When Marlene McClure was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast in 2004, she was totally blindsided. The then-48-year-old food scientist from Caledon, Ont., remembers calling her husband, David, after her diagnosis. ‘At that point, I didn’t believe it,’ she says. It was only when she told her daughter, Natalie (then 19), that it truly hit her.
Her disbelief soon turned to frustration as she tried to navigate a complex medical system while getting mixed messages from doctors about her treatment options. ‘I found there was no team approach, and I was getting differing opinions,’ McClure recalls. With the prospect of a double mastectomy in November of 2004, McClure began to seriously think about having breast reconstruction surgery afterwards.
Not knowing where else to turn for information about it, she called Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada. Willow (willow.org), founded in 1994, is a national not-for-profit organization that offers free peer support, personalized information packages, translation and a variety of other resources for anyone affected by breast cancer. Says McClure, ‘That phone call changed my life. I felt like it was the first time anyone had really helped me. Everything else had seemed like an uphill battle.’
Willow not only provided her with a list of trusted plastic surgeons within the Greater Toronto Area who specialize in breast reconstruction, but also offered her reputable research on breast cancer. ‘For me that made all the difference in the world,’ she says.
McClure had her reconstruction in 2006, and is now on Willow’s Peer Support Team, answering questions over the phone. Knowing what it’s like to be looking for answers has taught her how much impact a friendly voice can have. She finds joy in helping others get answers’for example, helping one woman look for funding options in order to pay her bills after a mastectomy. ‘Willow has made me a more compassionate person,’ McClure says.