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Joining the 3,800 Club: My journey with breast cancer
A photo taken after my last shift anchoring CTV News Vancouver, days before my surgery. (Courtesy of Steve Murray)
I look down at the piece of paper a nurse has just handed me.
It’s a list of medical appointments, tests that I need. Then I see a date noted for something called "chemo teach."
"What exactly is that?" I quietly ask the nurse.
When she finishes explaining, I smile and thank her and slump into a nearby chair. And I wonder, how did my life change so quickly?
The answer is as simple as it is complex.
The diagnosis that jolted my world came back in January. Unofficially, I found out via a voicemail alluding to my “treatment” after a communications mix-up. Officially, I was told by a doctor a short time later.
But in my heart, I knew before then.
I knew that January morning when I went for my run. I prayed it wasn’t true. I kept telling myself it couldn’t be. But I already knew.
One of the many tests I underwent before my operation.
In 2019, it’s estimated more than 3,800 women in B.C. will be diagnosed with breast cancer. I am one of them.
So, too, is one of my close childhood friends who was diagnosed just two weeks after me. We would travel this road together.
It didn’t matter how much I had prepared myself, hearing the words "You have cancer" left me stunned.
So I did what I had been doing much of my life as a reporter when I don’t understand something: I started asking questions. And they kept coming.
What stage of cancer? What are the survival rates? Has it spread? The poor doctor. I must have exhausted her! I needed answers and this deadline was far more crucial than my usual rush to get a story on the six o’clock news.
The frustrating part is that when you are first diagnosed, there are few answers. What the doctors did tell me is that I had invasive ductal carcinoma, meaning the cancer had spread outside the duct.
I would need surgery. But what I felt I really needed was more information. So when I wasn’t at work (or being a hockey mom, because life really does keep rushing forward), I was on the phone or meeting with breast cancer survivors.
Some I knew, like my friend and CTV News colleague Mi-Jung Lee. Most were strangers, friends of friends. But remarkably, each woman took the time to answer my questions and offer encouragement. My diagnosis made me part of an unofficial sisterhood of caring women who have already walked a path I was just starting out on.
My mom made us laugh so hard before surgery with her crazy stories.
In the weeks while I waited for surgery and tried to focus on doing my job, it seemed like every time I went to work and anchored a newscast, we were doing stories about cancer. I’d watch and wonder what my future held.
Apart from my quest to gather information, I really didn’t want to talk about my diagnosis. It’s a lousy conversation starter. "How are you? Oh, I’m OK. I mean, other than having cancer." Telling loved ones was painful. Telling my three teenage children was heartbreaking.
Our instinct is to protect our kids, and I knew my diagnosis would hurt them. I thought about what my husband and I would say. I wanted them to know that breast cancer survival rates are extremely high. I wanted to stay positive. But in that moment when I saw tears slip down my daughter’s cheeks, I felt my strength crumble and a deep sadness wash over me.
I knew how much my family would be affected by every step my journey took. My oldest son offered a big hug and said: "It’s going to be OK. You’ve got this mom."
I would cling to those words as I underwent surgery and later when I sat in that “chemo teach” class preparing for my next step of treatment.
As for my friend who was also diagnosed? Her cancer was found through a routine mammogram.
I also do annual mammograms because of my family’s long history of breast cancer, but in my case, it was a lump I discovered on my own that ultimately led to my diagnosis.
If you are due for a mammogram, or aren’t sure if you are, here’s some info that might help you. Please, take the time to have a look.
I know everyone’s cancer journey is different.
I hope what I share here over the next weeks and months will raise awareness. And I hope if other women are walking this path, they will discover, as I have, that we are not alone.
I’ve got this. You’ve got this. We’ve got this.
Michele Brunoro will be providing ongoing updates during her medical leave on the blog "The 3,800 Club."