I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife and a mother. I am a nurse. And I am a breast cancer survivor.
I am privileged to work at the Juravinski Cancer Centre. I am honoured to a member of the BRIGHT RUN executive. I am humbled by the amazing people who participate in the BRIGHT RUN.
In the spring of 2008, several of us, all members of the breast disease site team at the cancer centre, sat around a table. We all agreed we wanted to organize an event in the Hamilton area to raise money for breast cancer research at our very own Juravinski Cancer Centre.
There was a contest at JCC to choose a name for the event and a logo. And the BRIGHT Run was born. The first year, we had hoped for 500 participants. We had 1,000 and $250,000.00 was raised! Since then, we have raised more than $2 million.
But let’s go back to the spring of 1998. I was 44 and I found a lump. Fast forward to a mammogram, an ultra-sound, a biopsy and surgery. And the waiting.
I learned I needed chemotherapy. When I was diagnosed, I was working in ICU. What did I know about chemo? Not much. I learned in a big hurry. And I appreciated the wonderful anti-nausea drugs.
I did not ever think, “Why me?” My belief was that something positive would come of this diagnosis. I hoped my experience with breast cancer would help me help others.
I left ICU in 2000 and started working in chemo at JCC. I am honoured to be able to care for oncology patients as they go along their cancer journey. Some patients may know of my story. I have that inner advantage of knowing what it’s like to hear, “Your biopsy is positive.”
Here is my first experience with breast cancer research:
In 1996, a sports medicine physician in Vancouver, Dr. Don MacKenzie, started a research study. He wanted to study the effects of strenuous upper body exercise on people post breast cancer surgery. He wanted to see if this increased the risk of lymphedema, the swelling that may occur in the arm following lymph node surgery. In the past, people had been told not to vacuum or lift anything weighing more than five to 10 pounds with their affected arm.
Dr. MacKenzie’s research looked at breast cancer survivors in a dragon boat. A dragon boat looks like a long canoe. It has 20 paddlers, 10 on each side, a steersperson at the back and a drummer or coach at the front. For the summer of 1996, he coached these women and at the end of the season the results were that there was not an increase in lymphedema.
Vancouver had the first dragon boat team of breast cancer survivors in the world. Team Knot A Breast was founded in Hamilton. (see http://www.knotabreast.com) I read about this team when I was going through treatment and I joined in 1999. We train all year, doing weights, core and cardio workouts. From May to October, we are in the boats on Hamilton Bay. I have formed lifetime friendships through the dragon boat experience, which came because of my breast cancer diagnosis. And this was all started because of research.
When I first graduated – and I won’t say how many years ago – the only surgical option was a radical mastectomy. Ladies stayed in the hospital a week and I recall one surgeon who ordered that his patients have their affected arm in a sling. Because of research, we are so very fortunate that surgical treatments have changed.
I am very fortunate and privileged to work with all the researchers, physicians, our nurse practitioners, genetic counselors, social workers – all doing research with BRIGHT dollars. I describe our event as having an “electric atmosphere,” full of laughter and enthusiasm.
I salute all of the BRIGHT RUN participants, especially my fellow survivors, and the memory of our friends and family who have lost the battle.