Donna Stasiuk retired on June 26, 2016 after 20 years at Scotiabank. Two days later she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I haven’t had a chance to enjoy retirement yet,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m hoping I will now.”
Donna, a 56-year-old married mom of three sons, finally got the all-clear this past January, about six months after she developed a lung illness related to radiation.
And while she and her husband will continue the travelling they both love, Donna’s breast cancer experience has led her into a new post-retirement business venture as a clothing designer.
“I used to be able to walk into any store and buy clothes,” she said. “Now it’s really difficult to find fashionable clothing that works for a mastectomy patient. Resort wear, bathing suits, sundresses – just because we had mastectomies to save our lives, it shouldn’t mean we can no longer have fun clothing.”
Back in June 2016, Donna wasn’t worried about clothes. She was waiting for the results of several biopsies and it felt like forever.
“It took two weeks and I felt tremendous fear, anxiety and hopelessness,” she said. “As the end of that two weeks approached, I was convinced there was no hope for me and no one wanted to be the one to tell me.”
Donna had Stage 3B Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. There were two masses, both attached to the muscle wall of her chest.
Because of her family medical history, Donna had qualified for early breast cancer screening. She started getting mammograms at age 40. Her 2015 mammogram was clear. Barely a year later, she had Stage 3 breast cancer. She was stunned.
She started chemotherapy, which was interrupted by a bad case of shingles. She landed in hospital for a blood transfusion after the chemo wiped out her white blood cells. She suffered such bad bone pain that her husband carried her from bed to couch because she couldn’t walk.
In December 2016, she had a radical mastectomy. The surgery didn’t quite get all the cancer. Once her arm was mobile enough, she underwent seven weeks of radiation, with a five-day boost at the end. By April 2017, she was told she could consider herself cancer-free.
But her fight wasn’t over. In July 2017, she developed the lung problem. It is only now, after months of dealing with that condition, that Donna feels she is finished with treatment.
Meanwhile, she has embraced the BRIGHT Run as her cause. She participated the first time in 2016, during her chemo. She walked, but it was tiring and she took many rest breaks. She returned to BRIGHT 2017 with renewed vigour.
“I love the fact that none of the funds raised go to administration or advertising,” she said of the BRIGHT Run. “One hundred per cent of that money goes to local breast cancer research. It doesn’t get better than that.”
It makes her feel good to support the doctors – Mark Levine, Nicole Hodgson and Iwa Kong – nurses and other medical professionals who got her through her breast cancer journey.
“I was truly blessed to get the medical team I got,” she said. “Because of them, I’m still here.”