For my 40th birthday, I booked a mammogram. You see, I’m a rule follower, and in Nova Scotia, 40 is the recommended age for your first annual screening.
Never in a million years did I expect they would find anything. In fact, I still don’t believe it’s true, but the scars on my body prove otherwise.
My name is Tanya Howley, and my battle with cancer began in 2021. After my “routine” mammogram, I was called in for a diagnostic mammogram, which led to a biopsy. Afterward, a visit from my family doctor confirmed my terrifying diagnosis, which I am still trying to grasp.
I’m a pharmacist, an avid runner, and an overall health enthusiast. In my mind, I did everything “right.” There were no signs, and no family history. Even after the 1.2-centimeter tumor was located and confirmed, I couldn’t feel or see it.
When my doctor gave me a plan of action, the news finally sank in, and I couldn’t stop crying. Until this moment, I was hoping they had it all horribly wrong. Questions began to race through my mind: “How will I find the strength to fight and still care for my kids? How do I tell them? And what happens now?”
I’ll admit, after my diagnosis, it took me some time to gather the will to fight. But when your nine-year-old son asks if his mom is going to die, you do everything you can to survive.
The fight for my life began with a lumpectomy, followed by a second surgery to remove leftover precancerous tissue. Next came 15 rounds of radiation within three weeks, which were dreadful. In my mind I was perfectly healthy, and I couldn’t help but think, “Why would I do something that makes me so sick?”
But I trusted our health care professionals, and I’m grateful not only for the early detection, but also the tremendous compassion and care I received at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre. One of the hardest parts of my journey was walking through the doors of the Centre and declaring I was a patient. But when you’re inside, you’re greeted by smiling faces, folks who know your name, who you develop a rapport and banter with, who celebrate with you, who hold your hand, and provide words of reassurance. It was a great comfort to know they truly were rallying to keep me alive.
Along with the care received at the Centre, the outpouring of love from my friends and family has significantly helped with my journey to recovery. Because I was home for my care, my family was able to sit by my side for every single appointment. My friends were able to make sure my kids had a great summer, while I needed rest. I was able to sleep in my own bed with our dog, Harley, at my feet.
I can’t emphasize how important it has been for me to have all the people I love around me. My support system is worth way more in my recovery than the drugs and treatment, I’m sure of it.
My journey is not over. Now that my surgeries and treatments are done, I’m currently waiting on a mammogram to make sure there are no cancerous cells left in my body. Because my cancer is hormone receptive, I’ve started hormone blockers that have caused my body to go into early menopause. I have a great amount of bone pain. But I’ll continue to fight, with my amazing support team by my side, right here at home.
I now know that cancer is not a personal battle. It’s a family battle, and sometimes a community battle. Everyone needs to rally. I hope you will join me today in supporting the Cancer Care Here at Home campaign, Cape Breton’s new Cancer Centre, and our friends, families, and neighbours, right here – at home.
My sincerest regards,
Pharmacist Owner, Shoppers Drug Mart, North Sydney
Mom of Grace, Claire, and Lucas
Wife of Mark
Fellow Cape Bretoner