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Gwenn’s Story

My name is Gwenn Bartlett.  I’m a breast cancer survivor and I’m currently undergoing personalized targeted cancer treatment at the Saint John Regional Hospital. 

I had a mastectomy back in April 2013 after a routine mammogram found a lump in my breast.  This whole experience made me realize that if you can think of something nice to do for someone, just do it.  Every good deed, no matter how small, makes a big difference.  That’s why I want to tell the story of the wonderful care I received at our hospital, and why I want to encourage everyone to support The Give 2014 campaign for Personalized Medicine. 

Cancer wasn’t something I ever worried about.  I had mammograms every 5 years, just like you’re supposed to do.  The results always came back clear.  That’s why I didn’t worry too much at first when I got the news about the lump.  After all, the statistics say that only 20% of tumors are actually cancerous.  Right?

When I got a call to come in for my results, I was so confident that everything was fine, I went to my appointment alone.  My husband, Chris, was at work.  It didn’t seem necessary to have him take time off to come to the doctor’s office with me.  I just wasn’t expecting bad news.  But I got bad news.

I had cancer.

I called Chris right away.  I think he heard the bad news in my voice – even before I had to say the words.  He left work immediately to be with me.  We were in shock.  My mind raced.  How bad is it?  What happens now?  Will I need surgery?  Worse – will I need chemotherapy?   Eventually, as the shock gave way to resolve, we knew we would get through this together.

The piece of tissue from the tumor that Dr. Hugh Scarth removed in a surgical biopsy was sent for analysis.  The laboratory technologists at the Saint John Regional Hospital were able to determine that the tumor was cancerous, but to get more detailed information about the DNA of my particular tumor, a sample also had to be sent out of the province for testing.   

It took several weeks to get the results back from the outside laboratory.  As you can imagine, time is of the essence when you’re fighting cancer – every day counts.  This is why I am so excited to be a part of The Give 2014!  The money raised will help purchase equipment for our hospital’s laboratory that will allow technologists to analyze the DNA of cancer right here, in our hospital. 

It will reduce delays in diagnosis and treatment, and it will provide our medical team with the information they need to personalize cancer care for patients.

When the results from the outside lab came back, my doctors learned a lot about the DNA of my particular cancer.  They learned that it was Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor 2-positive (HER2-positive).  These types of cancers contain a protein that promotes the growth of cancer cells.  HER2-positive cancers also tend to be more aggressive than other types of cancer.

In addition, they learned that my cancer was estrogen-receptor-positive.  This told my doctors that the cancer cells, like normal breast cells, may receive signals from estrogen that could make them grow.  Armed with this information, my doctors were able to target the specific treatment that would give me the best possible outcome. 

Having the ability to analyze tumors at the DNA level here at the Saint John Regional Hospital will mean less time waiting for answers and will save New Brunswick cancer patients precious time.  I hope you will consider joining me in the fight to beat this disease right here at home.

When I talk about my fight with cancer, I try to be positive, but let’s face it – cancer and all the stuff that comes with it is just awful.  The treatments, while they saved my life, made me feel like I was living in a vacuum.  I had no energy.  I didn’t want to eat (I missed out on barbecue season altogether). 

I think about what my family went through – they had to watch the whole ordeal live, every day and in full colour.  Thank goodness for my two daughters who stood by me and brought me hope every step of the way.  And thank goodness for my son, the green smoothie chef extraordinaire – sometimes those green smoothies were the only food I could manage.  Thank goodness for my husband.  He’s my most enthusiastic cheerleader and encourages me every day as I get back into my life.

I am so grateful to my hospital for the care I received, and for all the people who touched my life during my fight.  I’m grateful to Dr. Scarth, who performed my surgeries.  I’m grateful to the extra mural nurses who came to my home to help change my bandages after surgery.  I’m grateful to the physiotherapy nurses who helped me get my arm back in motion after surgery.  I’m grateful to Dr. Burnell, my oncologist, who continues to manage my treatment and has given me the tools I need to fight cancer.  I’m grateful to the upbeat chemotherapy nurses, whose cheery smiles and caring attitude actually made me look forward to going back to see them!  And I had no idea that there was a whole army of laboratory doctors and technologists behind-the-scenes fighting for me.  This team performs the analysis that helps patients like me get the best results in a timely manner – I’m so grateful to them.

Your donation to this campaign will put the best tools into the best hands and will lead to less time waiting for answers, fewer side effects from treatments and better outcomes for patients.

I had my last course of chemotherapy on August 22nd, 2013 and will have my final Herceptin treatment on July 4th, 2014.  After that, I can focus on being a cancer survivor.  I think a lot about what it would have been like if I had to travel for treatment – it would have been so much more difficult.  I got world-class treatment right here at home, surrounded by my family and friends throughout the entire process. 

We have excellent physicians and healthcare staff right here in New Brunswick.  We’re also very lucky to have a community of caring donors, like you, who put their money where their miracles happen, right here at the Saint John Regional Hospital.  Your generosity benefits everyone in our community.

I can’t imagine a better place to be if you had something wrong with you.  There’s nothing like being able to stay at home and have hometown people take care of you. 

They care for you, and they care about you here.

That’s why I’m sharing my personal story.  I hope it will inspire you to help our hospital team continue to deliver leading-edge care – because miracles truly do happen here.

P.S.:  For my part, I’m encouraging all of our friends to save up their spare change and donate it to The Give 2014 for Personalized Medicine. 

Every little bit helps!

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