Cornelia Schupp-Fitzpatrick

My story begins in the summer of 2007. I had just lain down to go to sleep and was rolling onto my side. As I rolled over, I adjusted my breast out of the way from being squashed. I noticed there seemed to be a lump on my left breast. I turned onto my back and investigated further. There was definitely a lump. I asked my husband to feel it to see if he thought there was a lump. He agreed there was a lump. We lay there discussing what it could be and at that time we decided that if it was cancer, I would have a mastectomy. He assured me he would still love me the same.

I went to see my family doctor, who sent me for a mammogram and to visit the general surgeon in our town, Dunnville. When I went to see him, he said it could be a cyst or a fibroadenoma, and decided to do a fine needle biopsy. That day he had a medical student working with him and as he inserted the needle he commented to the student that the needle went in smoothly and if it were cancer the needle would go in with more friction. I felt at that time that everything would be fine.

The next time I visited the surgeon, he said that the tests were inconclusive, and he thought it was probably a fibro adenoma. He said we had two choices: we could continue to monitor the lump or remove it. Since I had been surfing the Internet frantically previous to this visit, and had read somewhere that often a phylodes tumor is mistaken for a fibro adenoma I said I would like to remove it. An appointment was arranged to have this done in the local hospital. The night before the surgery, I dreamt that when I woke up from the surgery, my left breast was shrunken to a flat little teenage breast. I mentioned this to the surgeon and we chuckled about it. I had the lump removed and an appointment was made for a follow-up, to check the incision. At this time I thought all was well and my husband and I went up north for a little vacation.

When I returned, the surgeon’ s office postponed my visit to the following week. My husband told me that when that happened, he had a feeling something was wrong. When I finally went to see the surgeon and walked into his office, he asked me if I had come alone. I told him my husband, John was in the waiting room. He asked me if he would like to come in too. I asked, “Does he need to?” He replied, “Well there are some things that we need to discuss.” That’ s when I felt my heart sink and, trying to hold back tears, I asked my husband to join us.

When the surgeon told me the pathologists had discovered the lump was cancer, I remember I just kept repeating, “Oh, this sucks!” We talked about options and he said he could go back in and remove more of the tissue around where he had cut before, or he could perform a mastectomy. I asked him which option gave me a better chance, he said, “The mastectomy.”

Because Dunnville is a small town, he said he could do it the next day, but I wanted to give a week’ s notice at my work, and I knew we were planning to enter a float in the Wainfleet Fall
Fair parade with children from the daycare and I wanted to be there for that. The appointment for my mastectomy was made for the following Friday at the hospital in Dunnville.

When we got home that night, we had a good hug and cry session. I called the supervisor at my centre and told her what had happened and what would happen. She called me back and said put the kettle on, that she and another friend, who was the caretaker at the school we worked in, were on their way.

I asked them not to tell anyone at the school. Of course that didn’ t work. I finished out my week at work, trying to keep the information to myself, because I didn’ t want a bunch of people giving me the pity look, and I knew I wouldn’ t be able to talk about it without crying. I told my supervisor that she could tell people after I left work. People started giving me information. A parent who was a naturopath gave me information on natural healing; another parent who worked in a hospital gave me information on radiation. While I know they all meant well, I found it a bit overwhelming. I decided to stick with the course of action my doctor prescribed for me.

I had my surgery on a Friday in September, 2007. When I awoke from surgery, I wouldn’ t look down at my chest. For the whole time I was in the hospital, I refused to look at my scars. The nurses at the Dunnville hospital were all so nice, and on my last day, each of the three nurses found a moment to come in and give me a little supportive talk before I went home. While I was at home, I was lucky to have visits from the CCAC lovely nurses, who came every day to check my dressings and finally remove my drain. The first time a nurse changed my dressing was the first time I looked at my ‘ flat little teenage breast.’

In November, I had my first appointment at the Juravinski Cancer Clinic. I remember thinking that it didn’ t seem like a hospital at all; the atmosphere was so positive and the décor was calming and beautiful with all the displays of pottery. I was appointed to the care of Dr. Andrew Arnold. He explained about my cancer. He told me that luckily the lymph nodes that were removed did not have any cancer cells and the cancer was estrogen receptor positive. The negative thing was that my tumour was larger than 5 cm., so I would need chemotherapy as well as radiation. He gave me information about the statistics for the different methods of treatment and I agreed to chemotherapy followed by radiation.

