Cathy Ammendolea is the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Canadian Breast Cancer Network (CBCN), which she joined in 2007. She is a breast cancer survivor who works with a wide variety of organizations.
As Chair of the Board, in conjunction with the Senior Leadership Team and the Board of Directors, Cathy is responsible for the overall leadership and operations of the organization including financial management, strategic planning, revenue development, strategic partnerships, and the oversight of CBCN programs. In her role as Chair, Cathy ensures that the patient perspective is used to inform breast cancer decision-making in Canada. She regularly consults on industry, government and organizational initiatives both in Canada and globally to promote the patient voice and champion the best interests of cancer patients.
As a patient navigator with the gynecological oncology team at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, Cathy helps patients from diagnosis and throughout the continuum of care.
Cathy has represented CBCN in key breast cancer conferences and meetings nationally and internationally. She presented at the Advanced Breast Cancer Conference 2 and 3 in Lisbon, Portugal; a conference dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by metastatic breast cancer. She also participated in an influential conference ‘International Experience Exchange for Patient Organizations’ (IEEPO) hosted by a leading pharmaceutical company in March 2015 and again in March 2016 which brought together various patient focused organizations from 50 different countries. In addition to these meetings, she sat on the steering committee for a similar conference hosted in Canada, the Canadian Experience Exchange for Patient Organizations in October 2015.
Cathy is also a tireless advocate who regularly connects with Members of Parliament and policy advisors at the Federal and Provincial levels of Government including Provincial Ministries of Health to ensure that the needs and concerns of Canadians affected by breast cancer are being addressed.
Cathy has participated in several training programs with the National Breast Cancer Coalition, including the Advocacy Training Conference that brings together breast cancer advocates and survivors from around the world to review the latest scientific research, understand effective advocacy strategies and learn from prominent public policy experts. She has also participated in their Project LEAD workshops that train breast cancer advocates in the science of breast cancer so they can better critically analyze breast cancer research and influence the research agenda and committees and breast cancer decision-making. Project LEAD trains advocates in the language and concepts of cancer biology, basic epidemiology and research methodology through a series of courses.
Cathy has also served as a consumer reviewer on scientific peer review panels for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) with the Department of Defense in the United States. This program awards millions of dollars annually to researchers investigating a wide variety of conditions, including breast cancer.
Sharon is a retired Registered Psychiatric Nurse and former Manager of a Psychosocial Rehabilitation Clinical Services team with Prairie Mountain Health, based in Brandon, Manitoba. Her career in healthcare spanned more than four decades; she worked in several mental health settings as well as with Public Health as a health promotion facilitator for more than ten years.
Sharon was initially diagnosed with Stage IIIA intraductal in situ breast cancer in 1996 and following mastectomy and chemotherapy, participated in a clinical trial for five years. Following her recovery, her involvement with local and provincial networks began and over a span of 20 years she was a member of the local Westman Breast & Women's Cancer Network and the Manitoba Breast & Women’s Cancer Network with their support and education priorities until they disbanded provincially in 2017. She was also the spark for founding the Waves of Hope Dragon Boat Team for Brandon and area in 1998, and celebrated 10 years of active paddling with this dynamic team of women in 2009.
Sharon joined the CBCN Board of Directors in 2008 and is currently the Vice-President. “I’ve been really privileged to be on this board,” she says. “A highlight for me was the release of the Economic Impact report, and meeting with Members of Parliament and all the stakeholders about this issue and the recommendations of the report.” More recently, she is most interested in changing trends in treatment of breast cancers, and hope for individuals living with metastatic disease. “I’ve lived with breast cancer for more than 20 years and have witnessed first-hand the change in treatment options and standards. Research continues to bring advances over time and along with this expanded knowledge comes more and more treatment options for people living with breast cancer.”
CBCN’s advocacy work is important to Sharon. She says, “Our country is large and very diverse. We need to help remove barriers for all people facing a diagnosis of breast cancer and beyond the diagnosis, too.” Sharon says this work is important to her because she owes her health to the people who supported her. “I want to give back. I’ve been touched by a lot of lives living with breast cancer, and have sadly lost too many friends to the disease as well. As part of a survivor network we have to work together with our partners, carrying the torch forward for people living with the disease, and to always strive to do better.”
Diana was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993. As a breast cancer survivor, educator, and health care professional she has dedicated her volunteer time and energy to cancer issues at both the provincial and national level. Her activities with these organizations have been informed by her vision of a future where people affected by cancer have the information and support they need, when they need it, as well as ease of access to all services and programs needed throughout the cancer continuum.
She is strongly committed to the notion that groups and agencies working on behalf of people with cancer must work collaboratively and cooperatively and actively seek to incorporate the patient voice in their decision making.
She is married with 3 grown children and two very special grandchildren.
Diana retired from Nursing Education in June 2006; however she continues to work on curriculum projects and with students on a part time basis.
Her volunteer activities currently include
Juliette Inglis, a breast cancer survivor who joined the CBCN Board of Directors in 2010, says Alberta has world-class medical facilities and extremely good care for breast cancer patients. However, she is very concerned about the lack of streamlining of emotional support groups and services.
