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A Journey of Hope: How Breast Cancer Patient Ada Nolan Overcame the Odds

Ada Nolan
Written by Kevin Van Paassen

At 34-years-old, Ada Nolan was diagnosed with breast cancer, a form called invasive ductal carcinoma. With three young children, and hopes of having more, she and her husband Chris wondered if their dream of growing their young family would be possible.

“I remember the first time I told Chris I had cancer,” recalls Ada. “He was just like ‘ok, you have cancer, we’re going to deal with it and we’re going to continue.’”

She was struck by how Chris seemed to take the news in stride but also by how supportive and positive he reacted.

“I was like, ‘hey, I could die’ and he was like ‘I’m here for you’” says Ada.

After several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation Ada elected to receive a mastectomy followed by still more treatment.

It was around this time that Ada and Chris began to wonder about the possibility of having another child; the couple began to explore fertility treatment. They were told the odds weren’t great: just a five per cent chance of conceiving through in vitro fertilization (IVF).

“Being diagnosed with breast cancer is hard enough,” says Ada who underwent several surgeries under the care of Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre. “But being told your chances of having children in the future is not possible is probably the toughest pill I’ve ever had to swallow.”

By this point Ada had already endured 16 rounds of chemotherapy, 25 rounds of radiation, 36 rounds of immunotherapy and numerous surgeries.

“I realized I’m already blessed with three beautiful children, if it’s not meant to be that’s ok.”

So when they discovered they were pregnant in the fall of 2021, her and Chris were both ecstatic.

“I was like ‘ok, now what?’” recalls Ada. “…I mean I’m technically still in remission so what does this mean for me – what does this mean for my family?”

On July 30 2022, Ada gave birth to their “miracle baby” Charlotte Ivy Nolan at Sunnybrook. The moment was made even sweeter with baby Charlotte arriving on Ada and Chris’ 13th wedding anniversary.

According to Ada, the unwavering support of her family, coupled with her deep faith, has been the cornerstone of her remarkable resilience and strength.

“My kids are definitely my inspiration (and) my rock,” says Ada.

“I want them to realize life is not fair but how you choose to go on about it is,” says Ada. “Cancer is not a choice – how you choose to deal with it absolutely is.”

Throughout her journey, Ada has received treatment from various care teams at Sunnybrook including the Louise Temerty Breast Cancer Centre, the Odette Cancer Program and the DAN Women & Babies Program and she’s learned a great deal along the way.

And she also has some valuable advice for others who have been diagnosed with cancer.

“It can be intimidating just seeing all these doctors,” Ada acknowledges. “They are the experts and they know the cancer world but the one thing they don’t know is you. That’s why I think that it’s so important that you advocate for yourself.”

About the author

Kevin Van Paassen

Kevin Van Paassen is a digital and visual communicator at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.