When my younger sister was 37 years old, she began planning an extensive tour of South East Asia. In preparation for her departure, she went for her annual doctor's appointment, thinking it would merely be a routine check-up. To her surprise, the visit revealed a lump in her breast. Having come from a family history of benign breast tumors, she put it out of her mind and took off on her travels. It was probably nothing, she told herself, keeping in mind that myself, our mother and our aunt had all had an experience with a benign breast tumor. We told her not to worry, and she gave the matter no further thought.
When she returned from her trip a few months later, it was back to the doctor for more extensive tests. I accompanied her on that day and I vividly remember our light-hearted conversation as we waited impatiently in the waiting room. "Oh, it's nothing," I told her. "You're too young. And besides, benign tumors are a family affair." In the end, she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. A frightening diagnosis for even the most adequately prepared patient, we faced the diagnosis as a family full of love and support.
And so her journey began as she embarked on a slew of surgical procedures, chemotherapy treatment and extensive radiation. Thankfully, we come from a family of serial entrepreneurs. My sister was able to step away from her business to focus 100 per cent on her healing. Our extensive family was beyond supportive, offering up their time and care since the flexibility of their schedules allowed it. Her partner was also incredibly supportive every step of the way. They say "it takes a village" and particularly when facing an abyss of all the unknowns surrounding the big "C," it really did take a village of family, friends, and loved ones to carry my sister through to the other side.
I can only imagine how overwhelming it is for breast cancer patients to face this journey alone or with limited means and resources. While there are so many organizations out there supporting cancer research, Willow is unique in that it provides intimate support to those who have already been diagnosed and are being treated for cancer. Willow provides answers to questions, supportive online forums, and a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. Willow has built a community of breast cancer survivors who offer hope and help patients and families face this journey with awareness and understanding.
By and large, I still believe my sister's optimism and the support of family and friends were integral to her survival. Through this necessary support, my sister was able to gain a foothold on a positive attitude, which was paramount to her healing. Fifteen years down the road, she and I still discuss how important organizations like Willow are to helping women who are winning the battle against cancer.
This year in Canada, an estimated 23,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. This number is staggering. I wanted to give back to an organization that helps those struggling with the same diagnoses my family has faced, particularly those women facing this future alone. Please join me and 60 of Toronto's most renowned female Chefs at this year's Eat to the Beat for an evening of delicious food, delightful music and a fantastic celebration.