Most of Claire Edmonds’ career as a psychotherapist has been dedicated to helping people cope with cancer. But at the age of 57, when a routine mammogram revealed a tumour in her breast, Claire found herself in a situation similar to many of her own clients’.
“I knew cancer from a clinical angle. I knew the lived experience because I’d been in the room with patients hearing what it’s like to live with cancer,” says Claire. “Nothing could prepare me to take in my own diagnosis.”
Claire was referred to the Marion C. Soloway Breast Rapid Diagnostic Unit at Sunnybrook where clinicians took a biopsy of the tumour. Claire says it was an overwhelming period in her life. “I was sitting in the chair and I thought ‘I can’t breathe,’” says Claire. “The nurse came up to me and she held me. It was a remarkable thing – and because of her I could get up.”
The biopsy confirmed that Claire had breast cancer, and she quickly began creating a treatment plan with her health-care team. She wanted a mastectomy and her doctor agreed, while also encouraging her to consider simultaneous breast reconstruction.
Through the Louise Temerty Breast Cancer Centre’s Immediate Breast Reconstruction Program, Claire received a DIEP Flap reconstruction, which uses tissue from the belly area to create a new breast immediately after the breast is removed.
Once her mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery were over, Claire went through several months of chemotherapy. She credits her family and friends, including her husband and two daughters, as well as her health-care team, for helping her through this difficult time.
“The support from Sunnybrook has been phenomenal. There are moments that are hard but I learned that asking for help brought help to me,” says Claire. “If you asked for help the answer would be ‘Oh, we’ve got someone for that.’”
In addition to the support she received from surgeons and nurses, Claire also felt supported by Sunnybrook’s pharmacy team, who helped her manage side-effects caused by chemotherapy and other medication.
Through the Patient and Family Support Program at Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre, Claire was connected with a dietitian who ensured she was getting the right nutrition during her treatment and recovery. The program also connected Claire with a psychologist, who helped her cope with her diagnosis and guided her through the psychosocial oncology practices she had taught in her own career as a psychotherapist, such as journaling, meditation, guided visualization and other forms of therapy.
“A lot of things get stripped away when you have cancer, but I never lost my dignity. That’s because of the staff at Sunnybrook,” says Claire.
Six months after completing chemotherapy and exactly one year after her mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, Claire ran five kilometres in Sunnybrook Park. She is now working again and living cancer-free.
“Whenever my husband and I drive by Sunnybrook he comments, ‘There’s the place that saved your life,’” says Claire. “I can’t begin to express how grateful I am.”
Support innovation at Sunnybrook by making a donation today.