When she was diagnosed in 2004, Juliette went to the Cross Cancer Centre in Edmonton several times a week for two years, and received surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and tamoxifen. Then her treatment ended, and she was told “to go out and have a good life” without any further support from the medical system. To her, that does not seem right. “It is great to leave with a clean bill of health, but more information about possible recurrences needs to be made available to breast cancer patients,” she says.
Juliette hopes that the provincial health board will provide funding for a full-time coordinator to implement support programs across the province. She says the current system of support groups is “splintered”: the groups are small, don’t know about each other, are difficult to locate and to access, and rely solely on volunteers.
“There’s a real lack of somebody having that leadership role right now,” she says. She is hoping to address that situation with the help of CBCN and some of her provincial contacts.
Juliette’s main sources of support are her husband of 30 years, her three children, many friends and volunteer boards, and her dragon boat team, Edmonton Breast Friends. She says of this group, “There’s always somebody that is in that kind of trial or is on that kind of medication who can answer questions.” The team practises three times a week and travels to seven or eight competitions a year. Juliette serves on the executive as the festival coordinator. As a dragon boater, she has travelled to Turkey and Israel for international competitions with a movement that was instrumental in helping to start dragon boating for breast cancer survivors in those countries.
Outside of her dragon boating and her work as an elementary French immersion teacher, Juliette enjoys outdoor activities, especially canoeing and skiing. She says her passion is “getting people to be healthy. I am at the gym four to five times per week. I teach yoga to my students. I constantly spread the message about healthy living.” She is also on several boards and was a Girl Guide leader for 12 years.
Juliette praises CBCN for its advocacy work and for its support for metastatic breast cancer patients, who she says are often ignored. “I think CBCN as an advocacy group is doing an outstanding job. It fulfills a real need,” she concludes.
Suzanne Leblanc can’t say enough praise about Breast Self-Examination (BSE). After all, she credits it for saving her life.
She was 42 years old when she found a lump in her breast through BSE. A mammogram showed fat tissue but no cancer. But six months later, the lump was bigger, so Suzanne went to her family doctor, who ordered a CT scan and then sent her to a specialist for a biopsy. She waited for eight gruelling days before she received the diagnosis. It was Stage II breast cancer.
She decided to have a lumpectomy initially. But after an extremely painful infection set in, causing fears of inflammatory breast cancer, Suzanne opted for a mastectomy. During that surgery, the surgeon discovered a second cancer that, had it not been found, would surely have metastasized. He told her that her vigilance in performing BSE had caught the cancer in time.
Suzanne went on to endure six chemotherapy treatments that landed her in the hospital four times with severe neutropenia. “I was very sick,” she says.
Next came six weeks of radiation therapy that left burn marks on her chest, followed by 18 treatments with Herceptin.
Suzanne then decided that she didn’t want to go through this experience again, and so she had a second mastectomy, as well as breast reconstruction with tissue expanders and implants.
Her treatments meant that she was away from her job as a nurse for one year. Her family survived on her 15 weeks of Employment Insurance sickness benefits, plus her husband’s salary from a teaching job. “You’re sick and you’re afraid you’re going to die and you have no income. It’s very emotional and stressful,” she says of that time.
During that difficult year, Suzanne’s spirituality and her family gave her hope. She also got support from a local group of breast cancer survivors. They helped her get through treatment and the ensuing fear of recurrence, especially during the first few years.
It’s been seven years since Suzanne was diagnosed. She is back at work as a nurse. She also enjoys her work with the CBCN Board of Directors and sees a lot of positive developments in the breast cancer community. “We’ve come a long way already,” she says. “There is lots of support. There are drugs for metastatic cancer patients, and they’re living longer.”
For the future, Suzanne would like to see the government extend Employment Insurance sickness benefits beyond 15 weeks. As well, she would like to have more education and awareness among young women about BSE and breast cancer prevention, to give them the same benefit as she herself had.
Wendy Panagopoulos, a community activist and nurse who joined CBCN’s Board of Directors in 2012, says her diagnosis of breast cancer in 2006 was “emotionally and psychologically tough.” She appreciated the good medical care she received (two surgeries and 16 radiation treatments), and valued the help of friends and family. Still, she says, “Cancer stopped me dead in my tracks. You walk alone with it for a while...Emotional and psychological supports need more attention.”
For these reasons, Wendy is particularly interested in CBCN’s focus on psychosocial aspects of breast cancer, and especially on vulnerable populations, such as women living in poverty who may not have the financial resources needed while undergoing lengthy treatments, when Employment Insurance benefits only last 15 weeks. “It’s tougher to get what you need when you’re already further behind,” she says.
For Wendy, a local support group and the Women Alike Abreast a River Dragonboat team have been her sources of emotional strength. In 2007, she also began walking on trails to strengthen herself physically. “The movement really helped me You really have to believe that you’re going to survive and put one foot in front of the other,” she says.
