— Pamela Roth
Weeks before Kristia Di Gregorio was diagnosed with breast cancer, she released a CD that made her proud.
The singer-songwriter from Victoria recorded the album with Joby Baker, who’s produced numerous Juno and Grammy winning tracks. Di Gregorio thought this would be the break out for her music career.
“I was going to tour and had all these plans,” she said. “Instead, it was a years worth of treatment.”
Di Gregorio suspected something was wrong in the weeks leading up to her official diagnosis in June 2014.
She didn’t have the classic lump in her breast, but kept experiencing pain in the area, and noticed one breast didn’t feel like the other.
When doctors confirmed Di Gregorio had an advanced case of invasive lobular cancer, it felt like an incredibly bad dream. The 38-year-old was also pregnant and ended up losing her baby when the chemotherapy treatments began.
“It was like an absolute nightmare,” said Di Gregorio, who quickly began losing her long, luscious locks that had been her trademark as a singer.
“As soon as I was bald, it was like my brain couldn’t handle any more and I just clipped into trying to have more fun within the circumstances I was in.”
One of the things that lifted Di Gregorio’s spirit was participating in the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF) CIBC Run for the Cure, even though she was tired from the chemotherapy treatments she was undergoing every two weeks. Di Gregorio participated in this year’s run on Sunday as well, but this time as a performer with her band on the main stage.
Four months after her diagnosis, Di Gregorio had a mastectomy. When Christmas arrived a month later, it was particularly hard because it marked the third anniversary of the death of her father, who lost his battle with cancer on Christmas Eve.
Feeling like her dreams were falling out of reach, Di Gregorio decided not to give in to despair and began conceptualizing a music video project that would allow her to share a song – Oh My Heart, that she wrote when she started to experience chest pains.
It took months to make it happen, but Di Gregorio managed to raise funds and find a crew while undergoing chemotherapy. Filming the music video helped Di Gregorio focus through the last leg of her treatment.
The video features Di Gregorio exposing a golden mastectomy scar while dressed as the goddess Artemis. Instead of having reconstructive surgery, Di Gregorio chose to embrace her new body and scars.
“I knew that I was going to somehow do something good with my experience once I was well enough to,” said Di Gregorio, adding the response to the video has been incredibly encouraging.
“I am starting to get messages from people saying they are doing self exams because they saw my video and I’ve heard a couple of people booking mammograms, which made me really happy.”
Di Gregorio’s journey towards becoming cancer free is still not over. Since her mastectomy, she’s had her ovaries removed and discovered one of them also had some cancer.
According to the CBCF, breast cancer continues to be the most common cancer diagnosis in Canadian women, with one in four women diagnosed.
One in nine Canadian women are expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime, and one in 30 will die.
Breast cancer deaths, however, have decreased by 44 per cent due to earlier detection through regular mammography screening, advances in screening technology and improved treatments.