As she gradually returns to work after a three-year battle with breast cancer, Kim Angell isn’t giving up the fight.
The Ladysmith resident is among a group of breast cancer survivors who are featured in this year’s CURE Foundation’s National Denim Day campaign, boldly declaring “#We are the fight.”
For Angell, who underwent her fifth reconstructive surgery just two months ago, advocacy has been a part of her shared experience since she was diagnosed in her early 30s three years ago. She started a blog site, Smile Through the Fog, and publicly chronicled her personal fight almost from Day One, describing the rigours of eight rounds of chemotherapy and 28 rounds of radiation treatment along with a lumpectomy, mastectomy and followup surgeries.
“I think the biggest message is cancer doesn’t discriminate,” she said while attending a breast cancer survivors conference in Texas.
Angell was lying in bed one night when it suddenly occurred to her to do a self-exam, “never thinking in a million years that I would find anything.” Her grandma had breast cancer in her 60s, but young women don’t consider themselves to be a high risk since only seven per cent of cases are diagnosed before age 40.
That lowers their guard, yet one in eight Canadian women will be diagnosed during her lifetime. Early detection remains the best assurance of survival.
“It was important for me to share because when I was first diagnosed I found it difficult to find people my age to understand what I was going through,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of support for younger women, so I started sharing my own story to let younger women know that they are not alone.”
As one of a dozen or so survivors featured in this year’s campaign, Angell appears with shoulders bare and a caption that reads “Breast cancer badass, blogger and advocate who wears her scars proudly.”
Founded in 1996 by a Canadian breast cancer survivor, CURE Foundation has raised $29 million for breast cancer research, community programs and medical equipment. Every May 14 on National Denim Day, employees are encouraged to wear denim to work or a pink flower to signify a $5 donation to the cause. Survivors are encouraged to share their experiences as “ambassadors” for the cause.
“Kim just sort of came up on our radar because she’s active online and writes a blog about her experiences,” said Robyn Dalton, executive director of the Cure Foundation.
Survivor and foundation have much in common.
“Our whole idea behind the campaign is that breast cancer doesn’t discriminate,” Dalton said. “It’s really to highlight that women of all ages and all cultural backgrounds can get breast cancer. It’s also to be able to have stories of women’s journeys told and authenticated.”
The non-profit group has assembled a team of fighters such as Angell in its current campaign, partly to encourage young women to be health conscious.
“That women need to know their bodies and what is normal for them and that means conducting monthly breast self-examination,” Dalton said. “We really don’t think that any age is too young.”
Mammogram screening isn’t recommended until women turn 40, yet clearly that’s not soon enough for some.
“It shows how much we’ve got to focus on health and be our own advocates,” said Angell, who works as a human resources consultant for Island Health.