One of my favorite people has breast cancer. Again.
Reflections on My Treatment
I wanted to tell you about my experience because I think there are important aspects that can be helpful for all women.
Following one of my bi-yearly mammograms, in 2013 I needed to have a follow up biopsy as some irregularity had shown up. To meet the breast specialist assigned to my case and find out the results, I brought along my partner Moira and my good friend and colleague Rosanne who had gone through breast cancer. I most often have someone accompany to appointments like this one. Better having more that one pair of ears listening. On meeting Dr Lutfi, who was not phased by my posse, I learned I had DCIS or Ductal Carcinoma in Situ in my left breast. This was an early stage, non-invasive, slow growing, form of breast cancer. I knew that it did not pose an immediate health threat because I was familiar with DCIS from my work with Breast Cancer Action Quebec.
I knew that there was a discussion in the medical community to reclassify certain low-grade lesions as non-cancerous. Nonetheless, it was then and still is called cancer and regularly treated as such.
So, I was very happy with the outcome of my appointment with my surgeon. He said that most women when they learn of the presence of any lesion that has abnormal cells they want it removed immediately. After discussing it, Dr. Lutfi and I agreed to proceed with active surveillance, a wait and watch approach.
So, I had yearly mammograms and in August 2015, during one of my check-ups a tumour was discovered in my right breast. A follow up biopsy was done; I received a phone call very early one morning from the doctor’s office with an appointment for that week. I remember arriving to Dr. Lutfi’s office and there being a nurse with him – that when I knew we were in for some serious news. Dr Lutfi explained this was not DCIS; it was Stage 2, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Estrogen +. He explained that I would need surgery -- what he called a partial mastectomy, although he said some people refer to it as a lumpectomy. More tests were being done on the tissue to find out about the HER2 status, whether it was + or - . I would have surgery to remove the tumour and some lymph nodes; more tests would be done on what was removed and the tumour board would decide on the post surgery adjuvant treatments – radiation, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.
The nurse, Elizabeth, took us into her office where she pulled lots of booklets from her shelves and gave them to us. When I asked her for my pathology report; she hesitated briefly but then went to ask the doctor for it. I was so happy to have the report in my hands as we left the clinic. Having it let me turn to one of the resources I regularly recommend to women. Breast Cancer.org. where they had a section devoted to reading and understanding your pathology report.
My surgery went very well with no complications and I soon found myself at home with coloring books, delicious meals, exercise regimes and painkillers. I am one of the lucky ones that has a great support circle and I know how important it was. Rehab was quick and at the follow up with Dr. Lutfi, he referred me to an oncologist. I am not sure now who that was, but I asked if I could see Dr. Thirlwell instead; he had been my sister’s doctor – she had gone through breast cancer two years before – and I thought that made sense for me to see him, as well as Deena’s one of the Board members of BCAQc. Both had great things to say about him. No problem, Dr Lutfi just changed the name on the referral.
Having my pathology report was also very useful when I decided to ask for a second opinion about Dr. Thirlwell’s treatment plan. I was worried about my health beyond my breasts. Living with Type 1 diabetes for most of my life, I have always been aware of heart health and I wondered about the effects of chemo and radiation on it. Were there choices for the chemo drugs that would be better than others on my heart? Dr Thirlwell was aware and seemed confident in his plan. The late Abby Lippman asked her brother, Marc Lippman, a renowned breast cancer researcher and oncologist if I could contact him. He asked me for my pathology report and what Dr Thirlwell was prescribing. He was 100% behind the plan and I felt my worry dissipate.
I was given the name of the radiologist I would be seeing and googled Christine Lambert’s name. One piece of research that she had co-authored caught my eye: DEVELOPMENTS IN PARTIAL BREAST IRRADIATION, so on first meeting her I asked if this could be a good thing for me. She of course explained that no, it was not for patients like myself whose cancer had spread into the lymph nodes and that we would be proceeding with 25 sessions of external beam radiation.
I have had great care at the MUHC and I wish all women with breast cancer the same. Remember it is a woman’s right to know – so ask all the questions you want, ask for reports, ask for the doctors you want, ask for a second opinion if that is something you want, it is your right.
BCAQc on Radio Noon Montreal show with Shawn Apel
Toxic Exposures are a Feminist Issue!
Canadian Women against Toxic Substances
Gender, biology and determinants of health, such as socio-economic status, employment, belonging to racialized groups and Indigenous communities, all play important roles affecting Canadian women’s health in relation to exposures to toxic substances. Canadian Women against Toxic Substances are concerned that the present-day laws which oversee the regulation and control of toxic substances do not adequately account for these factors, leaving women and the next generation vulnerable to a wide range of long-term negative health effects.
