Three years ago, I had no hair and had just begun my first of 20 rounds of radiation.
Up to that point I thought I was living a fortunate and happy life in Halifax. I had married my best friend and the love of my life. Once our careers were underway we had two amazing children. When the timing was right, I decided to take a risk and follow my passions, and opened my own business — an art studio for kids. My life was playing out as well as I could have ever hoped.
Two months after opening my studio I found a lump on my breast. The next month, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma.
I was only 35 years old and had no family history of breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter. The diagnosis left me in shock. In fact, it felt like a surreal out of body experience. At first, I had trouble even admitting that I had breast cancer, because I didn't feel sick or ill. I remember my immediate reaction was, "Why me? Why now, when everything in my life seems to be moving in the right direction?"
Earlier that year, my husband lost his father to leukemia. He was an amazing man who never gave up his positive outlook. He fought a long battle and had us convinced right up to the last week of his life that he could overcome his cancer. He had shown me how to fight these battles graciously and to never give up. He didn't complain and when I came face-to-face with my own diagnosis, I vowed that neither would I.
The diagnosis left me in shock. In fact, it felt like a surreal out of body experience.
Thinking about my father-in-law helped me quickly change my mindset. Instead of "Why me?" I started to think, "Why NOT me?" After all, it is estimated that one in eight Canadian women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime, and breast cancer remains the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women.
Given my family's relatively healthy history, I never prioritized going for screening. Thankfully, when I discovered a lump on my chest one day it just didn't seem right. Once I came to terms with the reality of the situation, there was little time to dwell on it. The only option was to face it head on, deal with it and beat it. My experience made me realize that breast cancer does not care how old—or how young—you are. It does not just affect our mothers and grandmothers. It can hit at any age.
So far, I have done everything I can to fight this disease, and have had a lot of help along the way. I was amazed at how my family and friends dropped everything to support me and be there for me, whether it was to keep me company during those long, difficult hospital appointments, to help me with a much-needed ride to and from treatments, to look after my two little girls, or fly across the country to be at my bedside.
I am also grateful for all the incredibly hard-working people in the medical community who have invested their time and passion to developing new and better ways of diagnosing, treating and overcoming the disease. But doing so requires money. Which is why I'm a proud, long-time supporter and participant in the Canadian Cancer Society CIBC Run for the Cure, the largest, single-day, volunteer-led event dedicated to raising funds for breast cancer research, support services, health education and advocacy programs.
In 2016 alone, the Run raised more than $17 million, which supports countless research projects that have the power to change the future of breast cancer. Mortality rates for breast cancer are now 44 per cent lower than their peak in the mid-1980s and the current five-year survival rate has increased to 87 per cent due in large part to research advancements that have improved earlier detection, diagnosis and treatment. This is amazing news and it needs to be celebrated. However, now is not the time to ease up and let cancer get back off the ropes.
I am left overwhelmed at the thought that today alone, approximately 72 women in Canada will sit apprehensively across from their doctor, awaiting the same life-altering, numbing news that I received when I was told of my diagnosis. And tomorrow, another 72. And another 72 the day after that. My heart breaks for all those women and all their loved ones who share in the impact of that diagnosis, every single day.
My message for you is to be self-aware and always take time for your own health — no matter how busy you might think you are. And, find ways to support breast cancer research. This Sunday, Oct. 1, make a promise to register, run or donate to the Canadian Cancer Society CIBC Run for the Cure.
I run because I care and because I can. I feel like I am so fortunate to have benefited from incredible treatment and support, and this is an opportunity to show my appreciation and give back. I have met so many survivors who inspire me, people who continue to face their diagnoses with dignity and courage and people who were not as lucky as me, so I'm keeping my promise and I'm running for them.
Most of all, I run for my young daughters. I look forward to seeing them grow up — through all the growing pains, the highs and lows; I want to be there. And I want them to be there too, in a world without breast cancer.
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