FIGHT CLUB

FIGHT CLUB De­spite dev­as­tat­ing cancer di­ag­noses in the prime of their lives, three brave women climbed their way back to health and are now mak­ing the most of their time as breast cancer sur­vivors.

Canadian Living - - Contents - TEXT AN­DREA KARR

Three breast cancer sur­vivors find strength in help­ing other women

In the year be­fore she was di­ag­nosed with breast cancer, Jenny Baker ran hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres, al­ways out­do­ing her per­sonal bests. She’d been run­ning for 15 years by that point, and it had be­come a ma­jor part of her iden­tity. “Run­ning keeps me pos­i­tive,” she says. “It’s a good way to work through feel­ings and re­flect.”

Jenny had planned to com­plete five marathons in 2015 to cel­e­brate her 50th birth­day. In­stead, she found a lump in her breast. “Though it was wor­ry­ing,” she says, “I never thought it would be breast cancer. I felt fit and healthy.” But sure enough, the six-cen­time­tre lump was can­cer­ous and had spread to her lymph nodes. When her on­col­o­gist rec­om­mended chemo­ther­apy to shrink the mass be­fore surgery, one of Jenny’s first ques­tions was, “Can I keep run­ning through chemo?”—some­thing her doc­tor had never been asked be­fore.

With her on­col­o­gist’s bless­ing, Jenny pro­ceeded to run to all six of her chemo­ther­apy ses­sions with fam­ily and friends along for support. Her sec­ond ses­sion was particularly hard. “I found my­self weighed down with sad­ness,” she says. But she met a friend in the park, and they ran along the river and talked the whole way. By the time they ar­rived at her ap­point­ment, she felt lighter.

Jenny also used writ­ing to work through her cancer jour­ney by blog­ging about her ex­pe­ri­ence once or twice a week. Those posts—about ev­ery­thing from her chemo runs to bra shop­ping— be­came fod­der for her book (see

be­low). Each week, she re­ceives mes­sages from women who have been touched by her story.

Though Jenny even­tu­ally had to take a break from run­ning after her mas­tec­tomy and re­con­struc­tive surgery, she was back at it after a nine-week hia­tus and con­tin­ues to par­tic­i­pate in marathons and triathlons. “When you have cancer, your sense of self is so chal­lenged. You lose a lot of things that are part of your iden­tity,” she says, cit­ing hair loss, days off work, the re­moval of a breast and se­vere scar­ring. “So, for me, run­ning has helped me stay true to who I am.” It all started with a rou­tine ra­di­a­tion ap­point­ment—one that Au­drey Guth needed to at­tend to en­sure that her breast cancer wouldn’t re­turn. “You scan in and wait for them to call your name,” she says. “It’s al­most like a fac­tory. There have to be 100 peo­ple wait­ing.” Au­drey no­ticed one young woman in par­tic­u­lar who was sit­ting with a squirm­ing twoyear-old on her lap. “I saw the tears welling up in the woman’s eyes,” she re­mem­bers. “It looked like it was tak­ing ev­ery bit of her en­ergy just to be there.”

That’s when Au­drey had an epiphany. She al­ready owned an agency called Di­a­mond Per­son­nel that pro­vided nanny ser­vices for fam­i­lies, of­ten with work­ing moth­ers. Why couldn’t she start a not-for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that would do the same thing for moth­ers with cancer? Though Au­drey was still deal­ing with her own ill­ness, her en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit took over, and she se­cured a $60,000 grant and be­gan re­cruit­ing vol­un­teers.

In 2009, the Nanny An­gel Network (NAN) was born. It’s ut­terly unique in the ser­vices it pro­vides, particularly be­cause the vol­un­teer “nanny an­gels” are trained to speak with chil­dren about cancer and dy­ing. “Most fam­i­lies are un­com­fort­able hav­ing that con­ver­sa­tion,” says Au­drey. “But kids ask ques­tions that need to be an­swered in an age-ap­pro­pri­ate way to build re­silience.” And that’s the big­gest im­pact that NAN makes on the lives of these fam­i­lies—giv­ing the chil­dren a trusted con­fi­dant who will stay with the fam­ily un­til three months after the mother’s last treat­ment, or up to a year after her death.

