch in our tweens. Thirty years later, Kelly and I “almost accidentally” reconnected and our renewed friendship with Kelly and her family brings our whole family true joy daily.

October 6

My diagnosis bridges the gap between myself and Mark’s parents, Rhoda and Bert Blevis.

Religious differences, unclear expecations and my own social anxiety had made my relationship with Mark’s parents a rocky one but the minute they received news of my diagnosis, Rhoda and Bert let bygones be bygones and promptly made themselves available to support our little family in any and every way.  We couldn’t have made it this far (this sane) without their unbelievable support.

October 12

My diagnosis reunites me with my long lost brother, David Ross.

I’ve missed my little bro terribly and, regardless of the circumstances, I’m thrilled that we’re in each others’ lives again.

November 25

Mark abandons his own media endeavours and takes an exciting new position as a digital public affairs strategist with Fleishman-Hillard.

Health benefits and insurance and security, Oh My!

December 18

Our friend Caroline Coady announces she is cured of Stage 4 Colon Cancer.

WooHoo!!!

December 21

Mark’s long time friend David O’Farrell loses his battle with cancer.

December 22

I revel in 14 years of Mark Blevis.

On December 22, 1995, while on a date with someone else and thanks to a huge number of coincidences, I met Mark Blevis. Lucky me! We’ve doubled the seven year itch and I’m still itching to be with this fabulous guy.

Thank you, 2009…  Bring On 2010!!



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 December 31, 2009

December 31, 2009 at 4:28 pm.

9 comments

Journey Learning #1

Whether or not we believe this disease has intentionally presented itself to do so, it’s definitely encouraging me to learn and grow in ways that my stubborn adherence to justice, fear and inertia has always prevented.

So, while the medical gurus cut, stitch, poke, scan, radiate and infuse me, it seems my role in building a new, improved, bionic me is to grasp the many opportunities for learning and then to choose and use new beliefs, patterns and perspectives that will build a stronger, happier, healthier me.

Journey Learnings.

I’ll track them here, one at a time, in no particular order.  Let’s start with a big, small one:

Journey Learning #1: I can survive without coffee, sugar and red wine.

Whodathunkit?



More Journey Learnings here.

Andrea Posted by Andrea December 31, 2009

December 31, 2009 at 8:00 am.

Add a comment