Lucy Santoro

By Lucy Santoro

The story starts from the beginning….

Is the beginning now, today, or what happened then, how breast cancer came to be in my life?

Today, I live to tell the story. I’m here to share my experience, to be a voice for the “sisters and brothers” who have been where I’ve been.

Where I’ve been looks something like this:

I discovered the lump rather haphazardly. While having coffee with my sister, I happened to graze my own breast and there it was, in late June or early July 2009. It wasn’t there in April when I had my physical done. I tried to brush it off, but truthfully, fear and concern flared within me like an allergic reaction. I waited, then booked an appointment with my family doctor within two days after my 36th birthday!

There was no history of breast cancer in my family; I really shouldn’t have had anything to worry about. But when I saw my doctor that August afternoon, amidst my tears and look of horror I said, “My worst nightmare has been realized.” And true to form, it had been.

On Oct.13, I’m not kidding when I say the telephone wires were crossed in the worst way possible. I was waiting for a call in Toronto, while my mom found a message on her phone in Hamilton. As I tried to return the call, the nurse contacted me in Toronto with an appointment to see a Surgical Oncologist at Juravinski Cancer Centre. It was only when I said, “What are you trying to tell me?!” that she realized the communication mishap. Yes, it’s unfortunate to have found out that way, but it was more the news I found upsetting than the miscommunication.

Going forward, my medical circle of support was undeniably amazing. I saw Dr. Nicole Hodgson first, as the course of action was to begin with a mastectomy. After further testing, we quickly discovered the tumor was aggressively growing so chemotherapy would be first instead. Enter Dr. Richard Tozer into my life. Dr. Tozer was a force to be reckoned with; not having the cuddliest approach when I felt I needed it, but I appreciated his tenacity to really “fight” this with me.

As a single woman without any children, I was curious about my risks and my options beginning such aggressive treatment. We paused the chemo schedule so I could consult with a fertility clinic. There were myriad of factors to consider as I attempted to make decisions that would affect a future that was already so unsettled. Once I did that, chemotherapy began. I shall spare you the details of the pain and side affects of my “cocktail.” Days and weeks turned into months as I recovered from surgery and 25 rounds of radiation.

Making the choice to have reconstruction felt sort of like a reward for me after treatments. Dr. Ronen Avram is extremely talented in his craft of plastic surgery and breast reconstruction. In the last three years, he has been diligently working with me through a prophylactic mastectomy, a latissimus dorsi flap and implants.

This year commemorates seven years since diagnosis and in various ways, my healing continues. I heal from the fear that, for a long time, seemed to overtake my life. I recover from the grief of not having the life I had imagined for myself. All the while, I am empowered by what lies ahead for me.

Today, I have the opportunity to give back. I am a member of the Patient and Family Advisory Committee (PFAC) and the Patient Education Network Group at the JCC as the voice for patients and caregivers to help shape and encourage patient-centered care.

I met Nancy McMillan in my first year on the PFAC and her passion and loving personality has drawn me to become a part of BRIGHT RUN. I spend time at Wellspring Birmingham Gilgan house in Oakville, co-facilitating support groups and Healing Journey groups as well as sharing my love of cooking with the kitchen series there.

If my experiences can support and encourage another through their story, then I am reassured that breast cancer in my life has served a grander purpose.

Breast cancer is one part of my story. I am Lucy. I am not Lucy with cancer. It is a story like all the other stories that have shaped my life.