Karyn Stowe is a 38-year-old mother of three kids, ages seven, four and three. A year ago, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer called HER2 positive.
“I was totally freaked out,” she told Metro.
Not many women in Stowe’s stage of life and with her level of good health get breast cancer.
She is active — working out several times a week and walking six kilometres a day in midtown Toronto. She eats well, including lots of organic foods. She has never been overweight. Each of her three kids was breastfed until almost one year of age, an activity that is supposed to be protective against breast cancer. No one in her family has ever had any type of cancer.
“I was enjoying life in my 30s,” she says. “I had none of the risk factors. Breast cancer wasn’t even on my radar.”
Breast cancer is not one disease. There are many different types, each acting in different ways. Gone are the days when treatment followed a one-size-fits-all model. A new era has begun in which therapy targets the specific type of breast cancer. Stowe’s cancer, HER2+, accounts for about 20 per cent of cases, and is often treated with a new targeted therapy called Herceptin.
While going through treatment, Stowe found comfort in family, friends and neighbours. She had a mastectomy and lymph node removal in September 2008, and then six rounds of chemotherapy, followed by five weeks of daily radiation. Now, she is on Tamoxifen and Herceptin.
But as treatment winds down, Stowe still needs a shoulder to cry on, a place to commiserate and share.
Support systems are also entering a new era: They are custom-made for specific types of cancer. Rethink Breast Cancer, a support network for young women with breast cancer, is launching www.TellHER2.ca — a website dedicated to connecting those affected by HER2+ breast cancer.
Stowe thinks it’s a great idea. “It’s really nice to talk to someone who really understands your daily difficulties being a mom with breast cancer — caring for young children, fears for the future… wanting to plan but not sure if you can… wanting to chat normally with other moms on the playground… but feeling that you always have something much bigger in the back of your head. It’s so nice to talk to other women who ‘get it’ because they’re living it too.”
Breast cancer survivors galore
Though there’s still much work to be done in breast cancer, the latest statistics point to good news. In fact, the five-year survival rate is 87 per cent, according to 2009 figures from the Canadian Cancer Society and Statistics Canada. Chances of surviving have risen five per cent over the last 15 years. Why? In 2009, it’s estimated that there will be 22,900 new cases of breast cancer. And 5,400 Canadians will die of the disease.
• Find cancer support groups at www.cancerview.ca, look under Cancer Journey