I would first like to begin with a couple of words of gratitude to Thrive Alive Foundation
Thank you for being there for us. For helping us through this sometimes perilous journey from diagnosis to healing. Thank you for your tireless belief in us, in our own healing and in our own strength. Belief in me throughout my process allowed me to believe in myself again to take on this fat grafting project.
I would also like to set some context for the fat grafting petition. We walk through life sometimes with a haze of "I don't know what I don't know". That is how I began around my surgery. I went on the computer to look up what mastectomies and partial mastectomies were about and how they might look. Some of the pictures scared and horrified me so I left the world of the internet and reached out to women. Women who were kind and brave and who were not only willing to share their stories but were also willing to share their results with me. They would walk into the nearest public washroom and lift up their shirts to show me their surgeries. They made it very clear that they were there to help us newbies (newly diagnosed women with breast cancer). I knew then that someday I would be there for them or for the many other women who were being diagnosed daily.
Because of what I saw through them, I also knew that I needed to be very involved with choices around my surgery. I sought out a lovely surgeon who was willing to work with me to minimize the type of reconstructive surgery that I would have, deciding on everything from placement of incisions and thus scars, to how the body would heal and fill itself in with the help of gravity. She was wonderful.
After a year and a half of treatment I was ready to consider reconstruction. I went to see the plastic surgeon who informed me that all my preparations with my surgeon had paid off and that I could have a procedure called fat grafting (lipofilling) to correct my left breast.
The great things about this procedure were that it had minimal down time ( I have 2 children), could most often be done under local anesthetic in the doctors office, recovery was quick as most of the procedure is done with only using syringes, there was no lasting damage to any other parts of the body, there was no lasting pain after healing, and there was no lasting structural damage to the rest of the body like some of the other surgeries being done.
It was good for the patient and it was good for MSP. Great so where did the "but" come in as I could sense that one was about to be delivered to me. The doctor let me know that the plastic surgeons had applied to have this procedure covered by MSP, but with no success and a seven year long process. OK, so there was the "but". She was clear that I could pay for this privately as other women had been doing. Unfortunately, being off work for the past 2 years did not allow me to have that much disposable income and I was sure the same was true for most of my Cancer sisters. I asked the doctor what she thought would help and she mentioned a patient petition.
I left the office somewhat discouraged and wondering if I would ever be able to have this surgery and move on with my life. I questioned if I even needed to have reconstruction in order to move on with my life. After a week of soul searching, I realized that, yes, I was not going to move on if I was constantly seeing myself damaged from this experience. If I felt this way, there were many other women who felt this way as well. Other women were there to help mentor and take care of me during this difficult time. Now it was my turn to give back.
I realized that I would need a doctor to help sponsor this petition, so I approached Dr. Walter Lemmo who has always been there for me. He said to write something up and he would help get organizations on board. Coincidentally, or perhaps, as a sign of fate, Thrive Alive Foundation was gearing up for their launch event in April 2011, and the team allowed me to bring the petition in order to start gathering signatures, and thus launch my own campaign. The Thrive Alive Foundation launch event became my own launch event and truly helped begin this process to provide lipofilling for all British Columbians. I collected over 100 signatures that evening
For the next few months, I made it my priority to get signatures. Everywhere I went I took my clip board with the petition. Another cancer organization, InspireHealth, allowed me to speak with people after classes to get more signatures and they left a petition on their living room table for people to sign. Every appointment that I had at the Cancer Agency, I took my time to go around the waiting rooms to get more signatures. I faxed the petition out to various support groups for signatures. When I had 300 signatures, I approached Colin Hansen, my MLA. He said that it made sense from a fiscal, medical and emotional stance, and would take it forward to the Minister of Health. I kept gathering signatures so that he would have a lot of support to show The Minister.
At the beginning of June, Colin called to let me know that we would have an answer within 3 weeks. From the time I began the petition, to the time we got our answer from the Ministry of Health, it took 4 months.
Now every women who qualifies for a fat grafting reconstructive procedure by their doctor can have it covered. No longer are they dependent upon how much money they personally have, and whether or not they can pay for it themselves.
But we are not done. There are thousands of women out there who were told that they could only have this procedure if they paid for it themselves. These women gave up and have walked away. They do not know about this new development. I want to find them and tell them that they should now head back to their doctor's office if they still want the reconstruction done, if they still feel that it is a necessary part of completing their healing process.
We also need to let doctors and surgeons know that this is what we want before they do our surgeries, so that they can keep the whole picture in mind. For some of us, reconstruction is as much part of our treatment plan as chemotherapy.
What did I learn from all of this? Well, I guess I was reminded of how powerful we all are if we stand together. So please stand with me, and get the word out to our Cancer sisters!
I’m so grateful and appreciative to be the first award recipient for Wings of Change… I can’t tell you how much this means to me and every woman eager to move forward and to thrive.