Nancy McMillan

GRIMSBY – Nancy McMillan’s cancer “process” started with a very strange – but wonderfully vivid – dream.

The Grimsby banker awoke suddenly in the middle of the night in October 2007. “All that was in the dream was a pink ribbon, and I looked at the clock and it said 4:23 … and I put my hand to my breast and I felt a lump.”

She calmly went back to sleep, and called her doctor the next morning. The doctor was between planes in Phoenix, and arranged for an appointment for her the next day at Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington. She had a mammogram and, as there was an immediate vacancy in the ultrasound suite, she was whisked right in.

It was read on the spot. “The doctor came in and he looked so sad,” said McMillan. “He said, ‘You have a lump and it’s fairly substantial.'”

She’s an energetic woman who moves at a frenetic pace. In her professional life, she’s a private banker with Scotiabank, servicing “high net-worth clients,” and is “honoured” to have been named to the Juravinski Cancer Centre (JCC) fundraising board.

She’s also quite proud that her team, the aptly named McMillan’s Madcaps, raised almost $18,000 in the debut BRIGHT RUN/Walk for Breast Cancer Research for Juravinski last fall, the most of any team.

The second annual run takes place Saturday, September 12, again at the Dundas Valley Conservation Area on Governors Road in Dundas. Last year’s inaugural walk/run was a huge success. Organizers had hoped for 500 participants, but 1,002 showed up. They raised $258,000 for breast cancer research at Hamilton’s JCC. This year, the organizers are hoping for 2,000 participants and $500,000 for the centre.

Dr. Mark Levine, chair of the JCC oncology department and one of the instigators of the BRIGHT RUN/Walk, said the support of patients and their families at the first event was overwhelming.

“It was an incredible high,” Levine said. “It was almost like the feeling you get when a child is born. It was all hugging and crying.”

McMillan, 50, and her husband of 12 years, Gord, had a trip planned for New York City that fateful fall of 2007. Instead, not quite four weeks from her pink-ribbon dream, she had a lumpectomy and a “small handful” of lymph nodes removed.

She started her chemotherapy in December at Juravinski. “I walked in there and it was like going to a spa,” she said, recalling how a chemo nurse, Anne-Marie, took one look at her, and another at the blanket she was to be draped with (chemo can be kind of chilly), and said: “This blanket is so much not ‘you.’ Hold on, I’ll get you another one!”

There’s been that attention to detail all the way through her chemo, radiation and hormone therapies, right down to a pony-tailed orderly, Paul, making sure she had the most “comfortable” equipment ready for her when she was due in for treatments.

“You walk in immediately as a friend, not as a patient, but as Nancy. They care about you,” she says. “No one can hold a candle to what they do at JCC.”

Levine is clearly proud of the breast cancer team at JCC. “Patients really appreciate the care they get here,” he said of the centre. “So much of what we need to do for our patients is to listen to their problems, to really look at them as people. We’re here to help them cope.”

Levine also believes the BRIGHT RUN/Walk is quintessentially Hamilton. “We’re down to earth,” he said. “Hamilton is not Toronto or Montreal; we just don’t have the wealth. We would never charge somebody $2,000 to participate in a walk.”

McMillan maintains she’s “in a better place” after having had cancer than before. “I’m not shy and I’m not afraid to share my story. I want to take the stigma and fear away from cancer. It’s not scary; it’s something you need to work through.”