At Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day on Oct. 16 at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Bonnie and Kate will help women discover hope in their breast cancer journey.
When the breast cancer treatment finally came to an end for Bonnie Winne of Delhi, she wasn’t prepared for another very dark struggle that was just beginning – one she wants all women to know about.
For London kindergarten teacher Kate Courey, having a family history of breast cancer has been devastating. Her mother, aunt, grandmother and three other relatives battled the disease. But it also gave her the option to decide “how this will play out” for her own future.
Two women, two very different experiences with breast cancer. Both will be sharing their stories at Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day 2019 on Oct. 16 at St. Joseph’s Hospital, where women have an opportunity to learn if breast reconstruction is right for them from those who perform the surgery, and those who have lived it.
Below, you'll meet Bonnie and Kate and hear their message of hope for others.
Bonnie Winne – Lucky every day
Just over a year ago, when Bonnie Winne stepped out of the shower and noticed an odd crease in her left breast, she figured it had something to do with a ligament in her chest. It looked like a dent. Breast cancer was not on her radar.
Her family doctor sent her for a mammogram and ultrasound at her local hospital where Bonnie, 39, remembers the “dead quiet” in the ultrasound room as the images came on the screen. She was sent home but called back less than two hours later for a biopsy.
“At that point, I figured they had found lump,” recalls Bonnie. “They actually found three. That was on a Monday. On Thursday, I was told I had cancer.”
And so would begin Bonnie’s journey, one that would take her to a very dark place before slowly reclaiming her life. The physical toll was only one hurdle for this Delhi mom of three teenage boys. What she wasn’t prepared for, and didn’t recognize for a long time, was the deep depression that left her feeling utterly lost.
“When the kids went to school and my husband would go to work, I would lie on the couch all day and cry. I had completed my treatment and everyone thought I should be getting back to how things were before, but I couldn’t.”
After her diagnosis in May 2018, Bonnie underwent five months of chemotherapy followed by surgery – a mastectomy of her left breast, immediate reconstruction using her own tissue, and a reduction of her right breast for symmetry. Then came 25 rounds of radiation, which she completed in February 2019.
At the end of radiation, when everybody rings the gong signaling the end of treatment and the beginning of hope and healing, Bonnie said she rang the gong and felt lost. While feeling better physically, she found she was still climbing the mountain. Depression had taken hold.
“I was scared, dazed, confused. I couldn’t concentrate. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wasn’t sleeping. I was going to bed tired and just lying there. I couldn’t’ settle my head. I felt very lonely.”
A pro at masking her struggle, Bonnie suffered for the next two months before finally getting the help she needed at the urging of her mother.
“Women need to know that depression after breast cancer treatment is not unusual and that it’s okay to ask for help,” said Bonnie. “We go through so much – we shouldn’t be lying on a couch and crying. Help is there for you. Ask. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Today, Bonnie is through the other side and happy with her new breasts, yet she is not the same person she was. Now, however, that’s a good thing, she says.
“I look at the world differently. Every day to me is important and precious. I’ve slowed down, there’s more calm. I’m lucky every day.”
Kate Courey – Taking the reins
Despite not having cancer, Kate Courey was trapped, emotionally and mentally, by a never-ending cycle of tests and the perpetual fear of what they could, at any time, reveal.
For three years, the 34-year-old was by her mother’s side and the primary caregiver while her mother battled breast and cervical cancer – a fight she would lose in 2017 at age 56. Kate’s aunt, grandmother, and three other relatives on her mother’s side had also been struck by breast cancer – a total of six family members.
While Kate made it through her mother’s cancer ordeal, a different kind of turmoil was just beginning. Although genetic testing showed that Kate, like her mother, was not carrying the mutated BRCA gene indicating a higher risk of breast cancer, the geneticist told her there’s something somewhere for so many family members to die of the disease.
One month after her mother died, Kate entered the high risk breast screening program, going for a mammogram and breast MRI once a year at St. Joseph’s Hospital. But because she had dense breasts and many cysts, the cycle was changed to every six months.
“I was stuck in a cancer vortex even though I didn’t have it,” says Kate. “It was terrifying. I had this feeling of constantly waiting for the shoe to drop. I was young in a new marriage with this thing that was haunting us. It was coming for me. I could feel it. I didn’t realize how much it was impacting my mental health. Leading up to every six-month check-up, I stopped eating and socializing. It had become a ball and chain.”
Last summer, Kate and her husband, Matt, began talking about starting a family. She asked about putting the breast cancer screening scans on hold but was warned not to because factors related to pregnancy may increase her breast cancer risk. She met with breast surgeon Dr. Muriel Brackstone at St. Joseph’s Hospital to talk about her options.
“It was a hefty discussion to have but it became clear that preventive surgery was key to our future and to putting cancer on the backseat rather than in the driver seat, where it had been,” says Kate, an early childhood educator in London. “It was a terrifying no-brainer for my mental health, my husband, my family.”
On March 1, 2019, Kate underwent a double mastectomy and immediate reconstruction with breast implants.
“I went in with one set and came home with another,” laughs Kate who couldn’t be happier with the results. “They look exactly the same as the old ones. They feel a little different but not in a bad way.”
Most important, says Kate, “I can breathe again. Our lives can finally move forward. The one gift of having such a devastating family history of breast cancer is that you get to take the reins and decide how this will play out.”
For Kate, it’s playing out beautifully. In February, she and Matt will become first time parents. Literally and figuratively, a new life has begun.
Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, Oct. 16: If you go
Most women who undergo mastectomy are not told of their options and do not have reconstruction despite the emotional, physical and practical benefits the surgery is known to have.
On Oct. 16 at St. Joseph’s Hospital, anyone seeking information about breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is invited to Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day, an informative evening that allows women to:
- Learn about reconstruction options directly from plastic surgeons
- Hear from women who have undergone the surgery
- View real results first hand in the women’s only ‘show and tell lounge’
- Discover the “Circle of Sharing” support group that helps women who have undergone breast reconstruction reclaim wholeness
Where: St. Joseph’s Hospital (directions to St. Joseph's Hospital), Shuttleworth Auditorium (Zone D, Level 0) from 7 to 9:30 pm. (Displays open at 6 pm.) Please enter through Cheapside Entrance 4 (get turn by turn directions).
Registration: BRA Day is free but registration is required. Online registration is available by visiting bra-day.com . Click on “Find an Event” and choose London.
Your Donation Matters Here
To support leading-edge breast care in London, visit St. Joseph's Health Care Foundation to donate.