Your Breasts… Awareness  Action  Attitude

They are the words which strike fear in the hearts of women everywhere. ‘You have breast cancer’ launches so many emotions and questions that most women don’t know where to begin.

While the diagnosis may be terrifying, the stats reflect good news too. Women are surviving breast cancer in record numbers, going on to lead full and healthy lives.

Here are some of the most current Canadian stats:

  • Breast cancer is responsible for 13 per cent of all cancer deaths in women in 2017, or about 5,000 women

  • 72 women per day are diagnosed with breast cancer in Canada

  • In 2017, the 26,300 women who were diagnosed represent about 25 per cent of all new cancer diagnoses.

But…death from breast cancer has been declining steadily since the mid-1980’s. Technology, screening and improvements in treatment have resulted in a much more positive prognosis than was once the case.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a perfect time to glimpse inside the world of two women living it and the advancements that are keeping the quest for a cure at the forefront.

Okanagan Woman readers first met Iris (pronounced Ee-ris) Fink during our 2018 Spring Makeover contest. In the year previous, she had discovered and undergone treatment for breast cancer. Iris is happy to share her experience with all women in the hope that she can help with others facing the same challenges.

Iris says that, upon hearing her diagnosis, her immediate reaction was shock.

“You hear the stats and you know about breast cancer but you think it’s never going to happen to you. I am a relatively healthy person. The news brought out a deep fear too. You start to think about your life. For me, the important thing was that I needed to stay alive for my two daughters. I wanted to get this thing (tumor) out of me right away.

My husband was and still is a great supporter. He helped with decisions but didn’t push. When I’m not feeling well or trying to do something, he’s a great cheerleader.”

While the beginning of her journey at the BC Cancer Clinic left some unanswered questions, Iris recalls her overall experience as a very positive one. She remembers being treated like a person, an individual and not a number. She felt that the staff were all genuinely interested in helping her.

She says she didn’t see the oncologist regularly, but she did see a nurse practitioner on a regular basis.

“Once in the system, I had amazing support. Counsellors, diet and nutrition expertise, exercise, meditation and other things of that nature were all brought forward and offered to me.”

Iris found the lump in her breast in January 2017 and has just recently completed treatments…all in all, an 18 month process. This time-line is different for each individual as every situation of this nature is unique.

As was reflected in her spring makeover article, Iris had an amazing attitude throughout her treatment and surgeries.

“It’s all about the attitude. What you put out comes back to you. I was treated well because I was positive, although sometimes it’s hard to stay positive. That is when your husband, friends and family come in. Just knowing I have their support is what keeps me strong. Not everyone is lucky enough to have all of that.” An advocate during the journey is very important and for that, Iris turned to her husband. At one point, when she was looking at a further wait for an MRI, he was instrumental in making it happen sooner.

“He just wouldn’t take no for an answer, and sometimes I wasn’t in the best position to advocate for myself,” she said.

“Find an advocate, an ally. Everyone is different but as soon as I knew for sure what was happening, I decided to tell people about it. That part was difficult but so worth it because of the support that you end up getting. I found sharing to be a very important aspect.”

Iris says for her, being negative simply wasn’t an option.

“I had it, I had to deal with it, so I might as well be positive. After a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and Herceptin treatments, I began to feel fatigued easily. I had a double mastectomy around the beginning of October followed by radiation for about 27 days. Now, I’m done! I just have a follow up every three months. I’m very uncertain at this point about having reconstruction. I want to get fit, strong and comfortable in my body and then I’ll decide. I’ve been going to a breast reconstruction support group. Reconstruction can be complicated and can sometimes involve more than one surgery.”

Breast reconstruction is a big decision for women who have gone through the breast cancer experience.

Cancer doesn’t discriminate on age, sex, race or occupation, but when it hits, it strikes like a lightning bolt.

Saideh Talarizadeh can attest to this and wanted to share her story with Okanagan Woman.

At the age of 35, she was blindsided by the life-altering news of an aggressive breast cancer diagnosis called Triple-negative. Triple-negative represents 15-20 percent of all breast cancers. Upon receiving this news, “I felt like my whole world came tumbling down. I had little to no knowledge about breast cancer.” Having to face the feelings of what next, the emotions of sadness, fear, anger, and why me, became Saideh’s reality.

Being too young for mammogram screening, fortunately she had found the tumour on self-examination. Because of this, she encourages everyone to educate themselves on self-examinations and, if something does not seem right, see your doctor immediately.

Often, like Iris, many women choose to wait to make a final decision on reconstruction. In the meantime, there are some wonderful shops in the Okanagan who specialize in bras, prostheses and swimwear;

Bra Heaven in Vernon, Fashion Foundations in Kelowna and Penticton’s Peaches Lingerie, all offer an excellent selection to meet your needs. With years of experience, their certified mastectomy fitters are trained to help women decide on a breast form that is right for them. Here, women who have faced breast surgery will find excellent advice, guidance and understanding and feel confident that they are in the right place.

One of the great advancements in post-cancer treatments is in the area of paramedical cosmetics. Kacie Rainey is a paramedical cosmetic tattoo artist who deals in the area of reconstructive work including scar camouflaging and recreation of the areola. She has trained under top masters in Europe, especially Switzerland. In this relatively new field, her expertise is in high demand and she spends time each month working in the Okanagan at Helix Integrative Health, headed by Dr. Krista Hennigar and Dr. David Hatton.

Prolotherapy is a process performed by the doctors that involves injections to break up intensive scar tissue leaving the skin fresh and a lot smoother. This allows Kacie to use camouflage tattoos over the scars, resulting in far less visible scarring. This type of tattooing is also used to create an areola.

Kacie says pain is minimal, as the tattoo artists work with top grade topical anesthetics to ensure the patients are numbed throughout the entire procedure.

“Our pigments are specifically designed to match skin tones and correct the redness of a scar.”

Kacie explained that the same process is used to deal with many types of scarring including surgery scars, skin grafts and even cleft palates.

There are numerous efforts underway to help advance and support the research and treatment for breast cancer.

One of the most recognized of these is CIBC’s Run for the Cure; it is the largest single day volunteer-led event in Canada, and raised $17 million in 2017. The funds are invested in the most promising breast cancer research in the areas of prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.

Awareness, action and attitude will be the key to success for today’s women facing this dreaded disease! W

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