Calgary breast cancer survivor wants self-exams taught in schools

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WATCH: A Calgary mom is on a mission to bring a potentially life-saving skill to the classroom. As Jill Croteau reports, she is a breast cancer survivor and a former teacher – Feb 27, 2020

A Calgary mom is on a mission to bring a potentially life-saving skill to the classroom.

Elizabeth Wilson, 35, is a former teacher who was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in April 2019.

“I felt a lump before and didn’t think it would be anything,” Wilson said. “I went to the ultrasound appointment expecting it to be nothing. I thought it was a cyst and was very casual about it but they knew as soon as they [took an ultrasound] that it was breast cancer.”
Wilson during treatment. Courtesy: Elizabeth Wilson

She feels like she is a living example of why breast self-exams should be taught in every classroom.

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“I had so much education and I taught in K-12 schools and had no idea this could happen to me,” Wilson said. “If only I’d known it could happen and be aware and know how to feel for it.”

Wilson has launched a petition in hopes of persuading the Alberta Education Ministry to make breast self-exams a mandatory part of the curriculum. She feels young women need to be aware of what to look for so they have a chance at an early diagnosis.

“I just had it in my head that [the lump] was a round, hard grape or almond shape. But, mine was flat, like a spaceship or UFO and it’s not what I imagined. It’s not what I was expecting to feel for,” she said.

“I’ve gone from thinking I have 40 years left to thinking I would be lucky to get 15 or 20 years more; that would be lucky.”

READ MORE: Friends of Calgary mom who survived cancer hoping for another miracle

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There is a willingness by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange to include this in the health and wellness lesson plans for high school students.

“I’m very open to the idea and I really would like to sit down with this individual who has brought this forward,” LaGrange said. “I think it has merit and would like to explore it further. It’s a critical conversation.”

Wilson did some of her own research and found an organization called Get in Touch that is offering free toolkits to educators. Until it can formally be added to lesson plans, she is encouraging Alberta’s teachers to consider exploring optional resources for their own classrooms.

The Canadian Cancer Society recommends self-exams and getting to know your breasts well enough to notice changes.

Before and after diagnosis. Courtesy: Elizabeth Wilson

“People are going to get breast cancer regardless of how knowledgeable they are, but my hope would be to catch it earlier,” Wilson said.