Since 2005, Wendy has worked as a Nurse Educator at St. Francis Xavier University, where she specializes in mental health and addictions. She finds that cancer has touched the lives of many of her students and their families, and that they can relate to her story.
Wendy has also worked on social justice and health issues such as violence against women and served on the Board of a local women’s centre, helping women to get traction in their lives. She ran for office as the New Democratic Party candidate twice provincially and once federally in the late 1990s and continues to be politically active at the local level.
She has enjoyed her work with CBCN because it has allowed her to connect with other women and share their issues. “Their voices are important to be heard,” she says. “We need a public discourse in how we deal with breast cancer. You hope that this is something that we don’t have to deal with in the future. In the meantime, we need to find better ways to walk with survivors and support them.”
Wendy has two sons and lives with her partner Chris West in beautiful Guysborough, Nova Scotia.
A former Cape Bretoner, Judy Donovan Whitty lived in Antigonish, Nova Scotia for 32 years, where she worked as an EKG technician, librarian and registered nurse. In 2000, Judy and her family moved to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in order for her to take on the role of Director of Instruction/Special Education and Assistant to the Superintendent of the PEI Western School Board. Now semi-retired, Judy is a part-time counsellor and a musical accompanist at public and church events.
Judy underwent a mastectomy and lymph node removal in 2002 and further surgeries in 2003 and 2008. She is doing well and grateful for each day. She spent two months in 2008 solo-backpacking in Europe to celebrate and hopes to do it again!
Judy joined the board of directors for the Canadian Breast Cancer Network in 2010 as a result of her involvement with many health care organizations in Prince Edward Island:
On the issue of end-of-life care, Judy wants to see the provinces each have a form or system in place so that people can indicate their wishes in advance of becoming seriously ill, and thus relieve their families of the hardship of making decisions about their loved one’s care when that person can no longer speak for himself or herself. On the issue of breast cancer, she is part of a lobbying campaign to convince the Prince Edward Island government to provide coverage for catastrophic drugs. “This is an important area. People with advanced cancer shouldn’t have to fight to get these drugs,” she says.
Judy is married with five children and six grandchildren. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and making music. She leads a junior choir, and provides organ and piano accompaniment at funerals, wedding ceremonies and concerts (or ceildhs as they’re called in PEI.) Her volunteer work includes entertaining at schools and nursing homes.
About her many advocacy roles, Judy says, “One committee involvement seems to lead to another, so I’m happy to do what I can. It’s all very rewarding work. Unlike my mother, I got to live and see our first grandchild the very year of my surgery and then five more—I am filled with gratitude! ” It is her hope that one day a cure for breast cancer will be found.
Cathy Hemeon of Mount Pearl, Newfoundland brings many years of experience in the health care field to her new role. She, like all CBCN board members, is also a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed in February 2016 with Stage I triple positive breast cancer following a screening MRI.
Cancer runs in Cathy’s family; many relatives have experienced the disease, and her mother died of malignant melanoma at the young age of 42. As a result, Cathy and the rest of her family underwent genetic testing, but no cancer-related mutations were found. Still, the family was classified as high risk, and so Cathy was told to alternate mammograms and MRIs every six months. She is grateful for that option.
“If we hadn’t gone down the road of seeking that genetic testing, I would have been looking at a different prognosis before I was diagnosed via mammogram,” says Cathy. “My surgeon had told me that the mass was probably there for about two years, and it probably would have been another two years before it was picked up via mammogram. Because the cancer was determined to be an aggressive type, it would have been a much later stage with a grim prognosis.”
Cathy chose to be treated with a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, four rounds of chemotherapy, and 18 rounds of Herceptin, followed by tamoxifen for five to ten years.
Because Cathy worked in the operating room as a scrub nurse, she was familiar with the healthcare system and how to navigate it. She empathizes with breast cancer patients who lack this knowledge. “I always thought about how someone with no knowledge of what’s going to happen, how they would be like deer in the headlights,” she says. “I always come back to that: whether people going through the system with no knowledge and no assistance—sometimes they’re alone—how they would navigate through, and I felt like support in this area is lacking in our process.”
In Newfoundland, the population is spread throughout the province, with many people living in rural and remote communities. At the same time, most specialized medical services are concentrated in St. John’s. Accessibility, finances, and awareness of available services are issues for many patients and their families, says Cathy. “Do they know they can come to St. John’s and have reconstruction after breast cancer?” she asks. “Do they know that they can have a mastectomy and reconstruction done at the same time?”
She also feels that mental health supports are lacking. “There was very little offered to myself or my family in the way of how to cope with a diagnosis, how do you talk about it, how do you tell your kids. Mental health awareness and support for the patients of our province needs to be heightened.”
To give back and to help raise funds for the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Centre Patient and Family Support Fund. Cathy posed as a model for the Breastless and Beautiful fundraising calendar. She has also spoken about her experience at Breast Reconstruction Awareness Days and belongs to an online group called Sharing Our Strength, which offers encouragement, advice, and support to breast cancer patients and survivors.
Cathy is pleased that CBCN has recently released its Surgery Guide and looks forward to having more resources for cancer patients and their families available in Newfoundland.