Neck Deep in Cliche


Me at the Bathing Boxes at Brighton Beach, 2011.

My cancer’s damn timing was just ever-so-slightly off for our travel plans. Last fall, after several years of dreaming and saving, we booked 16 days in Australia over spring break. This was my husband’s Bucket List trip. My son and husband had never been and they started vibrating with excitement, all talk about koala bears and white sand beaches. The daily countdown was on to our departure on March 8.

After I felt my lump in October, I was more hesitant with my enthusiasm. ‘Stop looking for the negative,’ I chastised myself, ‘let yourself be happy.’

So I dutifully watched web-cams of Bondi Beach, followed Whitsunday feeds on Instagram and booked accommodations. In another life, I would have made an excellent travel agent. I secretly made sure all our hotels had hearty cancellation policies. But alas, the lump followed me around everywhere, my constant little reminder.

In January, I briefly considered buying a new bathing suit. I had a biopsy booked at the end of the month and fretted about the location of my scars. ‘I’ll just wait until after the biopsy,’ I decided.

Sure enough, during the procedure, the radiologist asked me, ‘do you wear clothes showing cleavage?’ while I was splayed out on the treatment table. ‘Um, I guess so,’ I said, not wanting to seem skanky in a room full of clinicians. ‘I mean, I wear bathing suits.’ She opted to stick the needle on the outside of my breast, not the inside, thus saving my delicate cleavage.

Afterwards, I still couldn’t bring myself to buy that swimsuit. I was bruised and sore and couldn’t fathom standing under the bright unforgiving lights in the change room. Six days later I had confirmed breast cancer. Two days after that, we were sitting in the breast surgeon’s office. She’s talking about my upcoming surgery.

In my head I quickly calculate that I’ll be recovering from surgery after spring break but not yet in treatment. We can still go on our trip! I share this with her.

She laughs, probably her first laugh of the day. ‘No,’ she says firmly. ‘You can’t fly. You won’t get travel insurance. You can’t be far from a hospital.’

In that small clinic room in Vancouver, I watched both that swimsuit and our trip float right out the window. My comfortable bubble of denial was slowly being popped.

Now I realize that anybody who complains about travel plans is a first world jerk. Those who can afford to spend thousands of dollars on plane tickets and beach side hotels should really just keep their venting about crying babies on planes and flight delays to themselves. So this is all I’m going to say about our trip.

But suddenly you are 48 and they tell you that you have breast cancer and your Bucket has suddenly shrunk much smaller, and is now approximately the size of the tumour in your left breast.

I will take this chance to point out the irony of cancelling a Bucket List trip because you find out that you have cancer. I’m neck-deep (breast-deep?) in cliché here, but you must immediately seize the Bucket List opportunities. Don’t wait. This is the perfect time. Book it now. Do it for me.

4 thoughts on “Neck Deep in Cliche

  1. Sally Felkai says:

    It sucks to see a dream slip away. I also know you to be someone who does seize the moments. You dared to uproot and move. You dare to challenge the status quo. You dare all the time. You dare to write and share. You rock.

  2. Katharina Staub says:

    Sue. You are so right. Just do it. You have always just done it. It is not this bucket list item that is to be right now for you. Do the next one. Do the one you can.
    Please write more, write your book for us.
    AND I booked a trip to Mexico with my children and my mom in the middle of… well, life. You just completely supported my gut decision.
    And I’m going to come and see you.

  3. msteele34 says:

    Hi Sue,

    Thanks for the post. I love that picture of you. I have been struggling with a response to your post. I hate that I can’t fix things for you somehow. I need to learn how to just be with difficult, painful, scary topics. If I get better at that, hopefully I can be the kind of friend you need and be better at being with you, hearing you and loving you, even when I don’t have anything helpful to say.

    I love you, my friend. Thank you for sharing your journey with me. Please keep on sharing.


    Melissa >

  4. Lori says:

    Hi Sue,

    This item on your bucket list is not cancelled – just put off for now….!!
    Been thinking of you every day!
    XOXO Lori

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