CORNER BROOK — It was a simple moment that changed Tanya Matthew’s life.
“It just so happened I turned a certain way, felt a certain thing,” she said.
Matthews saw her family doctor, followed by a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. Then, she got some news she really didn’t expect.
She had breast cancer.
At 36, Matthews is not a candidate for the Provincial Breast Screening Program offered to women starting at age 50. Nor was she overly worried about the illness.
“I’m just extremely grateful to have found it when I did,” she said. “In a few years the stages (of cancer) would be different. My prognosis would likely be different.”
Matthews’ diagnosis came within in two weeks of discovering a lump while getting ready for bed on an average Thursday night.
“Finding out as quickly as I did should be the way every woman should be treated,” she said. “Not knowing, for me, was worse than knowing.”
Matthews, a health educator, was glad her prognosis is favourable.
The news came days before Christmas, but she only told her husband until the holidays were over. The Matthews had to make Christmas special for their three sons, ages 10, five and three.
In the new year, Matthews underwent a bilateral (double) mastectomy. The decision was not easy.
But, with family history and a cyst and second cancerous lump found, it was the right choice. And, as Matthews said, she only wanted to go through the process once.
As a young woman and, now, without breasts, Matthews does not know if she will consider reconstruction surgery.
“Another scar, another surgery...” she said, faintly.
And prosthetic bras, she said, are horrible.
“I feel like a teenager stuffing her bra everyday.”
Matthews does not wish away hair loss or the incredible nausea that comes with chemotherapy. What she wishes back is a sense of self.
“My breasts were never a part of my body that I felt I needed to change,” she says. “I could lose 10 pounds ... I could walk more, I could tone my legs. (My breasts) were one part of my body I was perfectly happy with.”
For Matthews, her breasts fed three boys as babies and filled out her favourite dresses.
“There were dresses and tops I put on and felt really nice in,” she said. “I can’t wear those clothes now. I put on a dress and couldn’t wear it — for Mother’s Day. ”
With still two chemo treatments left in the first treatment cycle, Matthews says she is more than a cancer patient — she is a cancer survivor.
On Saturday, she will participate for the first time in the 10th annual Corner Brook Relay for Life.
From 5 p.m. to Sunday at 5 a.m. participants will continually walk around the Pepsi Centre rasing money for the Canadian Cancer Society.
But, Matthews’ participation did not come without hesitation. It’s a great cause, but she wasn’t sure if the atmosphere was for her.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to go somewhere that was ‘all about cancer,’ ” she said.
For Matthews, cancer events, ornaments and bracelets remind her of a diagnosis, that is still a daily affair. She wants her recovery to be hopeful and vibrant, yet private.
Her goal in attending the relay is not to publically display her triumphs. It is to make a connection with other survivors.
“I just want to go (to the relay) and see if there’s one person I can talk with, who knows and understands where I’ve been.”