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Nicole Steele (Breast Cancer Survivor)

About me

My name is Nicole. I am from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I’m just celebrating this year as my two-year cansary. In 2019, I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. Now, I am in remission.

Symptoms and diagnosis

I found a mass on my left breast, and it just rapidly grew, and it was hot. My skin had dimples, and I just didn’t know what it was. So I went and saw a doctor. They didn’t even think it was cancer either. They thought it was just a cyst or bruised. So they sent me to get an ultrasound, which is standard care in Ontario. They saw that my lymph nodes were inflamed under my left oscilla, and the tumor actually grew substantially. She just said the C-word. I was so confused. When she finally said cancer, I was just kind of in shock. My mom was confused too. We don’t have this in our family. And at that time, I go to the gym regularly and eat very well. 

The doctor said to contact the cancer centre. It actually took about three months before the cancer centre actually saw me. But the cancer centre in my local area is wonderful. The surgeon saw me quickly, and she actually did a biopsy that day. It was stage 3 inflammatory cancer. All the doctors there were so lovely and nice, and I still have to see them regularly.

Challenges and side effects

If you’re a young woman before you start cancer treatment, they send you to see a fertility clinic because chemo can destroy fertility. I was very mortified because I didn’t plan anything about having children. I was 30 when I was diagnosed and I had a panic attack when I heard the news. The only one that could calm me down was my mom. My parents live about a six to seven-hour drive. So my parents couldn’t come and see me because it was just too short notice. So I ended up kind of not going with the fertility option. That was my compromise.

So they don’t want you to use these eggs. But from the biopsy, when all my profiles came back, my tumour had a good chance that it would have actually progressed beyond my armpit because of the size. It was about the size of my hand. And it was already in about three or four of my lymph nodes, and they were fully inflamed. So it’s just shocking. So I started off with chemo and then started hormone therapy. But after I had the surgery, I was on hormone therapy. 

They wanted to do chemotherapy because my tumour was so big and aggressive. So it was stressful for me because I don’t like needles and it’s IV every time. So that was really difficult. Chemotherapy destroyed my oesophagus and my stomach lining. So I only had four treatments. I lost all my hair. I was a bit bloated because they have to give you steroids before the chemo so your body doesn’t reject it. The first session started off with Herceptin. It burned so intensely. The medicine basically tells your immune system to attack the tumour. It was amazing because, in a couple of days, my tumour shrunk to nothing. My breast was back to normal. It was flat like the other one.

All chemotherapy is basically poison. My body just hated it. I actually had allergic reactions to it. I’ve been on hormone therapy for about ten years or even more, maybe even the rest of my life. She thinks that I have a chance to actually have a child in the future and do it naturally. So that’s a big thing going from you’re going to die for me. 

What I learned

Do what makes you happy. Don’t be in a situation where you’re just doing something because it’s what society tells you to do. If you want something and want to be happy, don’t settle or do something that doesn’t make you happy, whether that’s a relationship, a job or a career. Life’s too short. 

My caregivers 

So I didn’t really have that many caregivers. My caregivers were my hospital staff. My parents were the big ones who were caregivers from a distance. I just kept thinking about my surgeon and how lovely and nice she’s been. My oncologist takes the time to talk to me. And she doesn’t do this for all his patients, but I email him and he emails me back. My social worker who’s always there to talk to me, or I have a psychiatrist now at the hospital because I had to change some of my medications around to deal with the side effects of the hormone therapy. And she’s always there for me. The nurses, every time I go in, actually give me hugs. 

Lifestyle changes

I had a couple of negative lifestyle changes due to treatment. The treatment left me with severe neuropathy. I used to work out a lot. Now I can’t even run because of the neuropathy in my feet. 

Being cancer-free

Knowing that I am cancer free was a bizarre reaction. It was disbelief. Normally you think you’d be so happy, but the moment you were told you have cancer, you go through so many different emotions. So when your life revolves around cancer and fighting it all and just trying to stay alive during all these treatments, it’s bizarre when they say you’re cancer-free. 

Life after cancer

I just returned to work in September. My dream job was to work as an architect and do heritage. And I finally just got to do that, work for an architect and do heritage, and then I would get diagnosed with cancer. So it was really hard not being able to do that. So actually going back to work was exciting.  

Also, I want to travel more. I haven’t really travelled at all. I basically stayed in Ontario, Canada and would like to go and see other countries and see other things. My career is in architecture and I want to see different architecture other than Canada’s.

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