Three years ago today, September 5th, 2020, I was introduced on Facebook Messenger to a 36-year-old woman with stage 4 breast cancer. She had a 2-year-old daughter. I hesitated, said a quick “Hi,” not sure what I should say. A few weeks later, I did better and so our conversations began, flowing easily, often in the middle of the night, about life, the latest breast cancer studies, and ways to make a difference. I was inspired and in awe of Libby Wilson’s brilliance, honesty, strength, love for her daughter, and concern for the well-being of young Canadian women.
Libby knew that she was losing her life and that it didn’t need to be that way. When she showed the lump in her breast to healthcare providers, none of them made her feel it was urgent. When she showed it again, in her 8th month of pregnancy, she was told to wait until she was done breastfeeding to have it checked out. When Violet was 7 months old, Libby went for an ultrasound; she was already stage 3. A year later, she pushed for scans and learned the cancer had spread to her bones.
Libby didn’t turn inward when she learned she had stage 4 breast cancer; she turned outward to help others and use her voice. She was a source of light, support, and inspiration to those in the Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) community and even those without breast cancer who followed her journey on social media. Her X (Twitter) account alone had 38,000 followers.
Although she told me she hated having pictures taken, Libby took selfies during treatments, scans, and hospital stays, and she made videos, all with the intent to show the world what dying from this horrific disease looks like. She believed MBC was glossed over and hidden. She exposed MBC, in all its horrors, as her bones continued to break, her lungs filled with fluid, and cancer spread to her liver and brain.
Libby was a realist. In 2020, she told me her life might only be three years longer, but Libby never gave up. With her science background, she researched extensively to learn about clinical trials and new drugs. She knew she wanted to try Enhertu years before it was even approved in Canada. She would have done anything to stay alive longer for Violet.
When I met Libby, she was already an advocate, writing letters to all levels of government about the needless deaths of young women. Libby said she was appalled at the breast screening guidelines. She wrote to the Chair of the Task Force and breast cancer experts to ask why more was not being done to find cancer in women in their 30s and 40s. She believed they were falling through the cracks. She coined the term “acceptable losses” to point out young women’s lives were being stolen and no one was paying attention. She asked how many lives need to lost? Libby believed in the importance of early detection and advocated for self-exam to be taught in high school. She wanted younger women to know they’re at risk too. She wanted doctors to perform risk assessments on women in their 20s and 30s. In her words, she stated, There is a false narrative in Canada that tells us that young women do not get breast cancer.”
Libby was a poet, a writer, a children’s book author, and a creator. We will keep sharing her poetry, stories, and videos, and we promise to keep sharing her advocacy messages. Libby, you will forever inspire us to look out for one another and to keep pushing. You are so deeply missed. Our deepest condolences to Libby’s husband Jerit (JR), Violet, her sister Kimberly, her parents, and in-laws.