So my treatment started. I remember the first few days after my first chemo thinking, “Hey that wasn’ t so bad, I can handle this.” I had assumed I would feel nauseated all the time and I wasn’ t. I kept a calendar journal of how I felt every day, what medications I took etc. I soon began to notice trends. The fifth day after chemo was my worst day. I would always be depressed on this day and spend most of the day crying and feeling sorry for myself. The eighth day after chemo was when the bone cramps would come. The CCAC nurses came to give me neupogen injections until my husband was trained to give me my injections and the nurses slowed down their visits. I think my husband kind of enjoyed pretending he was a doctor!

After each chemotherapy session, things got a little harder, and I found myself getting weaker and weaker. It was like a flu that won’ t leave. Sometimes I would be sent home to come back a few days later because my blood tests told the oncologist I wasn’ t ready for the next round of chemo. I equated chemotherapy with being in an abusive relationship. You get beaten up, and think it is the worst thing ever, but then as time goes on, you start to feel better and forget how lousy you felt. Then you get beaten up again. Each time was a little bit worse than the time before. The one thing I remember is that I never dreaded going to the Juravinski Cancer Centre. The staff and volunteers there were always so nice and there was always a positive vibe in the air.

I had taken time off from work during my treatment. I kept myself busy, reading the paper in the morning and because, my hobby is making jewellery, I spent the afternoons making necklaces, earrings and bracelets to sell at local craft shows. I finally had the time I always wished for to make jewellery. When I was feeling better, I even took a course to learn how to make my own beads out of glass, something called lamp-work.

I remembered reading all these things that told me I had to try to remain positive. So when I was feeling especially down about being bald, I decided to make a list of all the positive things about having no hair. Such as no hair in the drain, etc. That got me chuckling over it, and I started to come up with ridiculous ideas such as now bats won’ t get caught in my hair. This prompted me to make funny book about the benefits of losing your hair. Maybe one day I will finish it and try to get it published.

A few months after my chemo was over, I was referred to Dr. Susan Gudelis, for radiation therapy in 2008. It was five weeks Monday to Friday, daily appointments. I remember the radiation team was always so nice; I felt like I was leaving old friends behind when my radiation was finally over. I felt strangely sad.

Having cancer changed my life, but I decided I won’ t let it define me. It is just something that happened, and now it is done. I was usually someone who would live life well, but now I take it a step further. When an opportunity to do something different arises, I try to embrace it. I make sure to put money aside for a yearly tropical vacation. I have gone zip-lining, scuba diving, swimming with sharks and rays, swimming in a cave and held a baby crocodile, to name a few. These are things I might have talked myself out of in the past.

I also realized what a great husband I have. Yes, there are still days when he drives me nuts, but then I remind myself how supportive he was during my treatment. I have talked with other women who have not been so lucky.

Last summer, I finally had my left breast reconstructed. It was done by Dr. Ronen Avram, an incredible talent in the field. Because I am not a skinny-minny, he was able to use my own stomach tissue to create my new breast. This means I also scored a tummy-tuck in the process! I recommend this to anyone who is considering it. I am suddenly feeling whole again. I didn’t realize how much my lack of a breast had affected my feelings about myself. The surgery is intense and the recovery is rough for a few weeks, but when I look at myself now, I have a cleavage and a flat tummy. I feel good and feel like taking better care of myself. I actually dropped 20 pounds. It is so nice not to have to wear prosthesis anymore and not to have to buy shirts and dresses that have higher necklines.

2008 was the first year of the BRIGHT RUN and my husband and I decided to participate in the first walk. We were joined by my step-daughter and granddaughter. I walked in the BRIGHT RUN for three years. In 2010, I turned 50 and had an open house for my friends. I asked that no one give me gifts and suggested they sponsor me in the BRIGHT RUN instead. That year, I raised the most money I had ever raised.

But honestly, I hate asking people for money. The first few years after treatment, it was easier because who could possibly say no to me after what I just went through? We both liked the idea that the BRIGHT RUN does not have money going to an executive committee, but is run solely by volunteer. We love the fact that the money raised stays in the community and we are informed about where and how the money has been used, and by whom, for research.

We decided that we would volunteer for the event after that. We started volunteering on the day of the walk; we would get little jobs like directing traffic, monitoring the volunteer snack room, and selling T-shirts and then it snowballed. We picked up a few volunteer shifts at local festivals and discovered my husband has a knack for raffle ticket sales. Now we try to help out a few times at festivals over the summer. Last year we were able to help with folding T-shirts for the swag bags, and of course we always enjoy volunteering the day of the walk. We also enjoy meeting the other volunteers, who are all nice people. You will usually find us selling raffle tickets the day of walk, and we will be approaching you to buy some tickets!
My story begins in the summer of 2007. I had just lain down to go to sleep and was rolling onto my side. As I rolled over, I adjusted my breast out of the way from being squashed. I noticed there seemed to be a lump on my left breast. I turned onto my back and investigated further. There was definitely a lump. I asked my husband to feel it to see if he thought there was a lump. He agreed there was a lump. We lay there discussing what it could be and at that time we decided that if it was cancer, I would have a mastectomy. He assured me he would still love me the same.

