Cancer survivor urges women to ‘find the time’ for early detection
Nichola Wade was working on her masters of business degree when she first noticed a lump in her breast. She was “too busy” to get it checked at the time, she says, and a year went by before Wade scheduled a mammogram.
Upon her visit, Wade, 43 at the time, was diagnosed with a three-centimetre-wide cancerous lump. She immediately began treatment and had to undergo surgery, as well as months of chemotherapy and radiation.
“It was just a lump, it was no big deal, and so I ignored it,” Wade says, adding that she had felt lumps in the past, but had been told they were benign. “It was probably the stupidest thing I have ever done.”
Now, Wade is on a mission to haul every girlfriend she has to get a mammogram, and the first ever “Pink Week” in Victoria — an awareness event hosted by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, BC/Yukon Region from May 21 to May 29 — is the perfect time for all women to do just that, she says.
“Instead of enjoying my newly minted MBA, I was stuck undergoing just the worst kind of therapy a person has to go through, and I often wonder if I had just gone a little earlier, would it have been that bad?”
Tracy Ryan, regional manager for Vancouver Island Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation BC/Yukon Region says that she’s been impressed with the level of support the event week has received from businesses, including the Victoria Highlanders football team and The Atrium teahouse. However, the week isn’t just a mission to rally support and raise awareness — it’s a chance for women to really stop and think about what they could be doing to look after themselves, and see there is support out there.
“There really is a great community behind us here, and I know that’s why we will beat breast cancer — because of that support,” Ryan says. “Whether people have had personal experiences with cancer, or just want to celebrate the cause, there has been an amazing number of people come forward to get involved.”
Wade is now 46, and while her breast cancer is well in remission, she was diagnosed last year with endometrial cancer. Because doctors were watching her closely, though, she says she was able to “escape” with just surgery. That’s part of the reason early detection is so important.
“The difference is like night and day,” Wade says. “The people involved are phenomenal, whatever case happens, but because of early detection, to be able to get out without radiation and chemo, it’s just the world of difference.”
The Pink Tour Bus will spread education about early detection with stops around Victoria as part of “Pink Week.”
“We know that early detection is the best way to beat breast cancer,” Ryan says. “But a lot of women put their own needs last, and this is one instance where we are asking those mothers, daughters and sisters to really look at putting themselves first.”
While women over 40 years of age are most targeted for getting annual mammograms and paying close attention, Ryan emphasizes the most important thing for women of all ages is to know your own body and be proactive about your health.
While Wade is against the fear-mongering that can often result from talking about the issue, she emphasizes how important it is that all women take their health seriously. All mammograms are covered under B.C.’s provincial health plan, and take a short time to complete. However, Wade believes that women often avoid going to the doctor because they are afraid something will be found. But the worst case is they find something and fix it; the best case, you’re clear and free to go.
“It won’t go away just because they haven’t found it,” Wade says. “It’s going to grow. Find it now.”
Wade is also quick to touch on the fact that any cancer, but especially one that targets female image, can be an especially hard one for women to face.
“In our society we have these expectations of what a woman should look like, and this cancer is really not fitting with that,” she says. “Surgery can change the look of your body, you have to deal with losing hair, you’re stuck with the sunken eyes and fatigue of therapy, and your body is being bombarded. But I’m just so damn thankful that I’m OK and that I came out of it alive, that none of that matters now.”
Wade is back working full time as a civil servant, riding her horses and recently completed a marathon in Oak Bay. M
For more information on the “Pink Week” event and cancer prevention, visit thepinktour.com, or cbcf.org/bcyukon.