Elissa’s Story: Finding the strength within to fight cancer

Elissa had just turned 42 when she felt an uncomfortable lump in her left armpit while swimming at her parents’ outdoor pool. When she went to see her doctor for a regular checkup, she shared her concerns about the lump. This consultation resulted in mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, and eventually bad news.   With no family history of cancer, Elissa didn’t expect to be diagnosed with one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer: triple negative.

Understandably, her initial reaction to the diagnosis was shock and fear.

“I crumbled. Information was coming at me so fast, that I couldn’t process it all. In a matter of a few short days, I was being sent for scans, treatment plans, and invasive tests. I went from being a productive member of society to being a patient with a red card. My life as I knew it was turned upside down. I was mad, angry, and I had a pass to a club I never wanted to be in.”

Elissa found that the trauma is not so much in the treatment, but in accepting your diagnosis and facing the reality of your mortality.

“Honestly, the first thing that came to mind was that I was going to die, not survive. As a single mother of an eight-year-old, I kept asking myself: Why me? How is this happening? Who would I leave my child to? I had worked so hard to be there for him. I had a very difficult time believing I needed to fight. I never really saw myself as a fighter.”

Elissa knew she had a long road ahead of her and needed to be strong for her son while remaining focused on one main goal – getting healthy again. Wellspring wasn’t quite open when she finished treatments, but she had heard that a new cancer support centre was “in construction” very close to her home.  “It was a great motivation for me as I walked by the new site on a daily basis and felt hopeful that soon there will be a place for all cancer-related, friends and family to share their stories, concerns, grief, and success stories.”

Elissa joined Wellspring Edmonton as soon as the facility opened to the public. Participating in ACE, painting, sculpture, research studies, felting, and special functions at Wellspring gave her a sense of community and belonging, and she is grateful for all the different ways she was able to connect with others during her cancer journey.

“I was surrounded by women who weren’t afraid to talk about cancer, share their stories, and “get it.” Connecting with other survivors in my support groups has helped ease the transition I’ve been going through. I formed strong bonds with the other members and drew strength and resilience from them.”

Elissa successfully made the transition — from breast cancer patient to breast cancer survivor. Today, Elissa has been cancer-free for five years and she considers it a special honour of being a member of this club. She is grateful to science, medicine, and supportive care for making her aggressive cancer treatable.

“During my time at Wellspring, I learned that there is no “typical mold” for who will or will not get cancer. We’ve all been affected by it, and we’re all here to support one another. I don’t often mention that I’m a cancer survivor, but when I do, I’m enthusiastic about all the best things I tried while at Wellspring.”

Looking back on her emotional struggles during cancer treatment, Elissa admits that she regrets certain things she did or said. “I see now that it was all part of my journey. Everyone has a different way of coping and that’s ok too.  I was scared, overwhelmed, and shocked. I try to make up for it now. I am grateful for each person who guided me along the way, in whichever way they felt comfortable helping.”

With a positive attitude and a smile on her face, she continues to support others in this fight and inspire them to look forward to a bright future ahead. “I teach others that it’s okay to feel all the emotions on the spectrum. I am deeply committed to spreading hope and encouraging others. I share my story in the hopes of reassuring others that despite the challenges, we all have the inner strength and power we did not believe we had to overcome them.”

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