By Paula Ethier, Breast Cancer Survivor and CIBC Run for the Cure Changemaker
I can't remember a time when breast cancer didn't cast a shadow over my life. For more than three decades it has been a constant, unwanted and unwelcome companion. When I was 14, my mother passed away from breast cancer. She was 39 years old. Prior to that, the disease took her older sister at the age of 42.
I'm not sure why I was shocked when I was diagnosed in 2002, in my thirties. Certainly, it wasn't a surprise given my family history. I suppose the severity of the diagnosis played a role. Late Stage 3. The future did not look good, or long. I was recently married, and had actually discovered the lump after an examination following the miscarriage of what would have been my first born child.
Early on in the treatment stage I was informed that I would likely never have a child. That was more devastating to me than the diagnosis itself. It didn't take long for the stitches to come apart at the seams. My career stalled, my relationships suffered, my confidence vanished and my marriage fell under the weight of everything that came with that diagnosis.
I know that my mother would be alive today if the treatment and services available to me were available to her.
Because of my mother's fate, I knew enough that I was already going for regular mammograms. I thought that was enough. It was a good start, but like a lot of young women I didn't really educate myself about breast cancer. I didn't know that mammograms alone, especially for younger women, aren't always the most effective diagnostic tool because of the fact that our breasts are denser younger in life, and that ultrasound might have detected my cancer earlier.
Part of the reason for my lack of awareness was because, despite growing up around the disease, nobody ever really spoke about it. My mother certainly never discussed her breast cancer with me. An entire generation, and generations before her, never spoke about breast cancer. Not with friends, not with family. People with the disease lived in silence, and silence kills.
Fortunately, that attitude has changed dramatically in the past 20 years, in large part thanks to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure. The event has grown to become our country's largest single-day, volunteer-led event in support of the breast cancer cause. It has changed the perception of breast cancer from a disease that people were ashamed to talk about to a movement that has brought together friends, families and loved ones in support of the cause and raised research dollars that have allowed us to learn so much about the disease.
In my lifetime I have seen significant and positive changes in the fight against breast cancer. I know that my mother would be alive today if the treatment and services available to me were available to her. I know this because mortality rates have decreased by 44% since 1986. Today, the five-year survival rate for women with breast cancer in Canada is 88 per cent. This is all due to advances in early detection, improvements in screening technology and better treatment options.
Women affected by breast cancer are living longer, healthier lives. They are achieving their career goals. They are travelling the world. They are having children, and their children are having children. But there is still so much that needs to be done.
So much of the research that has gone into these advances are directly related to the CIBC Run for the Cure. Dollars raised have helped fund more than 500 research grants, and involved more than 1500 researchers, all doing their part in the fight against breast cancer.
Women affected by breast cancer are living longer, healthier lives. They are achieving their career goals. They are travelling the world. They are having children, and their children are having children. But there is still so much that needs to be done. The disease's assault on my family didn't end with me. After my diagnosis came my sister, then three cousins. Tragically, more lives have been lost. Some recently. All too young.
That's why I continue to passionately support the CIBC Run for the Cure. Keeping the conversation about breast cancer going is the only way we will ever, finally, destroy it. I raise money and run because I know that my story isn't unique. It is far too commonplace to bear. One in nine Canadian women are expected to develop breast cancer during their lifetime and last year, an estimated 5,000 women died from the disease.
We've come so far, but clearly we are not yet done. Supporting the run means hope in helping to identify new genetic factors that predispose people to breast cancer. It means hope in developing state-of-the-art technology to design much-needed treatments for breast cancer. It means hope in developing new breast reconstructive surgery procedures that allow women to live better, happier and more confident lives. My mom didn't have that hope or the choices we have today.
One in nine Canadian women are expected to develop breast cancer during their lifetime and last year, an estimated 5,000 women died from the disease.
About five years after my diagnosis, my biggest goal in life was realized when I adopted my daughter, Lily. Through a failed marriage, a miscarriage and what at one time would have been a terminal diagnosis, I was determined to be a mother. I knew I could be because I knew things were getting better. I knew there was a reason to hope for the future, and that I would be there to see it.
My daughter is now seven years old and on October 2, she will join me, and tens of thousands of Canadians for her first Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure. She even has her own fundraising page and like her mom, and so many others, is a Changemaker in the fight to create a world without breast cancer.
Please visit cibcrunforthecure.com and consider donating or participating in this year's event. We are all Changemakers, when we Run.
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