What does it take for nine regular working class men to completely go out of their comfort zone by dressing up in drag and walk down a runway in front of all their peers and work colleagues?
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is about raising awareness of early detection of breast cancer. Left undetected and untreated breast cancer can spread to other areas of the body. It is also about raising funds for breast cancer research and support.
The company I work for had several breast cancer fundraising events which included a bake sale, a team that participated in the Run For The Cure and the “Cancer is a Drag” event. With 78 full time employees we raised close to $10,000 for breast cancer research and support.
It took a lot of deliberation to decide whether I was going to dress up in drag. As some of you might know, I am also a lay pastor, and this was going to be really, really out of my comfort zone. My life is a “fishbowl life”. What would the neighbours say? But I have had many neighbours, friends and relatives that have had breast cancer. Some have lost their lives from it, some are fighting it, and some are breast cancer survivors. For these dear people, this was definitely far more out of their comfort zone.
Some of the clothes I wore for my “drag outfit” was from a dear long time (24+ years) family friend named Ruthanne Krant, who is a much loved and respected Georgian College professor. As families we have got together a lot over the years. My son was a groomsman for Ruthanne’s son’s wedding. Ruthanne is a breast cancer survivor. Ruthanne not only was willing to lend me some clothes and makeup, she was more than willing to answer some questions from me regarding her journey with breast cancer. She shared with conviction about her experiences with breast cancer so it may help others. Here is her story from when she discovered she had breast cancer at the age of 54.
Carl: About discovering you had breast cancer, was it a routine check up, or something you felt was not right, and brought it to your physicians attention? And what was your reaction? Were you surprised or shocked?
Ruthanne: I discovered the breast cancer after noticing some subtle symptoms on my left breast that weren’t there previously. Ironically, the mammogram I had months before had turned out negative (turns out it was a false negative). It’s important for women to respond to any changes in their breasts. The symptoms are noticeable! I was surprised by the diagnosis because my mammogram that year had been clear. I was surprised and I wasn’t. One of my good friends had just been diagnosed with an unusual sinus tumour that turned out to be a malignant cancer. It was around the same time that I decided to stop my busy pace and get myself into my doctor’s office. The words “invasive ductal carcinoma” were very scary. All the while that I was having my diagnostic tests done (biopsies primarily paired with ultrasound), I thought about Dave & Lisa Elliott’s son who had just died that August with leukemia. He was only 17. I was thanking God for every day he has given me.
Carl: What was the reaction of your family, friends and colleagues? Were they supportive? Did they treat you any differently?
Ruthanne: My husband James was the best support. He told our kids (one of the most difficult things for me) while I was there in the room. Our kids were amazing! Carl – I could write a blog about our kids’ reactions. They stepped up to the challenge with me and were there by my side all the way along. I found they were my greatest source of motivation. No matter how badly I was feeling from surgeries, chemotherapy or radiation, I was always up and dressed by the time they came home from school. My colleagues at Georgian College and my church community were so supportive. The outpouring of prayers, positive messages, cards, gifts, flowers etc. was unbelievable. Carl – I have pages and pages of e-mails I’ve saved from that time through my cancer journey.
Carl: What was your prognosis, treatment, and chances of survival? How difficult was the treatment? How did it affect you physically and mentally?
Ruthanne: After the biopsies and lumpectomy, it was determined I had stage 3 HER2 positive cancer. This is an overexpression of cancer cells. Fortunately, through the fantastic work of researchers and fundraisers, a new drug to treat this type of cancer was released on the Canadian market. I can send some details if you want. Herceptin is an infused drug that I was given through a portacath over 18 treatments. It reduces the risk of cancer recurrence considerably. The treatment was tough. Toughest parts included learning that I needed a full mastectomy after the initial lumpectomy was done. Turned out the cancer had spread further than the surgeon originally thought. I found it very difficult to lose my hair through chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can cause a lot of joint pain and fatigue. It’s the ‘battle’ part of cancer treatment for sure. Radiation was also ordered for 5 straight weeks. I was fortunate that I was able to get all my radiation treatments at RVH without having to travel to Toronto.
