Cat rescuer scaling back operation as she battles breast cancer

Diane Crocker dcrocker@thewesternstar.com
Published on April 23, 2014
Sonya Higgins is seen in this undated photo.
Submitted photo

As a cat lover, Sonya Higgins sees how felines can be therapeutic.

But now the Eastern Passage, N.S., woman has to give up some of the cats she devotes her time to caring for, just when they might help her the most.

Higgins, 41, a former Corner Brook resident, was diagnosed with breast cancer recently. She already knows she’ll have to undergo surgery, but is not sure if she’ll require chemotherapy and radiation.

“I’m going to ask to have a double mastectomy,” she said by phone from her home.

“Because I’d rather deal with it once. Cut away all the possibilities of having to deal with it again.”

On her Facebook page, Higgins posted that her surgery has been set for April 29.

She found a lump in one of her breasts by doing a self exam. It’s something she does regularly, but with her Healing Animal SCARS (Sonya’s Cat Animal Rescue Society) keeping her busy, she had been putting off getting it checked.

She finally got around to it six months later, and was sent right away for a diagnostic mammogram.

She admits to being scared of what lies ahead, but says she’s also optimistic.

“If you’re going to have to get cancer, that’s the best kind to get,” she said. “Most women survive breast cancer.

“It’s more than a minor inconvenience, but it’ll be something that I can look back on and be happy to have gotten through it.”

Adding to her concern is the fact that Higgins has to put her rescue efforts on hold.

With 11 cats and a dog living with her and her partner in their in two bedroom home, Higgins’ veterinarian and family doctor have both recommended she reduce the number of animals in the house. She’s been advised that once she starts treatment she shouldn’t be exposed to anything that could cause an immune risk.

So she’s trying hard to find homes for five of the cats. She said the cats have always been up for adoption.

“Now it’s more vital that I find them homes quickly if possible.”

Higgins has been in the animal rescue business for eight years and in that time has helped over 700 animals and created a network of foster families.

She got started because of a need she saw in the area with two shelters in Halifax that were always overflowing.

“So I had the skills to work with feral cats and I’ve tamed many of them,” she said. “However, nowadays I focus more on trap, neuter, return so I can do more cats quickly and prevent reproduction.”

She’s been in Eastern Passage for about 15 years and worked with the federal government until the last few years when she took a hiatus from paid work to volunteer full-time to animal rescue.

For those wondering if she has any connection to Corner Brook’s own cat rescuer, Scaredy Cat Rescue’s Janice Higgins, the answer is yes — that’s her mom.

“I’m the one that got her roped into starting this in Corner Brook,” she said with a laugh. “Because somebody had contacted me from Corner Brook wanting to adopt one of my cats in Halifax and I said, ‘No don’t be so foolish, there’s cats in Corner Brook that are waiting for help.’”

So she sent her mother out with a trap on her grandfather’s property to catch a stray cat. When she caught two, Higgins said her mother realized there was a need for extra cat rescue services in Corner Brook.