I remember it clear as day: “You have cancer,” said the nurse with the bit of bright blue in her hair. The air went out of my lungs. I went numb as I looked across the exam room at my mom. I hadn’t even had a biopsy yet, but from the mammogram my diagnosis was pretty clear and the nurse didn’t want to get my hopes up.

One month after my 31st birthday, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. The first half of 2017 had already been a tough year, with my husband Blair having been in two serious car accidents, and us already having experienced infertility for over a year. Cancer wasn’t unknown to me. Both of my parents had already fought their own battles: my dad with prostate cancer in 2004, and my mom with breast cancer in 2008. But for a newlywed couple who had been wanting to expand their family with a baby? It was now officially the year from hell.

Summer 2017 I had a single mastectomy. While I was recovering from surgery, I went through IVF to harvest and freeze my eggs so that they wouldn’t be affected from chemotherapy. I started chemo in the fall on an accelerated schedule, every 2 weeks, including a drug they called the “Red Devil” because it was bright red and its particularly gnarly  side effects. My hair fell out, and my bones ached so badly that walking up stairs could only be done with assistance. To finish off 2017, our  beloved dog Moose passed away. As I said, year from hell.

I finished the hard chemo in February 2018, but I would continue with IV treatments of Herceptin as a preventative measure. Hitting this milestone was a huge relief, because it meant that I could go back to a somewhat normal life again. ‘Normal’ still meant five years of semi-monthly injections and daily pills, including their side effects, to minimize the risk of recurrence. 

Wanting to take control of the singularly awful year we’d had, Blair and I signed up for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. It would be a way for us to flip the bird at cancer. And so team Andrea’s Adventurers was born! In our first year we raised over $5000 for the cause. 

But then, as we were fundraising that Spring, more bad news came in: my mom’s breast cancer had returned, this time in her lung. The day before the Relay she went for lung surgery to remove the tumour.

In the fall of 2018, as I was finishing up Herceptin treatments, Blair and I decided we needed something positive to focus on. We started Adventure Dice to share our love of TTRPGs with the world, and to help build safe and welcoming gaming spaces for everyone.

In 2021 the bad news returned: Mom’s cancer was back again, and this time in her bones–she was now stage 4.

That same year I decided  to get another mastectomy, this one preventative, to decrease the risk of my own cancer returning. Blair and I also began the search for a surrogate; because of my cancer diagnosis, I wasn’t going to be able to carry the baby myself. After a stressful search, we found a wonderful surrogate who stuck with us through four failed transfers – including an ectopic pregnancy and a testing lab that experienced a catastrophic failure, which rendered eight of our embryos unuseable. All of it still  worth it: in the summer of 2023, our son Miles was born.

In January 2023, Blair and I decided to take the leap of faith, quit our jobs and start running  Adventure Dice full time.

Then in December 2023, just five months after Miles was born, I got the news I hoped I’d never hear: my cancer was back. It had spread to my lung, liver, and bones. I was now stage 4, too. I started chemotherapy right away. We had a new baby, and now I couldn’t work full time anymore, but our wonderful community of family and friends stepped forward with so much love and support.

In March 2024, as I was still getting chemotherapy treatments, my mom lost her fight with cancer. She fought a brave battle, and was determined to keep going right through her last days.

I’m writing this in June 2024, and I’ve just finished my last serious chemo treatment for a while. I still have cancer in my body. I will continue with IV treatments that help prevent the cancer from spreading, and will be on them for the rest of my life or until the treatments stop working. The oncologist will then figure out new treatments and we will start the cycle all over again from there.

There is no cure for stage 4 cancer. For myself and other people like me, our only hope is that medical research will continue to find new ways to treat this disease, to extend and improve our quality of life, or eventually, finally find a cure. 

In the meantime, we will continue to fight. We will continue to love. We will continue to hope.