The foundation of our environmental regulations - The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) - is currently under review by the federal government. A serious reform of this legislation is of vital importance to Canadian women, as workers, mothers, caregivers and for all the other essential roles they play in our communities and in all their diverse realities. It is a question of the most fundamental environmental health justice.
Read further and see how exposure to toxic substances is a feminist issue. You may be surprised to learn among other things, that despite fundamental differences in biology between men and women, animal studies that too frequently relied on male-only models still dominate the scientific evidence.
Quebec civil society takes a stand on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) calling on the federal government to protect human health and the environment.
Over 80 Quebec groups have signed onto a Declaration that was sent to the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change on March 19 with a letter by Jennifer Beeman . This alliance represents a wide swath of Quebec citizens that goes far beyond the traditional environmental movement. They include among others, well-respected research centres and scientists, peri-natality groups, women’s and workers’ groups, shelters and groups that work against violence, collective kitchens, daycares, student, literacy and cultural groups.
The allied groups have committed to supporting the Declaration underscoring important elements of CEPA that need reform, and pressuring the government to follow the recommendations of their own report and bring in reformed legislation.Read more on how to get involved
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) is the foundation of our environmental regulations and it’s currently under review by the federal government. Along with other environmental groups we have monitored this weak legislation for many years. It is in bad need of reform.
It is up to concerned individuals and groups like ours to put pressure on the government to take action.Click here to read more and get involved.
Why We Need to Reform the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA)
As many of you know, our chemical regulatory system allows chemicals to go into production and circulation without proof of their safety. We are then required to fight a reactive battle, toxic substance by toxic substance, to prove their harm and get them out of circulation and out of our environment. In many cases, our exposure to toxic substances continues for decades after bans go into effect.
What happens when patient advocacy groups develop financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry? Sharon Batt investigates this in her new book, Health Advocacy, Inc.: How Pharmaceutical Funding Changed the Breast Cancer Movement.
Health Advocacy Inc.: A reading with Sharon Batt at Concordia University
Your generosity continues to amaze us!
We want to say is a BIG THANK YOU! Your donations were incredibly generous this year and it is so encouraging to know that you like what we are doing and support us in our endeavors. Truly, our 2018 activities are going to be very exciting and it is YOU who allows us to do this work.
And the winner is ...
We just drew the name of the recipient of the Green Beaver gift bag and it's Carolyn Badger. Congratulations Carolyn! Thanks to everyone who participated.
Wretched Pink Ribbons. Again.
So here we are again awash in these wretched pink ribbons. They must constitute the most successful marketing campaign ever.
And they are so pernicious. They make us feel touched by and involved in something significant by merely wearing them or buying something with their picture attached.
But what do they say? Nothing, except that thousands of women still go through breast cancer every year. And that is the problem. There is so much that needs to be said that gets buried under the ribbons.
What do we need to be saying?
We need to say that detection is not prevention. Actually bringing down incidence rates has been completely removed from all important discussions. We repeat to women for them to individually bring down their risk without a proper public health strategy to bring down breast cancer rates with a strong, public health program that incorporates environmental health as a central component. Also, in working to prevent breast cancer, we work to prevent a range of diseases.
Overwhelmed by pink ribbon blues?
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month—in case you haven’t noticed, despite pink things all around you demanding your dollars. Breast Cancer Action Quebec is very skeptical of pink ribbon campaigns and the commercialization of breast cancer.
It is well known that companies try to reinforce their image and boost their bottom line by associating themselves with a good cause. But who really benefits, the cause or the company? What if the very products sold—through the promise of finding a cure—are actually contributing to the problem?
After spending a year as a volunteer with Breast Cancer Action Quebec, the organization became the site of my practicum placement for my Masters of Public Health degree. I came to BCAQc with a background in exploring how the health of our environment impacts food security and our reproductive health. I was interested in doing my practicum at BCAQc to learn how to apply my new public health skills to social-justice oriented work. BCAQc represented everything I hoped public health could embody: an empowering approach to holistically confronting some of the most compelling environmental and social issues of our time.
Most of my work centered around the Health Connections youth program, which I assisted in the development of and constructed a program logic model for. I also undertook an impact evaluation, creating a questionnaire to evaluate students before and after the program to assess the impacts we made.
We were interested in evaluating if Health Connections increased students’ environmental health literacy, which is embodied in the development of knowledge about environmental health, positive attitudes towards it, and the skills and capacity to take action to create environmentally healthy communities.
What I didn’t expect was how much my own environmental health literacy would improve over the course of my internship as well! The learning is already clear when I look in my kitchen or bathroom, since over the course of my internship I was moved to replace my plastic cookware with glass, and toxicant-laden cosmetics with homemade alternatives.