I went to see my family doctor, who sent me for a mammogram and to visit the general surgeon in our town, Dunnville. When I went to see him, he said it could be a cyst or a fibroadenoma, and decided to do a fine needle biopsy. That day he had a medical student working with him and as he inserted the needle he commented to the student that the needle went in smoothly and if it were cancer the needle would go in with more friction. I felt at that time that everything would be fine.

The next time I visited the surgeon, he said that the tests were inconclusive, and he thought it was probably a fibro adenoma. He said we had two choices: we could continue to monitor the lump or remove it. Since I had been surfing the Internet frantically previous to this visit, and had read somewhere that often a phylodes tumor is mistaken for a fibro adenoma I said I would like to remove it. An appointment was arranged to have this done in the local hospital. The night before the surgery, I dreamt that when I woke up from the surgery, my left breast was shrunken to a flat little teenage breast. I mentioned this to the surgeon and we chuckled about it. I had the lump removed and an appointment was made for a follow-up, to check the incision. At this time I thought all was well and my husband and I went up north for a little vacation.

When I returned, the surgeon’ s office postponed my visit to the following week. My husband told me that when that happened, he had a feeling something was wrong. When I finally went to see the surgeon and walked into his office, he asked me if I had come alone. I told him my husband, John was in the waiting room. He asked me if he would like to come in too. I asked, “Does he need to?” He replied, “Well there are some things that we need to discuss.” That’ s when I felt my heart sink and, trying to hold back tears, I asked my husband to join us.

When the surgeon told me the pathologists had discovered the lump was cancer, I remember I just kept repeating, “Oh, this sucks!” We talked about options and he said he could go back in and remove more of the tissue around where he had cut before, or he could perform a mastectomy. I asked him which option gave me a better chance, he said, “The mastectomy.”

Because Dunnville is a small town, he said he could do it the next day, but I wanted to give a week’ s notice at my work, and I knew we were planning to enter a float in the Wainfleet Fall
Fair parade with children from the daycare and I wanted to be there for that. The appointment for my mastectomy was made for the following Friday at the hospital in Dunnville.

When we got home that night, we had a good hug and cry session. I called the supervisor at my centre and told her what had happened and what would happen. She called me back and said put the kettle on, that she and another friend, who was the caretaker at the school we worked in, were on their way.

I asked them not to tell anyone at the school. Of course that didn’ t work. I finished out my week at work, trying to keep the information to myself, because I didn’ t want a bunch of people giving me the pity look, and I knew I wouldn’ t be able to talk about it without crying. I told my supervisor that she could tell people after I left work. People started giving me information. A parent who was a naturopath gave me information on natural healing; another parent who worked in a hospital gave me information on radiation. While I know they all meant well, I found it a bit overwhelming. I decided to stick with the course of action my doctor prescribed for me.

I had my surgery on a Friday in September, 2007. When I awoke from surgery, I wouldn’ t look down at my chest. For the whole time I was in the hospital, I refused to look at my scars. The nurses at the Dunnville hospital were all so nice, and on my last day, each of the three nurses found a moment to come in and give me a little supportive talk before I went home. While I was at home, I was lucky to have visits from the CCAC lovely nurses, who came every day to check my dressings and finally remove my drain. The first time a nurse changed my dressing was the first time I looked at my ‘ flat little teenage breast.’

In November, I had my first appointment at the Juravinski Cancer Clinic. I remember thinking that it didn’ t seem like a hospital at all; the atmosphere was so positive and the décor was calming and beautiful with all the displays of pottery. I was appointed to the care of Dr. Andrew Arnold. He explained about my cancer. He told me that luckily the lymph nodes that were removed did not have any cancer cells and the cancer was estrogen receptor positive. The negative thing was that my tumour was larger than 5 cm., so I would need chemotherapy as well as radiation. He gave me information about the statistics for the different methods of treatment and I agreed to chemotherapy followed by radiation.

