Written by Staff
The strength in her voice as she tells her story for what must be the thousandth time is inspiring. Even when you hear it catch and know that she’s reliving a little of the uncertainty and terror that breast cancer brings, her voice holds steady–stays strong. And it’s because of this obvious inner strength that makes you think not that she was a good person to have this happen to, but that she was the right person to make the most of it. That she was the kind of woman who would turn her own personal battle into an inspiration for others. To prove that sometimes life does go on, and that there is always hope.
It was when she was into her recovery that Stephen began envisioning a celebration to thank everyone for their support, and maybe raise some money for breast cancer in the process. By May of 2007, mere months after her diagnosis, Stephen, along with the help of family and friends, held a social. And what a social it was–it managed to rake in $26,000 in one evening. A staggering amount for what was more or less supposed to be a thank you celebration with the hopes of raising a few dollars towards the cause.
That stunning show of support was enough to make her think seriously about the fact that if one small social could raise that kind of money, what could happen if they really worked at it? And thus the Keeping Abreast Fund was born.
Stephen is quick to point out that without the help of family, friends, and her team at Keeping Abreast, she never would have gotten to where she is today, both in her recovery, or with the Keeping Abreast Fund. “My husband Doug has been really instrumental,” she says, explaining how his company, Wow! Hospitality, has been such a big supporter of all that she does. Her daughter and son are both also supporters of the cause, volunteering and holding events of their own. “They’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” she says with pride in her voice.
“The really amazing thing for me is not that I am driven–that makes sense for me–but the fact that I have 10 or 11 or 12 friends who are as committed as I am. They’re just unbelievable, I couldn’t do it myself,” says Stephen of the Keeping Abreast team.
The Keeping Abreast 2009 Committee: Back row (left to right) Darla Raddysh, Becky Parkes, Jim Ingebrigtsen, Pat Wedlake. Front Row (left to right) Susan Stobart, Tina Jones, Jackie Stephen, Lori Olson, Kate Brenner, Kenny Boyce. Missing: Wayne Rogers, Jim Morden.
She continues to be shocked by the support the Fund receives, “The more people I meet, and the more people I talk to…they’re calling me now and saying ‘How can I help?’” The fact that she was so vocal about what was happening to her though, may have a lot to do with the support she received. She never tried to hide herself away, or keep what she was going through a secret. All she wanted was to let people know what was going on, and to warn people, because in her own words, “It can happen to any of us.”
The money raised for the Keeping Abreast Fund is donated entirely to the Health Sciences Centre Foundation. One hundred per cent of the funds are dispersed to breast cancer research, the Breast Reconstruction Team and to providing the tools and support required in dealing with breast cancer, both to patients and those treating them.
The man behind the reconstruction surgery is Dr. Edward Buchel, who operates out of the Health Sciences Centre. After learning about breast reconstruction while working in the U.S., in 2004 he moved back to Winnipeg and became involved in developing the Breast Reconstruction Team.
Breast reconstruction surgery is an option for nearly every woman who has undergone, or is about to undergo, a mastectomy. It’s even an option for some who have undergone a lumpectomy. There are several options when having the reconstructive surgery, one of which is using a woman’s own tissues to reconstruct the breast, and the other is with the insertion of a breast implant.
The reasons for choosing to undergo, or not undergo, reconstructive surgery, are different for every woman who has to make the decision. For some it may seem unimportant, others may not want the added burden of wearing a prosthesis every day, and for others, the idea of not having two breasts may make them feel less whole, perhaps less womanly. And for some, like Stephen, it could mean the difference between moving on with your life, and dwelling on the cancer. “It’s the difference between moving on and not–you don’t feel like less than what you were before.”
She wonders about those that choose not to have the reconstructive surgery, only because it was such an important part of her own recovery, it made her feel whole again. Simple things like looking in the mirror after a shower, or wearing a shirt that you’ve always loved, and seeing that part of you missing: “How would you ever feel like you don’t have cancer?”
The Keeping Abreast website is one where people can go to get information on breast cancer, on breast reconstruction, to find out how to donate, to read stories of other women who have gone through the same thing, or to share their own story. Stephen believes firmly in the power that just having someone to listen or share with, can bring. “There is strength in numbers. Maybe we can help ease the way a little bit.”
For more information on the Keeping Abreast Fund, or to share your story, visit: www.keepingabreast.org
All the funds raised by Keeping Abreast go to the HSC Foundation in support of breast reconstruction surgery research and education.
