My name is Anna Craig. I am 37 year old mother of two small children and I have metastatic breast cancer. What follows is the story of why and how I am trying to create a legacy through designing and building a house.
It was about two and a half years ago, a couple days after my daughter was born that I found a lump in my breast. I was breast feeding at the time so I did what any rational new mother would do for a blocked milk duct; I bought cabbage and a heating pad. Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it was cancer. With the certainty and confidence of someone in their thirties I believed that the world was mine to behold. I believed in my health, my career, my vast future and most importantly my invincibility.
Since I was a small child, buildings and cities always fascinated me. I would spend hours on the living room floor building towers and houses out of brightly coloured blocks. In middle school I used to sneak into the new houses that were being built in my neighbourhood. I loved exploring and watching a plot of dirt and grass grow into what would become someone’s home. I would take scraps of wood and building debris out of piles of construction waste and add them to a fort I was building on a vacant lot. As I grew older I began to dream of being an architect.
I followed my passion and went to architecture school in Halifax. I got a job as an intern architect and settled down to learn all that I could about design and buildings. I patiently worked and developed my skills and interests hoping that one day I would get to build buildings that I had designed. I imagined being an eccentric old architect with a portfolio of buildings that made a contribution to architecture and the people who would inhabit it.
Early one monday morning, after a world wind of tests, I found myself sitting across from a surgeon. His office had called late friday afternoon asking me if I could come in first thing monday morning. In a healthy state of denial I still believed that we were going to talk about techniques for draining a blocked milk duct. Sitting across from him looking into eyes that were filled with compassion and I realized I was not going to receive good news. “I’m sorry Anna,” he said as his eyes darted to the file he was holding in his shaking hands, “You have cancer.” A couple months later I would find out that I had metastatic cancer. Over the span of six months the small lump in my breast had spread to my lungs, to my liver and my spine and I was incurable.
I have found a way to live with my diagnosis. I spend a lot of time living in the moment. I am getting used to the ebb and flow of progression and recession. I am now a little bit closer to 40 and last year I walked my oldest child to his first day of kindergarten. I live my life deliberately and condensed. These days I keep myself grounded by working on legacy projects. I want my short life to have meaning. I want to contribute to making the world a better place. Most importantly, I want my children to know me… all of me… and to know that they are loved and cherished. So I’m building a house, taking selfies, writing memory books, blogging, going on adventures and advocating for change and awareness. My focus is no longer on my career. I spend most of my time trying to figure out how to create a legacy. A legacy of who I am as a wife, a mother, a woman and an architect.
Building a house is a way for me to create something special and meaningful for my family. I want it to reflect my love of architecture, my ambition, and my interest in sustainability. I want it to be a way for my family to know who I am as person. To understand my dreams and my passions. I want my house to reflect my potential. I want to create a space that nurtures family and inspires creativity in my children. Most importantly I want it to be a house that speaks of my love for my family. I want my house to be my legacy.
Over the past six months I have been developing and designing an addition to my 800 square foot bungalow. The addition will drastically change the appearance of my house. Our little conservative bungalow will be transformed into a modern sustainable house complete with a green roof. Our bungalow was built in the 1950’s and doesn’t conform with the new city bi-laws. To get my legacy built I have had to go to the city to get planning permission. Although most of my neighbours have rallied around me with love and support, my elderly neighbour to the north has decided to oppose the project. This left me feeling hurt and betrayed, but as I begin to process those feeling I’ve realized that her opposition is not about me. Its about a 90 year old lady who has lived beside a bungalow her whole life and is not open to change. It is sad because it has made the process much more complex and stressful then it needed to be. It has also strained what was for eight years a nice neighbourly relationship.
Despite my neighbour’s opposition the city has given me planning permission. Now I have to focus on getting my legacy built. This will require finding funding and a builder who would be willing to work with my family and I and my ever changing health.
For me this house has become more then just a legacy project. I has evolved into a platform for the people who love and support me to rally together to make my dreams possible. CS&P, the architecture firm I worked for prior to my diagnosis provided mentorship, technical and design reinforcement when I need it. Rethink Breast Cancer has given voice to my story through a producing a documentary centred around my process in discovering ways to achieve my dreams and legacies. My friends and family have provided unconditional love and support, rallying around me in person and through social media. This has been life changing.