How one woman found JOY in the midst of her cancer journey.
It was 2009 and I had just turned 50. Back then, I liked asking kids what they wanted to be when they grew up because I was looking for ideas.
I wanted my life to have meaning. So, I decided to leave Canada and go to Hawaii. Call it a mid-life crisis or call it escape from reality…I was going to spend a few years volunteering for a charitable organization there. Surely that would cure my destiny angst.
“I’ll discover my purpose there,” I thought. And if I didn’t, at least I’d get a good tan. Baby steps.
I was way overdue for my mammogram, so I figured I’d better get one before I left. Come to think of it, I’d had a painful lump for several weeks, but everyone said that if a lump was painful, it wasn’t cancer, so I wasn’t worried. After all, ‘everyone’ knows best, right?
After the mammogram, my doctor ordered an ultrasound, then a biopsy. “There’s something there, but it’s probably nothing,” he reassured me.
Biopsy day. Minutes after it was completed, the films were ready. Technicians gathered around the illuminated screen and studied the results somberly.
I interrupted the silence: “Everything okay?”
“There’s a 70% chance it’s cancer,” one of the staff responded, “We’ll know for sure in a week.”
My bet was on the 30% chance it wasn’t cancer. “Should I go ahead and book my flight to Hawaii?” I asked optimistically.
“I wouldn’t,” the technician responded quietly.
This Can’t Be Happening To Me
A week later, a nurse called. “You have breast cancer,” she said gently. And my world came crashing down.
The hospital didn’t waste any time, thankfully. Three weeks later, I was undergoing surgery. My doctor had advised a lumpectomy. “No!” I replied firmly, “I want a double mastectomy.” I’m the eleventh cancer in my family and had learned the hard way from others in my family that it was best to be proactive. This was not a cold; it was cancer. My ‘girls’ were expendable.
Somewhere within me, comedy began to spring up. I wanted this cancer experience to strengthen, not decimate me. I wanted to be able to laugh in the face of it until its ugly power shrank before my very eyes.
I figured the terms “double mastectomy” and “bilateral mastectomy” were too mundane, so I decided on “corporate downsizing” and “double double”. Much more colorful.
My favorite TV shows would now be “Breastless Housewives” and “The Young and the Breastless”. And because I would no longer have boobies, I told people that if I’d married Michael Bublé, I’d be Wendy Boobless Bublé. Kinda catchy.
Surgery day. I wasn’t nervous at all — just grateful things were moving quickly and I could get this monster disease out of my body. Grateful that as a Canadian, I could get this done without having to worry about medical bills. All expenses were covered.
Shortly after I woke up, my surgeon appeared. “We got it all!” he announced confidently. “It hasn’t spread.”
What a relief! “So I can still go to Hawaii?” I asked.
“We’ll see,” he smiled. “Come back in a month and we’ll decide then.” I was filled with hope.
The month passed and I healed well. Since I’d found someone to take over my apartment before I was diagnosed, I had already moved out and was recuperating in a friend’s basement bedroom.
Bye Bye, Hawaii
Bandage removal day. I met with my surgeon, who looked serious. “We made a mistake,” he admitted, “Your cancer has spread. It’s the aggressive kind, so you’ll need eighteen months of treatment. I’m sorry.”
I was stunned. Seriously?!? I’d finally figured out a way to reinvent myself; to fly off into the sunset, to follow my dreams, and to live out my purpose. Now I’d be heading for the chemo ward instead of the airport. I’d be lying on a radiation table instead of a beach. Woop de frickin’ doo.
I couldn’t seem to catch a break. Every time I tried to move ahead in life, something seemed to kick me back down. What was up with that?
Chemo treatments began a few weeks later and I watched my hair fall out. I was now bald as well as boobless.
I decided to start a blog which I called Adventures With Wendy. People loved it and many became faithful readers.
A film director heard about me and called one day. “I’m making a documentary on women with breast cancer,” she said, “It’s called Beauty and the Breast and it’s lacking something; it needs some comedy. Would you please be a part of it?”
Me? A star, dah-ling? “Why, of course,” I said, and soon a film crew was following me around. They filmed me getting chemo, going to doctors’ appointments, and being interviewed by the director. It completely took my mind off the cancer.
The local station of CTV, Canada’s national news network, heard about me and did a story of how I was trying to encourage and inform others with my blog.
It was weird, but I was having fun. Fun with cancer. Who would have thought?
I met with my oncologist one afternoon for a routine appointment. “We’ve done a full body scan,” he informed me. “There’s a spot on your lung and another on your spine. It could be nothing or it could be that your cancer has spread. And when breast cancer spreads to a second location, it’s no longer curable.”
“We won’t know for two years whether those spots are cancer or not, though,” he added.
I would have to wait two years to find out if I was going to live or not? Whoa.
After the initial shock, I made a crucial decision; I decided I wasn’t going to live in fear. And facing possible death, finding my purpose in life was now that much more pressing.
What did I really want to do when I grew up?
Gradually, everything came into focus, and I just knew. The answer had kind of been in front of me all along, but now, the pieces were all coming together. I’d been playing guitar since my teens, composing songs and singing them here and there in front of audiences for more than three decades. I’d been using comedy to walk through my cancer journey, so now I had a story to tell about overcoming obstacles in life. And prior to my cancer diagnosis, I had overcome clinical depression.
So there was my answer! If I lived, I would start a new path in life as a singer, songwriter, comedian and inspirational speaker. I would encourage people, inspire them, and share my JOY with them. It was perfect.
A Brand New Life
Fast forward two years later. It was 2011, and I met with my oncologist for the verdict. We sat down in his office, he looked at me and said those wonderful words: “You are now in remission.” Hallelujah!
I left the hospital with renewed determination to make a difference in the world. I wasted no time organizing my first tour and then I hit the road for five weeks, performing all across the province of Ontario, Canada.
Audiences loved it! They laughed at my jokes, listened intently to my songs, and wept at my message of struggling in life and choosing JOY in the midst of suffering.
I had found my purpose. Finally.
Was it worth the wait? Yes. Yes, it was.
Since 2011, I’ve done 500 shows across Canada & the USA. I love what I do. Covid has interrupted my travel, of course, but I’m ready to get back at it. The road is calling me to return.
Life doesn’t always take us where we wish it would. But when those twists and turns rise up to meet us, the only thing we can control is our attitude. We can learn to walk through our difficulties with strength, dignity and grace.
And we can have JOY in the journey. I’m living proof of that.