Dani Taylor feels like she's making up big time these days for being a “bratty” cancer patient.
The 26-year-old Bright's Grove native – who survived colon cancer and lived to talk about it – is now volunteering at Toronto's Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, sharing her story and advice with patients undergoing treatment in the radiation department.
Only three years ago, Taylor herself was a cancer patient with little interest in talking one-on-one to anyone about the illness.
“I was a brat during treatment,” she recalled. “I just wanted to be on my phone and…so to a degree, I feel like I'm doing my penance now for being a bratty patient.”
But Taylor's self-inflicted atonement is actually her new life – one she's still putting together after moving back to restart her life in Toronto from Bright's Grove in January 2015.
“It's been a work in progress, right, because (cancer) takes you out of your life for a minute – for a little more than a minute – and I think there's so much conversation when you're in disease about getting back to normal and going back to before…and that's not really a thing,” said Taylor, a recent York University graduate who works as a podcast marketer.
Taylor is now on a one-woman mission to share her cancer journey. She's taken her message to comedy clubs, medical conferences and even to the bedsides of cancer patients.
“The history of cancer has a lot of silence to it,” she said. “It used to be common practice to not even tell people that (cancer patients) were sick, so it's just opening up a dialogue.”
Taylor first started sharing her story with crowds when she was diagnosed in 2013. She staged a pair of standup shows in Sarnia during the middle of her treatment, and ever since then, she's been making light of her new norm.
That includes her use of diapers following a temporary ileostomy, and her decision to harvest eggs for possible in vitro fertilization because she can no longer carry a baby following her medical treatment for colon cancer.
“I'm in full menopause, so that's fun,” she added. “I'm not like every 26-year-old girl on the street.”
But her story resonates with current and former cancer patients – a fact she found out when she started attending Young Adult Cancer Canada support group retreats last year.
“I hadn't met anyone young with colon cancer,” she said. “Now I have like a little colon family. We can all talk to each other and be upfront.”
Taylor recently travelled to St. John's, Nfld. to attend the Big Cancer Hook-Up – a conference organized by Young Adult Cancer Canada that allows young people to share their own cancer stories.
She performed a standup set full of “cancer jokes” – an exercise she finds therapeutic every time she takes the stage.
“It's a control thing,” she said. “It's totally taking back control from this thing that affected my life in such a dramatic way.”
She's now hoping to share others' cancer stories through a podcast she's planning to develop.
“I've met so many amazing people with the craziest stories that I know if I can get them to sit down and just have a talk – especially for other people going through that – I would have loved to hear an interview with somebody else my age with my disease profile talk about the same stuff I felt so alone about, so I just want to create a community,” she said.
She also plans to go return to school this fall in order to fulfill a new goal –becoming a medical social worker – to help others going through cancer not feel so alone in their own journeys.
“You don't have to be alone in this,” she said. “You don't.”
“You don't have to be one ship out in the storm.”