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.