One fam­ily stands out to Au­drey as an ex­am­ple of the lives NAN has im­pacted. The mother was di­ag­nosed with Stage 4 breast cancer when she was seven months preg­nant. The doc­tors did an emer­gency C-sec­tion and started treat­ment right away. That left her hus­band with a tod­dler at home and a baby in neona­tal in­ten­sive care while he was driv­ing a bus to make ends meet. For the en­tire year of this woman’s treat­ment, a nanny an­gel vis­ited her daugh­ters for four hours each week to play games, read books and, near the end, pre­pare the elder child for her mother’s death. Au­drey vis­ited the pa­tient in pal­lia­tive care a cou­ple of weeks be­fore she died. “I asked, ‘Are you afraid?’ ” re­mem­bers Au­drey. “And she said, ‘No. I know NAN is go­ing to be there for my girls, so I’m not afraid.’ ”

Want to get in­volved? NAN is al­ways look­ing for nanny an­gels in the Greater Toronto Area. You must have at least one year’s ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with chil­dren out­side your fam­ily, but NAN will train you to talk to kids and answer ques­tions about cancer di­ag­no­sis. Visit nanny an­gel­net­work.com to learn more.

For Brett Mc­cully, the de­ci­sion to re­move her left breast after a cancer di­ag­no­sis was easy. Deal­ing with the emo­tional reper­cus­sions after surgery was not. She re­mem­bers the day she stood in front of the mir­ror and peeled off her ban­dages to re­veal her lop­sided chest. “I couldn’t be­lieve how large the scar was,” she says. When she was told she’d re­quire a sec­ond surgery that would take even more tis­sue, she broke down: “I felt ugly. I felt like less of a woman. I hid for a long time be­cause I was ashamed of what I looked like.”

It wasn’t un­til Brett dis­cov­ered La Vie en Rose’s Muse line, a col­lec­tion of bras for post­mas­tec­tomy pa­tients, that she be­gan to re­gain self-con­fi­dence. “I loved shop­ping at lin­gerie stores and find­ing beau­ti­ful bras, but that was taken away from me un­til I found Muse,” she says. “The mo­ment I put on one of those de­signs, I felt in­stant hap­pi­ness. It’s cut lower, so there’s no chaf­ing on my scar. The fab­ric doesn’t ir­ri­tate my in­ci­sion, and the cor­rec­tive pad looks and feels just like a reg­u­lar breast.” The bras are pretty and af­ford­able—a big plus since Brett was off work for treat­ment.

After she found the dose of fem­i­nin­ity that changed her per­spec­tive, Brett posted on La Vie en Rose’s Face­book page. “I wanted to thank them for mak­ing me feel like me again,” she says. “And to let them know what this prod­uct has done for my self-es­teem by bring­ing nor­malcy back into my life.” Upon shar­ing her story, Brett was asked to be an am­bas­sador and model for the Cana­dian brand’s Fall 2017 Muse line—and she jumped at the chance to pro­mote the col­lec­tion and help other women fight­ing to feel fem­i­nine post­mas­tec­tomy. The role has also given new mean­ing to her har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s been great ther­apy,” she says, “know­ing that I might help some­one with the same is­sues.”

ABOVE Jenny Baker post-run with friends and fam­ily at the hos­pi­tal. TOP Jenny paced her sis­ter (left) to a per­sonal best in the Eal­ing Ea­gles 10K four years ago.

NAN founder Au­drey Guth.

ABOVE Leigh Scholl (Nanny An­gel of the Year, 2015) was matched with Janette Buck­ley from 2014 to 2016, tak­ing care of Janette’s chil­dren, Beth (pic­tured) and Liam. Beth was only five when her mom was di­ag­nosed; Liam was three.

RUN FOR YOUR LIFE: HOW ONE WOMAN RAN CIR­CLES AROUND BREAST CANCER (Pitch Pub­lish­ing) by Jenny Baker, $20, indigo.ca.

Brett Mc­cully, La Vie en Rose’s brand am­bas­sador for the Muse line.

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