I truly feel like I’ve learned more about the confronting environmental issues our planet is facing than I ever could have in my courses - and more importantly, how to act on these issues. Rather than just knowing the definition of the precautionary principle, I’ve been able to put it into action by leading DIY workshops on toxic-free body products, and teaching high school students about the unregulated risks present in our cosmetic ingredients and the pesticide-filled foods we eat. I am thankful that my practicum exposed me to complex issues like ecotoxicology, endocrine disrupting chemicals, and environmental racism, which have set me down new exciting and unanticipated academic and professional paths.
I am so grateful and enthusiastic for the opportunity to learn with and from BCAQc this year!
Fighting Endocrine Disruptors, One Lip Balm at a Time
A great article by Carly Welham, master's student in Public Health and intern at BCAQc, explains the politics of "Why We DIY"
Over the past few months, Breast Cancer Action Quebec interns have been holding DIY workshops across universities in Montreal, meeting with dozens of young people interested in creating body products free of toxic substances. We have been hosting conversations about how chemicals in products that we use every day affect our bodies, our health, and our environment.
Our reality is that everyday we are exposed to hundreds of chemicals that are harmful to us. As a women's health organization whose mission is to work for the prevention of breast cancer through the elimination of environmental toxicants linked to the disease, there are many reasons why we choose to create alternatives to body products with these toxic ingredients.
Your Triclosan Actions and the UN on Pesticides
With the arrival of spring, we would like to share with you a round up of some of the environmental health news we are keeping on top of. In a few weeks we will be sending our information on our spring activities. It would be wonderful to see you at one of our events soon!
On March 8th 2017, the UN human rights council made public a scathing report which is very clear: pesticides, many of which contain endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), are harmful to human health and the environment and they are used in the service of industry profit, not to combat world hunger as agro-chemical business leads us to believe.
Update on Action against Triclosan
Last year we informed you about the actions of environmental and health groups concerning Triclosan. This ubiquitous antibacterial agent is also an important EDC, is ecotoxic and implicated in antibacterial resistance. You told us you were happy to sign onto petitions asking the government to ban this toxic substance from household and personal care products. Here you will find the final statement, coordinated by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), that we and 40 other like-minded organizations signed onto and sent to The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and The Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health on February 24, 2017.
Stay tuned to learn about local actions that you can participate in this spring!
Breast Cancer Action Quebec is the recipient of a special gift!
To our delight, BCAQc has been chosen as the charity being honoured at this year’s spring concert of Montreal’s Yellow Door Choir on May 26 and 27, 2017.
Since 1983, this talented choir has been performing and partnering with local charities using their concerts to support and raise awareness for the good work these groups do. And what good company we are in! Take a look at the list of over 60 community organizations that the Choir has supported throughout its three decades of singing.
Not only does the Yellow Door Choir donate the profits from the concert’s ticket sales to us but every penny that is made during the intermission bake sales is ours too! We will be posting information on how you can get involved by baking your favorite cookies, cupcakes or squares for the bake sale.
Yellow Door Choir, under the direction of the Roxanne Martel
Spring Concert, May 26 and 27 at the Unitarian Church of Montreal 5035 de Maisonneuve O. (Métro Vendôme). Tickets: $20; Students and seniors: $15
Take a listen to some highlights from last spring’s concert.
Stay tuned for more news about this.
Jennifer Beeman, Director, Breast Cancer Action Quebec
Written in response to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October 2016
I am in a strange situation. I am director of a breast cancer organization and I really don’t know what “promoting awareness” of breast cancer means.
Does it mean repeating the fact that one in nine women in Canada will receive a diagnosis of breast cancer at some time in her life? Even when this tells us nothing of what is being done to bring down that statistic (very little)?
Repeating “early diagnosis saves lives”? Even though this doesn’t explain to women that early diagnosis leads to a serious problem of overdiagnosis, which women really don’t understand and about which we are doing very little?
Repeating that we should “run for the cure”? Though this does nothing to prevent our daughters and granddaughters getting the disease?
BCAQc relies on membership dues and private donations to stay in operation. Membership entitles you to advance notice of seminars and workshops as well as a subscription to our electronic newsletter— BCAQc Connected.
A strong membership also helps to substantiate our financial applications for government grants and private foundations. Please consider joining us today!
For twenty five years — with your support — BCAQc has been working hard to get vital information about environmental and chemical links to breast cancer to the public, and we now know that our message is being heard.
We ask you to consider a financial gift to Breast Cancer Action Quebec to help us to continue to get this vital information to the public.
There are many ways you can be involved: volunteer, write a letter to the editor, book an educational workshop for your school, community group or work place.
Engage with us, follow us on social media, share your opinions and ideas – take BCAQc’s message to your community! Be a voice for a change!