May 27, 2014 3:22 pm

Breast cancer ‘badass’ hopes to change attitudes surrounding disease

HALIFAX – One woman is hoping to change the culture of a breast cancer diagnosis through a “badass” fundraising campaign.

Patsy MacDonald was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2011. She underwent two lumpectomies then a double mastectomy, followed by breast reconstruction.

Patsy MacDonald was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2011.

Julia Wong/Global News

MacDonald was initially shocked to hear the news, which came after a routine mammogram.

“It wasn’t a lump. I couldn’t feel it. If I had waited until I could have felt the lump, the outcome wouldn’t have been as happy,” she said.

She said a flood of emotions ran through her mind and body when she got the diagnosis.

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“It really was like that surreal moment where you’re like ‘cancer, cancer, cancer’. It was very hard. There was a lot of cries where your whole body [is] heaving,” she said.

Once she processed the news, MacDonald went on the offensive against the disease.

“You don’t have any control over that,” ” she said with a grin. “You got it so now what are you going to do? I just thought ‘OK, we’re just going to kick its ass.'”

“If it’s going to be life-changing then I want to decide how it’s going to change my life.”

MacDonald is spearheading the Breast Cancer Badass campaign, which aims to raise $100,000 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and the IWK Breast Health Centre.

She chose the unconventional name for her fundraiser to send a message to breast cancer patients and people who have overcome it.

“The message is really about reclaiming your body and being badass in your own life, which means being in it and really loving life,” she said.

MacDonald said she doesn’t want people to look at women who have had breast cancer like it’s “a shame”, but that they are “strong women who have gone through [it]“.

“Some people like the word survivor — I wasn’t a big fan of it because I thought survivor to me meant you’re just living,” she said.

“I thought I’m not going to just live after that. I’m really going to grab life and strangle it and get all I can out of it.”

On Tuesday, MacDonald allowed Global News to follow her as she went for a routine mammogram.

“I come every six months just to keep track of what’s going on. It’s one of those things that people don’t want to talk about because it’s about your private areas,” she said.

“I just wanted to show it’s not that scary. In my situation, it saved my life.”

MacDonald likens the appointment to visiting the dentist.

“I don’t enjoy the dentist but I go,” she said. “I really want to get the message out to women [that] you need to get your breasts mammogrammed.”

The Nova Scotia Breast Screening Program recommends all women older than 40 get mammograms.

Women from 40-49 years old are recommended to have a mammogram every year while women from 50-69 years old are recommended to have one every two years.

Elizabeth Smith, the Atlantic region director of development for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, said MacDonald’s campaign could have a huge ripple effect.

“If Patsy reaches her goal of $100,000, $50,000 of that will come back to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. That would fund a full year of one of our researchers,” she said. “That’s huge.”

Smith also said the unique approach MacDonald brings to her breast cancer story is inspiring for current patients.

“I think she just sends a positive message out to people who have been recently diagnosed or have been diagnosed quite some time ago, it’s ok to stand up and fight as hard as you can,” she said.

Michelle LeDrew, the director of women’s health at the IWK Health Centre, said if MacDonald’s campaign is successful, it would be the single largest individual donation to the breast health centre at the hospital.

LeDrew said the IWK’s portion of the donation would be used to incorporate more holistic care for breast cancer patients, such as exercise, spiritual health and social support programs.

She said MacDonald has brought a unique “badass” flavour to the campaign.

“I think it’s really important for other women to hear about that you can tackle breast cancer in a very forceful way but with a sense of humour,” she said.

The campaign is near its halfway point, and so far, about $12,500 has been raised. Details about the fundraiser can be found online here.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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