I live in London, Ontario with my wife of 22 years. I am 53. We have two sons 17 and 20 and an Australian Shepherd named Charlie. As a child, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would respond: a mother. I love the family my wife and I have created. I grew up in a large Dutch family where my mother ingrained in us, “family is most important.” My career has always been in a helping profession, working 25 years with the Children’s Aid Society managing support programs and more recently as a General Manager in retirement living.
I have been called “granola,” a free spirit and a hippie and I have practised Tai Chi for 18 years. I love nature, travelling, butterflies, and a nice glass of red wine. My wife and I are fortunate to belong to a lesbian cottage community in Muskoka where we have an 80 year old log cabin on a lake. It has become our great escape during difficult times.
My Breast Cancer Story
Following my second vaccination for COVID, my armpits swelled which was a known side effect of the vaccine. When examined by my family doctor she found a lump in my right breast and sent me for a mammogram and an ultrasound. These came back clear with no concerns. My amazing family doctor was still concerned, stating cancer can hide in what she was feeling in my right breast; she sent me for a second opinion to a breast cancer surgeon. Four months later, at my appointment with the surgeon, he too was concerned. By this time the lump had grown and was easily felt. I was sent for many tests including an MRI, more mammograms, ultrasounds and eventually biopsies in both breasts and a lymph node. By this point my tumour in my right breast felt like a tennis ball and was protruding.
The challenges due to COVID illness in our community presented many delays leading up to my diagnosis. On May 3, 2022, nine months after my first mammogram, I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer with Invasive Lobular Carcinoma in my right breast and DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) in my left. Lobular cancer is much more difficult to diagnose (often can’t be seen on a mammogram or with ultrasound) and can hide easily in dense breasts, which I learned I had from my pathology report.
On May 20, 2022, I had a Simple Bilateral Mastectomy with no reconstruction and had many lymph nodes removed. It was devastating to hear I had breast cancer but at that point, I just wanted the cancer out. My pathology showed my tumour in my right breast was 8.5 cm, and I had three lymph nodes in my right armpit with cancer. This made my diagnosis Stage 3.
Four weeks later, I had a second surgery, an axillary lymph node dissection, and luckily there was no further cancer in my lymph nodes. In my mind, I was cancer free! The treatments to come were preventative. From August-October, I did four rounds of chemo and November- December 16 rounds of radiation. I now take hormone blockers as my cancer feeds on estrogen and I will be having my ovaries removed this fall. It has been tough, especially the chemo, but I was determined to do everything I can to prevent cancer from returning. This also includes reading many books/studies and seeing a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in cancer. I take many supplements, juice and walk daily, eat healthier with intermittent fasting and meditate. I live in the present as best I can and I tell everyone “I’m living my best life.” The biggest lesson I learned with cancer is to enjoy each day as a gift. To quote Snoopy “We only die once. We live every day!”
I Want You to Know
Not all cancers are seen on a mammogram or ultrasound. If you have concerns after a clear mammogram or ultrasound, push to have a biopsy or MRI. Trust your gut! Cancer was a wake up call for me to prioritize myself and my well-being. Do not take yourself for granted…sleep and eat well, be active, lower your stress and enjoy life in the present. I wasn’t so good at this.
Diagnosed at 52