"We are redefined by cancer the disease. And then we are further redefined by cancer the concept. Survivor. Warrior. These ideas aren't mine. I may have physically survived cancer (touch wood) but there is a wasteland inside me. Not everything survived. A lot of what was important didn't. And it wasn't replaced by anything else."
Those are the words of Alicia Merchant, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer three years ago, when she was 23. In between working three jobs, she also writes a blog called Bomb in My Belly. (Subtitle: "Bringing New Meaning to 'Bombshell' Since 2003.")
Sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking -- often both at once -- Ms. Merchant's blog is a beautifully unvarnished picture of life as a young person with cancer.
Ms. Merchant -- alias Louise Anonymous on her blog -- was online earlier to take your questions. Your questions and Ms. Merchant's replies will be posted below.
Ms. Merchant was one of the 60 people profiled for Saturday's story in the Focus section, A Day in the Life of Cancer. You can read her part of the story here.
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Rasha Mourtada, globeandmail.com: Welcome, Alicia, and thanks so much for coming online to take questions from globeandmail.com readers. To get us started, I wonder if you can share a few thoughts on your cancer blog -- how has it helped you and what purpose do you feel it serves?
Alicia Merchant: Hi Rasha, thank you for having me. One of the main things my blog has allowed me to do is connect with other young cancer patients. Initially I set up my blog at the same time as a couple other girls who were going through or just completing treatment for ovarian cancer. We were frustrated by the lack of resources for younger women affected by ovarian cancer; it seemed impossible to find any local support community for women our age with ovarian cancer. We also found ourselves censoring ourselves on traditional cancer support boards. We found it difficult to be honest about the reality of our cancer and our experiences -- there is a lot of pain and anger connected to a cancer diagnosis, especially a gynecological cancer diagnosis, and it was difficult to express that in the forums we were already using. Blogging allowed us to connect with other women in our situation and form that community we were lacking. I think that's the most important thing I've gained from blogging -- a community of women who understand where I'm coming from.
Roxanne Rollings, Caledon: Hi Alicia, I'm a 20-year breast cancer survivor who just found out that my cancer has "recurred." I feel just as stupid about the disease as I did way back then. Do you have any suggestions as to research resources and key questions I should be asking?
Alicia Merchant: Hi Roxanne, I'm sorry to hear about your recurrence. I think one of the most important things for you to have is some kind of patient advocate. When I was initially being diagnosed, there was a nurse at my university health clinic who basically took on the role for me. She made sure appointments were made promptly, acted as a go-between for the various doctors I was seeing, and she helped me come up with questions to ask when I was seeing my oncologist. She also answered any questions I had with regards to my treatment. If you can find a nurse from your local health clinic to act as an advocate for you, do so. A nurse can help you navigate your treatment with a lot more ease.