Tell me if any of this rings a bell…
The Beginning: Get up, find a lump, feel confused, panic inside, see the doctor, see a specialist, get a mammogram, see an oncologist, have an ultrasound, get an MRI, biopsy the lump, do it all over again and again and again, receive a breast cancer diagnosis, feel in shock, go home, make a plan, fall into bed and don’t fall asleep.
Chances are, if you have breast cancer you’ve heard about Tamoxifen. I remember the first time my oncologist talked to me about the chemo-infused hormonal-therapy drug. It was during my weekly check-up when I was still having daily radiation. He explained that because the cancer cells found in my right breast were 95 per cent estrogen and progesterone receptor positive, my body’s natural hormones could attach to the cancer cells and help them grow. Obviously I didn’t want that, so I said yes to the drug without even hesitating.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer is the most common form of cancer, with more than 2.2 million cases in 2020. It is estimated that 1 in 12 women will develop breast cancer and it will be the primary cause of death among all other types of cancer in women. However, breast cancer survival has improved significantly since the 1980s due to increased early detection, screening programs, and improved treatment options.
Last year, we wrote a blogpost on the importance of advocating for yourself as someone with breast cancer. We also shared tips on how to go about becoming an advocate and being a part of your healthcare team. While the information shared is valuable and reflects situations you may find yourself in, we believe that the best way to learn is to hear from people who have been there already.
Increasingly, the not-for-profit advocacy world has been questioned regarding industry funding. Many critics believe that any organization that receives funding from the pharmaceutical industry is automatically biased, but this ignores the great pains that health charities often go through to remain unbiased, ethical, and credible. And it certainly does not reflect the patient-centric approach that CBCN takes.
I’ve started counting the number of times I emotionally beat myself up every day. Each mean, cruel and hurtful criticism said silently to myself in the privacy of my own mind. Yesterday I hit number 22, my all-time high for the week. So far today, I’m up to seven unkind thoughts. It’s nine o’clock in the morning and my alarm went off at 6:30 a.m.
Living through breast cancer is a challenging journey. You will be searching for answers and information about the disease and its treatment; trying to understand how to live positively, and simply reckoning with what your future may look like.
If you are at high risk for developing breast cancer because of family history or because you have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, you have several preventative treatments to consider. These options include close surveillance, chemoprevention, and prophylactic mastectomy, with or without breast reconstruction.
Carla Van Wyck-MacDonald lives near Shallow Lake, Ontario with her husband and their four children, ages 9, 11, 13 and 14. Carla was initially diagnosed with breast cancer two years after her mother died from the same disease.
I am from a long line of breast cancer survivors, so when I was diagnosed in 2008 with breast cancer, I was not in the least surprised. I was just 50, my twin sister and I celebrated that milestone in February 2007. By December of that year, I knew something was wrong.I had a mammogram at Sunnybrook that fall, in October I believe, and received “all clear”. Both the mammogram and the vigorous breast examination at Sunnybrook failed to detect an exceedingly small tumour situated close to my left armpit and sitting deep on a ligament. It was undetectable at that time. Later that fall, I noticed a puckering in my breast when I was drying my lower body, just out of a shower at my gym. I knew instantly what it was, so I booked an appointment with my doctor at the high-risk breast screening centre at the Odette Centre.
Self-care. It’s not a phrase that even flickered across my radar when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, let alone after my surgery or during treatment. But it should have. And, no, it’s not a selfish act.
When the COVID-19 pandemic was first declared in March 2019, there was a lack of information about the virus. As time went on and more and more research was conducted, we were able to learn more about how the virus worked, who it was infecting, its symptoms and more. One of the pieces of information from this research was that cancer patients were more likely to have adverse outcomes if diagnosed. Although there was not enough evidence to pinpoint which cancers made individuals more susceptible or enough research to definitively say whether past and present patients had the same concerns, the few findings were enough to label individuals diagnosed with cancer as high-risk. Of course, one’s risk level is dependent on many different factors and varies from person to person.
At the very core of my being, I radiate feminine essence. I grew to understand this through the loss of a physical trait that has been deeply rooted as a symbol of femininity and sexuality for so many centuries - my breasts. At the age of 18, I was diagnosed with the BRCA1 genetic mutation just as my mother, auntie, and sister before me. This meant that I was at high risk for contracting breast cancer.
The goal of World Lymphedema Day is to make cures for lymphedema and lymphatic diseases a global priority. It is an annual awareness event with participation in many countries around the world. The Lymphedema Association of Ontario (LAO) has committed to improving the lives of people living with lymphedema since it began in 1996 and has become a more dynamic organization in the last year. World Lymphedema Day offers us an opportunity to continue our advocacy and awareness work. LAO partners with hospitals, our professional members, and patients to bring attention to lymphedema in Ontario.
The worst weeks of my life had finally come to an end. It had been six weeks since my lumpectomy. Six terrifying weeks, living with many unknowns, in a state of complete disillusionment. But the wait was finally over because today I would meet my medical oncologist for the first time, she would go over my pathology report, and reveal my treatment plan. Going into the appointment I felt ready to face whatever would come my way. After experiencing the darkest days of my life, I had emerged feeling strong and optimistic. I had done a lot of research and decided that the odds were in my favour, I could beat this… unless I had triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), because that was a different story. However, I wasn’t worried about that because I knew that TNBC only makes up 10-20% of breast cancers and that aside from my age, I didn’t really have any risk factors. So, there I was, full of hope, when I was hit with what I had identified as the worst-case scenario. As soon as I heard “Your cancer is triple negative”, I burst into tears. I don’t remember much of the appointment after that.
If you’re going to be told you have breast cancer, you want to be able to say, “They caught it early.” With Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) - an aggressive, difficult to treat type of breast cancer - early detection is especially important.
Traditional cancer therapies (such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy) have shown widespread success against various cancer types, but are known to have toxic, undesirable side effects as they do not selectively kill cancer cells and therefore actively damage healthy cells as well. This is where immunotherapy comes into play. Immunotherapy is a form of therapy that uses the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer within it. Think of your body as a battlefield and your immune system the frontline of soldiers, ready to attack foreign invaders. The problem with cancer cells is that they are not easily recognized as foreign pathogens (such as viruses or bacteria) because they originate in the host’s body and mutate from normal cells. It has long been postulated that the immune system could be used to target and kill cancer cells, but the process of figuring out how to harness this ability is not a simple task.
The day my doctor told me I had breast cancer was the same day I met my surgeon and was scheduled for a partial mastectomy (otherwise known as a lumpectomy), breast-conserving surgery. It’s not surprising. The Canadian Breast Cancer Society attributes breast cancer as being the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Canadian women and the second leading cause of cancer death in Canada, so booking a surgery right away is a priority.
My oldest son is 17. Then 14, and 10- and 6-year-old twins. While I don’t claim to be any kind of parenting expert, I’ve had enough experience now to know a thing or two.
February 4th is recognized as World Cancer Day, a global initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) that is focused on awareness, education and action. The goal of this day is to create a world where death from cancer is preventable and where everyone can access proper care and life-saving treatment.