It all started in mid-January 2021, while in the shower, during Covid. I noticed that the nipple on my left breast had receded. Where the right nipple popped out like a pencil eraser, the left one was now flush with my areola. I didn't like the feeling in the pit of my stomach so I contacted my family doctor who helped me get a rush mammogram at the CIBC Breast Centre at St Mike's Hospital. This was the beginning of a rapid succession of tests including a 3D mammogram, a long ultrasound appointment with a radiologist and finally a biopsy. By then, I was prepared for the news that we all dread.
On February 10th, I got the phone call confirming that I had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in my left breast and cancer cells were also detected in several of my lymph nodes on that same side. Here we go, I thought.I chose to focus on what the surgeon told me in that call : "we have a plan for you and breast cancer now has an 80% survival rate". I wrote that sentence down in my journal and often referred back to it, believing what he said and ... if I do as I am told, I would find myself in that survival group. The journey was underway.
A month later, I started chemo (8 sessions over 16 weeks). The side effects were brutal however I kept telling myself that all this was temporary and necessary. "Just show up and do as you are told", was my mantra. I made 2 friends during chemo and I couldn't be more grateful that they are in my life. We shared, vented, laughed and supported each other through those weeks.
At the end of June, I was given a month-long break and I relished that time to rest and prepare for my surgery. Ah, yes... the surgery. I had been told all along that I'd be getting a lumpectomy, along with the removal of several lymph nodes. Unfortunately, this diagnosis changed and I was told that I actually needed a mastectomy. At that point, I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy. This is a highly personal decision, however, I knew that I needed balance so this was my choice. I was grateful that my surgeon and oncologist supported my decision.
The recovery from surgery was the most surprising for me. I was quite shocked at how my body responded. I am one of the lucky ones who has a sister who is a physician. She came to Toronto and stayed with me for 10 days, post-surgery, helping enormously in my physical and emotional recovery. I was further grateful for the community physio support that helped me prepare for the 15 rounds of radiation that awaited me at Princess Margaret Hospital. ("Show up and do as you are told", I kept telling myself.)
By November, I had finished my treatments and my Radiation Oncologist had put me on the waiting list for Princess Margaret's Survivorship Program. Wow. What a resource. In January 2022, I had my first appointment. Under the umbrella of that program, I was able to access several services to help in my recovery from the side effects: physio/rehab, neuro-lingual psychologist, acupuncture... etc. Some of my side effects include neuropathy, chemo brain/fog, limited arm & shoulder mobility, scar tissue tightness, cording and fatigue.
I've been surprised by the extent of the after effects. I wasn't quite prepared for it all. However, by continuing to seek resources, rely on my support network, ask questions and do the work, I am getting better every day. Every single day. So I can show up for my family and friends.
" The side effects were brutal however I kept telling myself that all this was temporary and necessary. (Just show up and do as you are told) was my mantra"
The last two years have been a long path. My dear mother, who lived with me for close to 10 years, sadly passed away at 92 years old in 2019. In a short amount of time, I lost a parent, retired from my teaching career, and was diagnosed with breast cancer. These three huge stresses were truly overwhelming to bear. It was “Merry Christmas,” “Happy birthday,” as my birthday is on Christmas Day, and “Happy New Year. You have cancer.”
I am an oldest sister of five, a mother of three, a grandmother of two and an active volunteer with the CPLC Community Police Liaison Committee since the 1980’s. I’m also a sprinter. When I was 62, I joined a 100m sprinting team to relive my childhood of competing in track and field. Unfortunately, when I was 14 I had to put my dreams of training for the Olympics aside because of back injuries but I was ranked first in standing and running broadjump, high jump and sprinting in middle school.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was overwhelmed. It seemed to appear unexpectedly overnight. My first sign of something being wrong was discharge from my nipple. I noticed red marks on my clothing, the size of a pin tip. I knew this was not normal and went to get checked out. Turns out I had two tumours, one benign and one cancerous, and DCIS in my right breast.
Why did it take me so long to book a mammogram? My only answer is, life got in the way. My advice for others is to take your breast health seriously and book your annual mammogram when you reach 50 years old, according to the Ontario Breast Screening Guidelines.
I had a lumpectomy at Women’s College Hospital to remove the invasive mass, and six lymph nodes which all came back clear. I then had another surgery to address the DCIS. Nine radiation treatments followed.
I am so thankful for my family and friends' support during this trying time. My advice to others who have just been diagnosed is to adapt to your new circumstances.