The Tit Store: In Conversation With Tawnya Wasilenko



Hello everyone! We’re back at it again this week.

We’re talking about cancer, guilt, survival, and love, among other things.

Strap in, folks.

Out of all cancers, breast cancer kills the most women.

On average, 72 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every single day.

Fourteen Canadian women will succumb to breast cancer every day.

This season’s charity donations are going to benefit women battling breast cancer and breast cancer survivors. For this week’s blog, we talked to an amazing, honest, and brilliant woman by the name of Tawnya Wasilenko. 

Tawnya is a high school English teacher in Red Deer, Alberta. Ask any one of her students and they will tell you how amazing she is. Seriously. She is renowned.

It’s August 2015. That last breath of summer is bristling the willow branches; back-to-school is a mere three days away.

Tawnya is excited, as she always is before school starts.

But something’s wrong.

“I had developed a wee bit of a thyroid condition, so I had lost a bunch of weight quite quickly.”

“We went into the doctor and I said ‘I’m losing weight (…) and by the way, I have this lump in my breast.’”

Tawnya didn’t think much of the lump.

Her doctor said it felt fairly normal, but sent her for a mammogram anyway, just to be sure.

Then they sent her for an ultrasound. Then for a biopsy.

“You can never prepare yourself for those words: ‘You have cancer’.”

Tawnya had surgery in October of that year and underwent chemotherapy that year as well. She says it’s not just the physical ramifications of cancer that sting – it’s the social ramifications too. You have to be home a lot. People can’t visit you because your immunity is down and you cannot risk getting sick. You’re isolated.

“Everybody’s life continues and carries on while you’re at home laying in bed waiting for these side effects to subside.”

Tawnya was searching for a way to make meaning out of what was happening to her. She found solace in educating people. (Fitting.) She used social media as her platform to share her story.

“Oftentimes, my posts were not happy. ‘This is what’s going on right now, this is really awful, I lost my hair and I realize that many of you may think that I’m incredibly vain and that this shouldn’t be a big deal in the scheme of things, but it’s really quite awful and I’m having a hard time with this, and I’m feeling guilty for having a hard time with this’.”

“Cancer is not pretty.”

There were “Why me?” days. There were horrible days.

“There were also days when I thought: it’s interesting that this can happen to you and then all of a sudden, you’re opened up to this world of people around you that are so incredibly amazing.”

With the outpouring of support, however, came an element of guilt. Tawnya says she didn’t feel like she deserved all of the help. 

“All of these people put in this time and this energy, but I’m not feeling like a brave hero right now,” she said. 

“I also work in an occupation where your job is to give a lot, so to receive is really difficult.”

Despite her community rallying around her, Tawnya says she would hear a lot of the same phrases again and again. When she started chemo, people would tell her to stay strong and keep a positive attitude, which she says was important to her, but it wasn’t everything. She realized they were saying these things because maybe they didn’t know what else to say.

“I remember some people even being frustrated some days. They’d (ask) how things were going and I’d (say) ‘Not very good, like, my fingernails are coming off and I’ve got these awful mouth sores…’ (And they’d say) ‘Well, you have to remain positive!’ And I remember sometimes thinking ‘You know what? Maybe I don’t always have to remain positive. Maybe things can just be going awful and I can feel awful about it’.”

I asked her what her least favourite thing that people said to her during her treatment was. 

“Oh. That one’s pretty easy.”

“I have a lot of people tell me that, because I had breast cancer, that I’m lucky I get a new pair of boobs. I get that a lot, and that’s really bothersome.”

Reconstructive surgery after breast cancer is not like getting a boob job. It’s not like getting implants. Tissue expanders are usually inserted under the skin to stretch the area and prepare it for reconstructive surgery. It is a painful process.

“I thought ‘Who the heck would go through this for a free boob job?’ It’s a pretty big price to pay.”

Along that train of thought, I ask Tawnya how losing one of her breasts to cancer has affected her view of femininity, or if it has.

“The reason why I met with a reconstructive surgeon in the first place was because I didn’t feel as whole. I just don’t feel whole.”

“I don’t know if that’s a femininity thing, or that’s just a part of the fact that when you have cancer, you change. A part of you does leave and is replaced with a new kind of normal or a new outlook. (…) It’s a loss of something. It’s a loss of a body part, a loss of a year of your life, a loss of independence when you’re going through this and you have to rely on other people.”

Tawnya is back teaching now, full time. She figured she’d also give being the department head a go. (See? Told you she was amazing.)

Cancer fucking sucks. It’s not pretty or easy. Cancer looks a lot like exhaustion. It looks a lot like getting stared at in the grocery store in the summer when it’s hot and you don’t want to wear a touque and you’re rocking a totally bald head. It feels a lot like being alone all the time. It feels a lot like helplessness and uncertainty.

But sometimes, you battle and you make it. You can wake up and see the glorious sun and eat some ice cream and go for a drive. And it’s a part of you. But it’s not who you are.

Breast Cancer doesn't end when October is done, let's keep the conversation going. Thanks for donating this season (and every season). If you haven’t donated yet, you can do so on our home page OR you can add a donation onto any purchase in the "Pay What You Want" box! We’ll catch ya next week.

Love,

The Tit Store


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