by Graham Strong - June 2, 2018
As Samantha Hurley found out, the “breast cancer gene” or BRCA2 as it is known medically can greatly increase your chances of developing breast cancer early in life. Samantha was just 30 when she first got the news.
“I felt a lump, but I didn’t think anything of it,” Samantha said. She mentioned it to her doctor in passing at her next appointment. “She assured me that it was nothing because of my age but wanted to run tests anyway. Less than a week later I got a call from my doctor’s office. ‘Can you come in ASAP…?’”
You can help people like Samantha as they follow their own cancer journey. The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation is committed to helping ensure we have the best treatments and the most comfortable care possible, right here in Thunder Bay. Your donations are making a difference to cancer patients every day. Please visit healthsciencesfoundation.ca/cancer to see how you can help, too.
The next months were the worst of her life, Samantha said. She had the tumour surgically removed two months later, which sounds fast but can seem forever when you’re the one waiting. That was followed by chemotherapy, a breakup with her boyfriend, and some major decisions around her health.
“During that time there were a lot of bad moments but also a lot of good ones,” Samantha said. “I tried to make the best out of what I was going through. I had a haircutting party, did some photo shoots with a friend, and had fun with the wigs I bought.”
Doctors explained that a double mastectomy would reduce the risk of reoccurrence. They also recommended that she have her ovaries removed since the BRCA2 gene also increases the risk of ovarian cancer. However, that meant she could never have kids. She wasn’t ready at that point to give up on her future family.
“I made a deal with my doctors: I would have the double mastectomy, but I wasn’t going to have my ovaries removed until I was 40.”
Seven months into her cancer journey, Samantha got the good news: her treatments had been successful. But her story wasn’t over yet. Samantha struggled with her self-identity afterwards, trying to put her life back together.
“It was the most emotional part of it all. I would hear stuff like, ‘You don’t have cancer anymore, so get on with your life.’ The problem was that I didn’t know how to. My life changed so much that I didn’t know who I was anymore,” she said.
Samantha joined the Breast Cancer Support Group, became active in Dragon Boating, and slowly started to enjoy life again. That’s when she met Steve, the love of her life. They celebrated Samantha being five years cancer-free by planning their wedding. Then, six years after her first cancer diagnosis, Steve and Samantha welcomed Sophia into the world. This summer they celebrate four years of marriage, six years of being together, nine years cancer-free, and little Sophia’s third birthday.
“That day Sophia was born, I thought, ‘Yes, this is what I fought for.’ As terrible as my cancer journey was, it made me look at life differently. And I know now that it’s not really about holding on to survive the storm. It’s about dancing in the rain.”