Donna Stampone

OUR BRIGHT LIGHT…

Meet Donna Stampone, BRIGHT RUN 2016 Survivor Spokesperson

Cancer is no stranger to Donna Stampone’s family.

Seven women in her family have battled breast cancer. It took her grandmother 30 years ago. Her mother, Wilma Prosia, died this past March at age 69. Her aunt, Rita Calcagni, is living with breast cancer.

Donna’s own breast cancer diagnosis came in August 2009, 22 years after she had mantle radiation treatment for Hodgkins’s lymphoma, a cancer that starts in the lymphocytes, part of the lymphatic system.

Her cancer doctor at the time, hematologist Dr. Ralph Meyer, told her that studies suggested she had a higher risk of breast cancer about 22 to 26 years after the treatment she received as a 17-year-old.

Dr. Meyer is now president of the Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre and regional vice-president of Cancer Care Ontario for the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant (HNHB) Regional Cancer Program

Donna was screened for breast cancer every year from the age of 30. Despite knowing she was at increased risk, the breast cancer diagnosis at age 39 was devastating.

“I had beaten cancer already,” said Donna, a youthful bundle of energy who teaches Grade 7 with the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board. “I had two young children. I called my husband, crying uncontrollably. Waiting for confirmation from the surgeon was the longest week of my life.”

She opted for a double mastectomy, saying “I needed to do what I could to give myself the best possible chance. That was a double mastectomy.”

During her visits to the cancer centre, Donna saw brochures about the BRIGHT RUN, the annual event that raises money for breast cancer research at the Juravinski Cancer Centre.

“I was attracted right away,” she said. “I wanted to give back. I was drawn to the event.”

So, the weekend before her surgery, Donna and a team of family and friends participated in their first BRIGHT RUN. In roughly two weeks leading up to the event, her team raised about $5,000.

“Participating in the BRIGHT RUN gave me tremendous strength and courage to go into my surgery,” she said. “At that point, I thought to myself, ‘I can do this. I can beat this and I will beat this.’”

Since its first outing, Donna estimates that her team, In It Together, has raised between $4,000 and $4,500 each year. Her children Siera, 19, and Jacob, 16, have grown up around the BRIGHT RUN. Siera has volunteered at the event and Jacob’s band, The Number Stations, performs at the event. Husband Pete, a staunch supporter, has organized numerous fundraising events over the years.

In 2010, Donna’s mother Wilma was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. In 2014, the cancer was found to have moved into her bones and lungs. By January 2016, Wilma had malignant tumours in her brain.

Donna watched her mother undergo half a dozen types of chemotherapy, plus 10 treatments of full brain radiation.

“She put up a hell of a fight,” Donna said. “I never knew how strong she was until I saw her fight like that. To be honest, it’s almost easier going through it yourself than watching a loved one go through it.”

Her mother’s death has made the BRIGHT RUN an even more important event for Donna’s family.

“Mom’s passing reinforced for me the need to raise money for research,” Donna said. “Some people I talk to are skeptical about where the money goes in bigger events. With the BRIGHT RUN, the money goes directly to research – local, important research.

“The BRIGHT RUN is absolutely my thing,” she said. “There is such a family feeling to it. And such a feeling of hope.

“I am amazed at all the doctors and nurses and other people who work at the cancer centre, who are volunteering their time for the BRIGHT RUN,” Donna said.

Each year, a breast cancer survivor takes on the role of the BRIGHT RUN spokesperson, telling his or her story to participants on the day of the event. This year, Donna is the spokesperson; she recently spoke to about 80 people at a BRIGHT RUN launch party and looks forward to sharing again on the day of the event.

Fifteen breast cancer research grants have been funded through the BRIGHT RUN. The average grant is for $50,000, with the possibility of up to $100,000 of support for exceptional projects. Some of these local studies have provided the foundation for larger grant applications to other funding bodies.

In 2010, the BRIGHT RUN committed to purchasing an ultrasound machine, which is now operational in the BRIGHT RUN suite of the Breast Assessment Centre.