Here’s a breakdown of the amazing support they’ve been able to provide to date:
Keeping Abreast Fund income (approximate)—$300,000.00
Computers, monitor $6,148.47
Website - Phase I $19,341.00
Surgical Drawings $18,432.00
Database software $337.45
Librestream Patient Monitoring $14,372.13
Intra-Operative Ultrasound $45,000.48
Nurses’ Education (CME) $15,000.00
Fat injector $7,678.65
Total purchased to date $126,308.61
Planned purchases in 2009:
Laser Equipment $100,000.00
Travel Fellowships – Physicians $50,000.00
We asked Dr. Edward Buchel, head of the Breast Reconstruction Team, about what the funds from the Keeping Abreast Foundation mean to the breast cancer reconstruction surgery and education program: “From my standpoint it is very important because it allows us to educate our nursing staff and physicians and keep up them to date,” Buchel says. “Secondly, it allows us to buy equipment that we wouldn’t normally have access to that directly benefit breast cancer patients, specifically the fat transfer system we just bought for breast reconstruction. These things allow us to give better care and better results.”
What does the equipment that was purchased because of Keeping Abreast donations do? “The ultrasound can be used in the operating room during operations. Before we could have an ultrasound a week prior, but I need it in the operating room with me,” says Buchel. “The biggest thing, though, is the fat transfer system. It’s very novel and is having a huge impact on patients. Sometimes there are little irregularities or scar tissue from radiation, sometimes it can be as big as a golf ball. While that may not be huge from our standpoint, it’s huge for the patient. We never had a way to do this, as the government views it as experimental and won’t fund it. The Keeping Abreast Fund allowed us to buy the equipment. Since we started two months ago we’ve treated 40 to 50 patients. We’re also now able to send physicians away to learn this technique.”
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here are just a few ways you can support some of the many breast cancer related charities in Manitoba.
The Merle Norman boutique on St. James Street is excited to announce the arrival of RevitaLash, a revolutionary product designed to give keep lashes looking longer, thicker, and fuller. A doctor designed this product after his wife’s eyelashes were damaged with intensive chemotherapy treatments, a result of breast cancer treatment. The formula is applied once daily and enhances the appearance of your natural lashes. $10 from each Revitalash sale at Merle Norman at 884 St. James St, goes to breast cancer research.
• If you’re looking for a fun night out that’s also a chance to help a great cause, Helping Hands for Manitobans with Breast Cancer is putting on a fundraiser chock full of entertainment. Happening on Oct. 1 at the great retro venue, The Park Theatre, the night features Debra Lyn Neufeld and Gord Kiddler playing some blues, Jamie Krilyk showing off some magical talents and Warren Persowich’s comedy stylings. Apart from all this fabulous entertainment, you can get in on door prizes plus a 50/50 draw—all while helping out an awesome cause. Tickets for the event are a mere $15 and proceeds go to helping Manitobans with breast cancer that are facing financial difficulties. Tickets are available by calling 256-7955 or 231-3487. You can also email
for tickets or more information.
• For the month of October, treat yourself to a Bellini and support breast cancer. A percentage of sales of Tiber River Naturals Bellini lotion will be donated to Helping Hands for Manitobans with Breast Cancer. And don’t forget to mark your calendars for Tiber River Naturals and the Bra Bar will be hosting a ladies night on Tuesday, October 14 to raise funds for Helping Hands for Manitobans with Breast Cancer. The night includes special fittings and mini-manicures. You’ll look and smell great! Proceeds from both fundraisers will help provide financial assistance for Manitoban women who are fighting breast cancer. For more info, check out www.tiberriver.ca and www.thebrabar.com.
• Buttercup Beauty Bar will be providing makeup services for the fashion show models at this year’s Gaurdian Angel Benefit for Women’s Cancer on October 27 at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. For more information on the event, call 787-1800.
• Rituals in hair and skin sells Rituals Greeting cards, with proceeds going to purchase wigs for women who are going through cancer treatment. Rituals also will be featuring Aveda’s Pink Ribbon Hand Relief special edition for cancer care—with part of the proceeds from the sale of the lotion given to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Check them both out at 701 Pembina Hwy.
• Keep cozy, and be caring this fall with jackets from Peppertree Fashions at 123 Scurfield Blvd. Peppertree will be donating $2 for every jacket sold during the month of October to Breast Cancer Research (MB).