Noreen’s Story: How genetic testing helped her take control of her health
In 2019, eager to learn how her genes could be affecting her health, Noreen opted to undergo genetic screening. What she didn’t expect to learn was that she is a carrier of the chek2 gene mutation, which puts her at a much higher risk of developing breast cancer.
“The possibility of having a predisposition to breast cancer hadn’t even crossed my mind,” says Noreen. “Despite having a family history and seeing both my mother and grandmother struggle with breast cancer diagnoses throughout their lives, I was shocked.”
Following this discovery, Noreen was referred to the care of Dr. David Lim, surgical oncologist and staff surgeon at the Henrietta Banting Breast Centre at Women’s College Hospital (WCH), and Dr. John Semple, head of the division of plastic surgery at WCH.
“Dr. Lim and Dr. Semple were both so kind and knowledgeable and took the time to walk me through every option,” she says. “After reflecting on my mother’s and grandmother’s struggles with breast cancer, I knew opting for preventative surgery – a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction – was the best choice for me.”
The procedure turned out to have a much bigger impact on Noreen’s life than she expected: following surgery, when the removed tissue was examined, Noreen’s doctors discovered that pre-cancerous cells had already started to grow. These cells were too small to be identified in breast cancer screenings, so it was impossible to predict when they would have been discovered otherwise.
“I made the right call for me and, in doing so, I prevented the possibility of an even more involved surgery or ongoing treatment,” says Noreen.
Noreen is incredibly grateful to have had access to genetic testing, educational resources, and a network of advisors to help her make an informed, proactive decision about her health.
“I think it’s really important for women to have this kind of access,” she says. “When you have the appropriate tools, resources, and support, you’re not simply reacting and dealing with a crisis — you’re able to be proactive about your health journey, take control, and make choices that are right for you and your family.”
To show her gratitude for the care she received at Women’s College Hospital and to help more women have increased access to the information and resources they need, Noreen made a generous $100,000 gift to The Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers. In partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society, the Centre draws together excellence in research, clinical care, innovation and education to help give every woman every chance to access the potentially life-saving cancer care she needs and deserves.
Noreen’s gift will support key education and empowerment initiatives at the Centre such as Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) day, a free virtual event to educate women about their breast reconstruction options; strategic partnerships to help build capacity and tools among healthcare providers to help offer women the best options for care; and increase access, outreach and care for women from traditionally underserved communities who may be facing a cancer diagnosis.
Noreen’s hope is that her gift will bolster a robust network of resources and supports to help provide more women with the information needed to take control of their health, too.
Women’s College Hospital Foundation extends its heartfelt thanks to Noreen her incredible generosity and meaningful gift!