For most of her life, Lori has lived by the motto “it’s my way or the highway.”
A project manager with a local company, Lori was used to delegating tasks and speaking her mind. She was used to being in control over all aspects of her life. She was a powerhouse. But all that changed last year.
In April 2017, Lori, who did not want to use her last name, found a lump on her breast and shortly after, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“You go from being in good health and good spirits and thinking the world is great to suddenly having this unknown cast into your life. There’s always fear associated with cancer,” Lori said.
She felt she was no longer in control of her life and what the future held. But that fear began to fade away when she was introduced to the Victoria Breast Health Centre at Victoria General Hospital in View Royal and breast health patient navigator, Shawna Bond.
As the navigator with the centre, Bond, who is also a registered nurse, helps both female and male patients at Victoria General Hospital.
She also helps patients from Royal Jubilee and Saanich Peninsula hospitals maneuver through their breast cancer journey from diagnosis to when patients move on to further care such as chemotherapy or radiation.
Bond begins by connecting with patients who will be going for breast surgery and sends them information on the centre, as well as pillows that are made by volunteers at the Westshore Quilters’ Guild. From there, she answers patients’ questions, helps prepare them for treatment visits with specialists, educates them of community supports, and provides emotional support through face-to-face meetings, telephone consultations or email.
In addition, the centre offers nipple areolar micropigmentation for those who have had breast reconstruction surgery with a referral from a plastic surgeon, as well as a second-hand prosthetic bank.
“One of the things that’s very difficult is when you’ve been diagnosed, who does direct you to all of the information? When you have those doctors appointments, it’s often after you leave when all the questions start popping in your head. It’s like you have a place to fall back on,” Bond said.
“It allows women to, I think, feel like they have a place of connection, of support, from somebody who has a specialized body of knowledge … It’s very rewarding.”
The centre, which consists of two rooms and is tucked away in the Child and Family Ambulatory Unit, originally opened in September 2001 with funding from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and bequests from two local women, Dr. Pat Arnup and Paula McNaughton. At the time, the centre, which is now a part of Island Health, was the first of its kind on the West Coast.
Now in its 17th year, the centre helps more than 400 patients per year.
Lori said Shawna helped her in unimaginable ways, from when she was first diagnosed in April to having her partial mastectomy two months later, to eight cycles of chemotherapy when she lost her hair, to a second surgery and16 treatments of radiation, which she eventually completed two weeks ago, and finally hormone-blocking medication.
Over the last nine months, the duo connected frequently, with Lori asking an array of questions from re-reading results to talking about the emotional effects of treatments.
Now, 11 months later, Lori is cancer free and slowly getting her life back on track. She’s gone back to work two days of the week and attends a workout class at the YMCA/YWCA of Vancouver Island at Westhills, alongside others who are recovering from cancer.
“At every stage it helped bring the stress level back down because all you want is someone to say, ‘I have the time, I’ll go through [the results] with you,’” Lori said. “It’s one thing having a support group of family and friends, it’s another thing to have someone you can speak frankly to. Just knowing that if any any point I had someone to talk to, even to say ‘my chemo sucks,’ was huge. It’s an amazing program.”
For more information about the Victoria Breast Health Centre visit viha.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.