My emotional and mental journey with cancer

Below are the words of Donna Jakowec, while she navigated her first battle with cancer. Though her breast cancer went into remission, 6 months later, an ultrasound and ultimately a CT scan revealed a tumour the size of a tennis ball in her stomach. Donna was diagnosed with cancer again. This time, it was a rare form of cancer, unrelated to the breast cancer, called a gastrointestinal stromal tumour.

Thanks, in part, to a fully donor funded piece of technology, Donna was able to receive specialized care, specific to her diagnosis and her needs. Today, she’s happy to say she’s back to her healthy self.

“I realize now that it wasn’t just a journey to heal my body. It was also a journey to heal my emotional and mental state. Here are some highlights… and some lowlights. But I have come out the other side stronger. – Donna Jakowec

Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016 

My doctor’s office called. It was about the biopsy I had on my left breast last week. I went alone, as Jonathan was in Winnipeg on business. My GP [general practitioner] quietly said the words I was dreading. All of a sudden, I felt like I was in quicksand and everyone could see me going down, and no one could help me. When I got home, I burst into tears and kept saying to my kids, “Mommy has cancer.” 

Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016 

Today, I met the surgeon, Dr. John Lorimer. He spent a long time answering questions. Likely I'll just have a lumpectomy. I felt much better after talking to him.   

Monday, Nov. 7, 2016 

Appointment with Dr. LorimerJonathan came with me. There are two tumours, which is a game changer. This means a mastectomy. Surgery is in a week. No one knowsI haven’t told anyone at work or the rest of my family. I am the third with a breast cancer diagnosis: my mom and my sister, Laura. It feels like such a bad dream… Wake me up!     

Monday, Nov. 14, 2016 

Surgery day – I keep thinking, ‘I am living Laura’s nightmare She only lived three years. Is that my destiny too? Jonathan left, as he had to get the kids ready for school. The surgery went well. At home, there were two huge bouquets of flowers and chocolate from Jonathan.  

Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 

Everyone was gone – the kids to school; Jonathan to work. I removed all the bandages. What a shock to see my breast gone! Big scar from my sternum to my rib.  

Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 

Follow-up appointment with Dr. Lorimer. He gave me the pathology report. I cried when I got home because the flatness of my chest was obvious. I started wearing Jonathan’s dress shirts…very big, loose, so no one sees how misshapen I am.  

Dec. 1 to 13  

I decide that things are going to be normal for everyone. We still have skiing, music lessons, hockey, and school. The two kids caught me weeping a few times. It’s so upsetting for them. went shopping for new clothes. And went back to work.  

Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016 

Appointment with medical oncologist Dr. Mark Clemons. Jonathan came with me. Dr. Clemons is very upbeat. Maybe things will be ok. He tells me the plan. I have an estrogen/progesterone sensitive cancer – bye-bye ovaries – and he doesn’t think chemotherapy will work for me. Radiation and hormone therapy instead. I won’t be losing my hair! Good thing, I just got my hair done! 

Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 

First day of radiation treatment. I’ll have radiation every day for five weeks.  


went to work almost every day throughout radiation. Definitely tired, but I read that doing light exercise takes the fatigue edge off. I started on my rowing machine or going out for a run on nice days. 

Busy with the kids’ activities. I don’t talk about my cancer to anyone. I wake up at night and stay awake until morning, thinking this a bad dream 

Monday, March 6, 2017 Donna and family

Last day of radiation and my family came to see me ring the bell. That night was my first feeling of abandonment. I hit some emotional wall. I started to panic but went to bed rather than say anything to anyone. I cried for half the night. I didn’t feel healed. I think of my sister every day and her breast cancer struggle, nothing worked for her at all. I started questioning this whole process. I decided to do more running because I do feel better afterward.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017 

Took my first pill of Tamoxifen. Is this supposed to ward off cancer? Shouldn’t the pill be way bigger?  It’s so tiny!    

March and April 2017 

Things are busy at home. I never talk about my cancer. Jonathan doesn’t ask, neither do the kids. Everyone is doing well, which is what I want. I have feelings of panic and anxiety that Ive never felt before. I’m anxious between doctor visits. I feel like the doctor visits are ‘islands’ of safety and health. But between appointments, I feel completely lost, like I have been thrown off the island and must swim to the next island, but I can’t swim very well.  

Wednesday, May 3, 2017 

Oophorectomy surgery  my ovaries were removed today. I asked Jonathan to drop me off at the [Irving Greenberg Family] Cancer Centre [run by The Ottawa Hospital but located] at the Queensway Carleton Hospital. I take the alone route, not wanting to bother anyone. The surgery went well. Everyone says I look good (for which I am grateful), but in my head, I feel as though I am falling apart.  


I’ve been oscillating between happiness and anxiety, never depressed but really anxious. I saw a brochure at the hospital on cancer support groups. I am having a huge problem concentrating on anything. My work is suffering. I get overwhelmed with multi-tasking. I’m afraid that I’ll have an accident.  

I called and the session has started. But I can have a private session with someone at the psychosocial oncology services...I jumped at that.  

Saturday May 27, 2017 

I ran the Ottawa Race Weekend 5 km race tonight! It was so hot, but I placed 89/374 for women in my age category. It was fun. Running really makes me happy! 

Friday June 2, 2017 

Went to the Nordik Spa with my mom and friends. I’m on an emotional roller coaster again. I was loving the evening, and then it jumped into my head that I could die in three years…like my sister. I got big reassuring hugs, and stopped crying.  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 

11 a.m. appt. psychosocial oncology service at the cancer clinic [at the General Campus of The Ottawa Hospital]. I met social worker Karen McRae. I like her a lot. She is very patient and not irritated by my rambling on about how anxious I am between doctor appointments. We talked for an hour 

Friday, July 21, 2017 

Had another appointment with the social worker. We also talked about me taking time for myself. 


Went on holidays. Lots of wind, rain, cold while camping but we were having so much fun, it didn`t matter. Focussing on what Karen said, taking time for myself and getting those around to help me. I am very bad about asking for help.  

Donna cycling in The RideSaturday, Sept. 9, 2017 

I didn’t feel great, and tomorrow is THE RIDE fundraiser for The Ottawa Hospital. I’d signed up in May to cycle 117 kms. So many people sponsored me in this event, from family to Facebook friends that I have never personally met!  

Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017 

THE RIDE day – got ready, but not sure I could do it. Figured I’d decide if I’m going to ride once I got thereAt Tunney’s Pasture, where it starts, someone suggested I start out and if it’s too much, call for a pick up. So I get on my bike and go. The first 60 km were good, but then I started doubting if I could do it. Then this fella, Denis, rode with me and we chatted. The last 20 km went by very fast. Finally, I crossed the finish line. I cycled the full 117 kms!  

Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017 

Appointment with Dr. Clemons. He is kicking me to the Wellness Beyond Cancer program. I’m not happy about that. My doctor was my safety net. But I have no choice. So, I’ll give this wellness program a chance.  

Thursday Nov. 23, 2017 

I need to find a way to convince myself that for now everything is ok. Went to the Wellness Beyond Cancer program presentation. It’s going to be fine. I can do this. I’ve done so much this year. Treatment didn’t stop me from anything. 

Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 

wonderful day at the Nordik Spa with my co-workers. I never once thought about my cancer…finally!!!  Over the past year, I have gone from thinking I was going to die soon to realizing that I can live with this chronic disease, and that many women do very well. I’ve really got my life back…. thanks to The Ottawa Hospital… and for that I’m grateful.  

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