In November last year, when I received my breast cancer diagnosis, I thought they must have made a mistake. It couldn’t happen to me. It’s something that happens to other people. But the reality is that it did happen to me, and it will happen to one in eight women in Canada in their lifetime.
Cancer research has advanced rapidly over the past decade. I was a beneficiary of this. I was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) at a very early stage. This kind of cancer is undetectable through a physical exam. Historically, it’s more difficult to see through a mammogram at early stages opposed to lobular ductal cancer. But, because of the advancement in mammography machines, and the increased knowledge of radiologists, my outcome is very different than it would have been 10 years ago. I was also the beneficiary of a new, much shorter, radiation treatment that has only been available to early stage cancer patients for the past two years.
ILC spreads quickly and, for me, timing was everything. My cancer was found at stage one. The importance of timing was underlined for me when I also learned that I have a rare form of this cancer which would make traditional breast cancer medications such as Tamoxifen ineffective.
With a cancer diagnosis, every step along the way feels like a hundred years. But only because of early diagnosis, my ‘journey’ with cancer has been relatively short and very manageable. Not all women are as lucky as I am. In fact, I am watching as a dear friend of mine battles a stage 4 form of the same ILC that I had.
So today, after my surgery, my pathology report shows no signs of cancer. I undertook only five days of radiation at BC Cancer, and there was no need for chemotherapy. This is because of early detection – and that can only happen with timely mammograms. I cannot stress enough, the importance of regular mammograms. I only had mine because of the reminder letter from BC Cancer. I felt fine. There is no history of breast cancer in my family. It would have been easy for me to shrug it off as I was low risk. But my health is a priority – I have people that rely on me – and I made the appointment.
I like to believe that cancer is now in my rear-view mirror – but we never know what the future holds. I will continue to be screened each year. We are so fortunate here in BC to have access to these free cancer screening tools – a woman owes it to herself to take full advantage.
Karin Kirkpatrick is MLA, West Vancouver-Capilano and Opposition Critic for Ministry of Education & Child Care and Ministry of Children & Families