Carl: I have heard horror stories of people who became shipwrecked financially from cancer. How did the cancer affect you financially? (away from your job, treatments/ medicines not covered by insurance, special transportation, etc).
Ruthanne: Carl – I was very fortunate to have a sick plan through Georgian College that covered the majority of my salary while I was off. While in treatment, I met a number of people who were trying to continue working through their treatments. They were self-employed or didn’t have sick plans. My heart went out to them. Fortunately, RVH does work with various funders to provide some financial assistance especially for medication costs.
Carl: In terms of advice, what was the best advice given?
Ruthanne: The best advice I ever received was that a journey with cancer is a very personal and unique thing. Although we can learn from others who have been through treatments, we need to be careful because each cancer is unique (different diagnoses = different treatments). There is a lot of advice and stories about people’s experience with cancer. It’s understandable because cancer affects so many.
Carl: How long have you been cancer free Ruthanne? As a breast cancer survivor, what would you share with someone just diagnosed with breast cancer?
Ruthanne: I have been cancer free for 8 years Carl. There are a number of lessons I’ve learned that I would like to share with anyone who has received or may receive a cancer diagnosis: 1. You are not alone. Reach out to family, friends and the medical community for help and care. 2. There is no dumb question about cancer. Be prepared to ask lots of questions. Thankfully, cancer research and development is revolutionizing the treatment of cancer. We are taught to live with cancer because in many instances there may be recurrences. 3. Focus on life, not death. Each day, focus on the good people and things in your life. 4. Lean on your faith. God can carry you through the trials. 5. Take time to rest. A lot of people will want to visit and care for you. Sometimes the best thing is sleep. 6. If a friend comes along to encourage you to walk a little, be sure to do it. Walking is the best thing to battle the fatigue of cancer treatments. 7. If it helps you, journal your thoughts and feelings. There will be many. 8. Pray 9. We go through this so that we can be a shoulder to lean on for someone else who may be experiencing something similar. 10. Laugh and cry – both are so good for you!
Thank you Ruthanne for sharing your journey. For anyone who knows Ruthanne would agree that she has such a passion for life. Her smile, her laugh, her exuberance. It is SO contagious. She is now 62 and still loving life. Not only is she a “survivor”. She is a “thriver”
According to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada in 2017 an estimated 26,300 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,000 will die from it. Approximately 1% of all breast cancer cases are male and in 2017 it is expected that 230 Canadian men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 60 will die from it. From the World Cancer Research Fund International in 2012 (the last year a full tally was done) there were 1.7 million new breast cancer cases that year worldwide. The highest breast cancer rates were observed in North America…..92 per 100,000 population in the US and 80 per 100,000 population in Canada.
These are staggering statistics, which affects many, many lives. There are many ways we can reach out, some of them in the most unexpected ways. My wife is a knitter who volunteers her skills to knit prosthesis for those who have had to face a mastectomy.
The organization is called Knitted Knockers of Canada which connects volunteer knitters with breast cancer survivors to offer free knitted prosthesis. Taken off their website it mentions that “Some women find traditional breast prosthesis too expensive, heavy, sweaty and uncomfortable. Also traditional prosthesis often cannot be worn for weeks after surgery”. The yarn used in the Knitted Knockers is a high grade, soft, comfortable mercerized cotton that has no allergens, is not itchy and does not shrink when washed. On the website you can request a knitted knocker for free for a breast cancer survivor, you can donate for the purchase of more yarn, or you can learn how to volunteer. The organization also has a very active Facebook page called Knitted Knockers of Canada.
I am glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to dress up in drag for a short time. It opened up a door in which I was able to have my friend Ruthanne share her own path she has travelled. She has a conviction to speak about her experiences with cancer if it can help others. For more information on breast cancer types, treatment, risk factors and prevention (which also has a link for male breast cancer) please go to Breast Cancer Society of Canada.
According to a new report from the Canadian Cancer Society, almost one in every two Canadians is now expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and one in four Canadians will die from it. The report further stated that in 2017 an estimated 206,200 new cases (from all the forms of cancer) and 80,800 deaths (from all forms of cancer) will occur in Canada in 2017. Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada, and is responsible for 30% of all deaths.