First, the facts: one out of every nine Canadian women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime; one of 29 will die from the disease.
Women in the Kootenays are not exempt from that statistic, and beating the disease once is no guarantee that a woman won’t have to face the dragon again.
Sheila Tutty is a survivor who has battled breast cancer twice. Tutty, publisher of The Valley Echo, was first diagnosed in May 2007. The first indications showed up following a regular mammogram performed in Invermere in the travelling mammography unit.
Once detected, a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound were scheduled at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook. But for the more precise stereotactic biopsy, Tutty and her husband had to travel to Calgary. This was more than an inconvenience for Tutty and her support system — it was a frightening and emotional time.
“This added weeks to the horrible waiting time, further delayed because of the mailing of test results,” she said.
“Fortunately my cancer was detected in the very early stages, and after having radiation treatments in Kelowna, and two surgeries — both performed at the Cranbrook Regional Hospital — my cancer was considered gone by late 2007. I felt extremely lucky that this cancer had been detected as early as it was, and so was so much easier to cure.”
Tutty’s relief was short lived. In March 2010, she was diagnosed with the much more aggressive inflammatory breast cancer, which, because she had already had the disease, moved more quickly than before.
She began harrowing chemotherapy treatments that would shrink the tumour to an operable size. In August of that year, she had a double mastectomy. It was a difficult time for Tutty, but she is grateful she had a strong support system and was close to home for her treatments.
“One of my sisters came out from Calgary every time I had a chemo treatment and stayed with me while I recuperated,” said Tutty. “Another sister came out to take care of me when I had my surgeries. And my husband, Stuart, was there every day—not only giving me physical support but, more importantly, emotional support.”
Tutty’s experiences have made her a strong supporter and advocate for regional breast cancer research initiatives, such as Relay for Life, and for the East Kootenay Foundation for Health’s (EKFH) upcoming $1 million campaign, A Clear View.
The EKFH will be raising money to purchase a digital mammography machine for the East Kootenay Regional Hospital. The new machine will replace outdated technology at the hospital, and give radiologists and surgeons a more accurate view of abnormalities in the breast tissue — giving patients a quicker diagnosis and a chance to be treated close to home.
“Cancer can be beaten,” said Tutty “Early detection is the key. We need to have equipment available to us to help detect cancer in its early stages in order to cure it before it kills.”