Cancer is one thread in life’s tapestry

My story begins at the Whitehorse General Hospital. That's where I was born. My mother was battling breast cancer, a battle she lost just six weeks after my early arrival. My mother was able to spend only a short time with my father and me.

My story begins at the Whitehorse General Hospital.

That’s where I was born.

My mother was battling breast cancer, a battle she lost just six weeks after my early arrival. My mother was able to spend only a short time with my father and me. I know my mother only through the stories of others.

My father, left to grieve the loss of his wife and the daily care of a premature infant daughter, rallied with family and friends and my childhood began.

A few years later, I was to become a member of my current family when my dad married my mom.

While most parents marry and then begin a family, our family, as I know it, started with five members and a short time later was completed with a baby brother.

My mom used to say she had the perfect family, two boys, and two girls.

We remained in Whitehorse. While I was to leave the Yukon after high school, I returned to Whitehorse with my husband and young daughter. Our family of origin blossomed and, while many have moved away, many others are living and raising their families in the Yukon.

When asked “when” breast cancer became part of my life, one could say, breast cancer was “always” part of my life.

My history dictated my routine breast exams and mammograms. When I found a small lump in my breast, I was not surprised and maybe, because of my history, was already prepared to begin my battle with breast cancer.

My sister would tell you that I faced this challenge much like I have faced other challenges, gathering the facts, making tough decisions and forging on with a resolve unlike anything she had ever seen. While it would be a lie to say my days were easy, and my battle was without its challenges, I was able to undergo my surgery (lumpectomy) and follow up treatment (chemotherapy and radiation) with the love and support of my family, friends and outstanding medical treatment and follow up.

Because of my family history, I decided to have genetic testing to determine whether I had the BRAC1 and BRAC2 genes (hereditary breast cancer genes). Needless to say I was relieved to hear that my breast cancer is not hereditary.

Given the emotional rollercoaster of a breast cancer diagnosis, and because I have a daughter, this was much welcomed information. I am now in my fourth year since my treatment ended and part of an ongoing research program. I continue to take a “hands on” approach to regular breast exams and mammograms.

Prior to the breast cancer diagnosis, I thought I was living a healthy and active lifestyle. I was primarily a vegan for approximately 10 years, exercised regularly, enjoyed the outdoors, and felt like I was in the best physical shape possible. When told I had breast cancer I was absolutely shocked. I thought this does not happen to healthy people. Breast cancer continues to challenge me to live a healthy lifestyle as exemplified by the Yukon River Quest. Being in nature allows me to find beauty in what others might consider the “ordinary.”

While undergoing a chemotherapy treatment at Whitehorse General Hospital I saw a brochure of Paddlers Abreast.

I took the brochure from the rack and brought it home. I periodically read the brochure and thought this is something I would be interested in. When I saw an advertisement in the local newspaper stating that Paddlers Abreast was having a general meeting and all interested paddlers were welcome, I decided to attend.

Having no paddling experience I decided to start off slowly. The first year I practiced with the group at the multiplex pool and I did a few short paddles with the women. They were absolutely fantastic, encouraging, vivacious and full of life, and very welcoming. The following year I decided I wanted to join the Paddlers Abreast team, so I trained with them and entered my name as part of the 2009 team. The team members were wonderful and supportive. A real bond occurred because of our shared experience. I found the entire Yukon River Quest to be a very exhilarating and humbling experience. Many people personally touched me; supporters, family, friends, strangers, and the many acts of kindness they displayed.

When asked “how” breast cancer has changed my life, my story would not be complete without somehow telling you how “cancer” has changed my life and the lives of our family. Cancer has touched our family with our dad’s diagnosis and death in 2002 and most recently our mom. Cancer has helped me not to take anything for granted and I’m content with even the smallest of things now. I find a positive attitude and quality of life make all the difference, and in fact, significantly affects survivor rates in cancer patients. I stay positive by taking one day at a time, and I deal with each problem as it comes. I try not to let my mind wonder or anticipate new problems.

Since my first Yukon River Quest race in 2009 my mom passed away from pancreatic cancer on October 9, 2009. While she was able to witness the start of the Yukon River Quest last year, there will be a physical void as I look back at all of the supporters when I begin the 2010 Yukon River Quest. I know my mom was extremely proud of my accomplishments last year and was cheering me all the way.

I’m sure she will be doing the same this year.

I would like to dedicate my participation in this year’s 2010 Yukon River Quest to both my parents, Diane and Phil Wagner.