So my treatment started. I remember the first few days after my first chemo thinking, “Hey that wasn’ t so bad, I can handle this.” I had assumed I would feel nauseated all the time and I wasn’ t. I kept a calendar journal of how I felt every day, what medications I took etc. I soon began to notice trends. The fifth day after chemo was my worst day. I would always be depressed on this day and spend most of the day crying and feeling sorry for myself. The eighth day after chemo was when the bone cramps would come. The CCAC nurses came to give me neupogen injections until my husband was trained to give me my injections and the nurses slowed down their visits. I think my husband kind of enjoyed pretending he was a doctor!

After each chemotherapy session, things got a little harder, and I found myself getting weaker and weaker. It was like a flu that won’ t leave. Sometimes I would be sent home to come back a few days later because my blood tests told the oncologist I wasn’ t ready for the next round of chemo. I equated chemotherapy with being in an abusive relationship. You get beaten up, and think it is the worst thing ever, but then as time goes on, you start to feel better and forget how lousy you felt. Then you get beaten up again. Each time was a little bit worse than the time before. The one thing I remember is that I never dreaded going to the Juravinski Cancer Centre. The staff and volunteers there were always so nice and there was always a positive vibe in the air.

I had taken time off from work during my treatment. I kept myself busy, reading the paper in the morning and because, my hobby is making jewellery, I spent the afternoons making necklaces, earrings and bracelets to sell at local craft shows. I finally had the time I always wished for to make jewellery. When I was feeling better, I even took a course to learn how to make my own beads out of glass, something called lamp-work.

I remembered reading all these things that told me I had to try to remain positive. So when I was feeling especially down about being bald, I decided to make a list of all the positive things about having no hair. Such as no hair in the drain, etc. That got me chuckling over it, and I started to come up with ridiculous ideas such as now bats won’ t get caught in my hair. This prompted me to make funny book about the benefits of losing your hair. Maybe one day I will finish it and try to get it published.

A few months after my chemo was over, I was referred to Dr. Susan Gudelis, for radiation therapy in 2008. It was five weeks Monday to Friday, daily appointments. I remember the radiation team was always so nice; I felt like I was leaving old friends behind when my radiation was finally over. I felt strangely sad.

Having cancer changed my life, but I decided I won’ t let it define me. It is just something that happened, and now it is done. I was usually someone who would live life well, but now I take it a step further. When an opportunity to do something different arises, I try to embrace it. I make sure to put money aside for a yearly tropical vacation. I have gone zip-lining, scuba diving, swimming with sharks and rays, swimming in a cave and held a baby crocodile, to name a few. These are things I might have talked myself out of in the past.

I also realized what a great husband I have. Yes, there are still days when he drives me nuts, but then I remind myself how supportive he was during my treatment. I have talked with other women who have not been so lucky.

Last summer, I finally had my left breast reconstructed. It was done by Dr. Ronen Avram, an incredible talent in the field. Because I am not a skinny-minny, he was able to use my own stomach tissue to create my new breast. This means I also scored a tummy-tuck in the process! I recommend this to anyone who is considering it. I am suddenly feeling whole again. I didn’t realize how much my lack of a breast had affected my feelings about myself. The surgery is intense and the recovery is rough for a few weeks, but when I look at myself now, I have a cleavage and a flat tummy. I feel good and feel like taking better care of myself. I actually dropped 20 pounds. It is so nice not to have to wear prosthesis anymore and not to have to buy shirts and dresses that have higher necklines.

2008 was the first year of the BRIGHT RUN and my husband and I decided to participate in the first walk. We were joined by my step-daughter and granddaughter. I walked in the BRIGHT RUN for three years. In 2010, I turned 50 and had an open house for my friends. I asked that no one give me gifts and suggested they sponsor me in the BRIGHT RUN instead. That year, I raised the most money I had ever raised.

But honestly, I hate asking people for money. The first few years after treatment, it was easier because who could possibly say no to me after what I just went through? We both liked the idea that the BRIGHT RUN does not have money going to an executive committee, but is run solely by volunteer. We love the fact that the money raised stays in the community and we are informed about where and how the money has been used, and by whom, for research.

We decided that we would volunteer for the event after that. We started volunteering on the day of the walk; we would get little jobs like directing traffic, monitoring the volunteer snack room, and selling T-shirts and then it snowballed. We picked up a few volunteer shifts at local festivals and discovered my husband has a knack for raffle ticket sales. Now we try to help out a few times at festivals over the summer. Last year we were able to help with folding T-shirts for the swag bags, and of course we always enjoy volunteering the day of the walk. We also enjoy meeting the other volunteers, who are all nice people. You will usually find us selling raffle tickets the day of walk, and we will be approaching you to buy some tickets!