Sarah Simpson

Sarah SimpsonMy name is Sarah Simpson and below is a picture of me 6 ½ years ago. I am a breast cancer survivor and that is why The Shoppers Drug Mart® Weekend to End Women’s Cancers™ is so important to me. I am not alone as one out of seven Canadian women will develop breast or a gynecological cancer so the impact of this disease is extensive.

On telling my kids…

When I was diagnosed, all I could think about was that I brought my children Jamie and Grace into this world and nothing would be more selfish than to leave them motherless while they were so young. I was not going to do that to them. I was determined to fight this disease for them. They were my inspiration and my motivation - they got me through this battle.

When you think of someone having cancer, your immediate thought is about how unfortunate that is for that person. And trust me going through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and taking pills daily for five years daily afterwards that effect your hormones is no fun. But what is really heart-breaking is to have to tell your five year-old daughter and your eight year-old son that their mother has cancer. It was particularly hard in my case as their only exposure to cancer was a year earlier, when my father had been diagnosed with cancer and had passed away within a week. They associated cancer with immediate death.

My kids handled my journey gracefully. After four weeks of daily radiation treatments, my kids and my family took me out for a nice celebration dinner. As a family, we coped while I went through my treatments. Before I was diagnosed, I forced my son to play piano for several years and like every other self-respecting child he hated it. Yet, while I was going through my breast cancer treatment, every day that he got home from school for six months he voluntarily played the piano for an hour. Music helped him cope. And to this day, music is a huge part of his life.

When I was going through chemotherapy, my son asked me to come in and be “show and tell” for his Grade 3 class. The kids and I sat around in a circle and talked about what cancer meant. We talked about the fact that cancer can be a chronic disease, not a fatal one. And we talked about the need for kids and their parents to participate in causes to help create the funds that will put an end to this dreaded disease. At that point, I took my wig off and the entire class of Grade 3 kids saw my bald head. To this day, those kids, now 15 years old, and their parents talk about what an important message that was and how they have all participated either in the Princess Margaret Walk/Bike rides or other fundraising events as a result.

On Losing my Hair…

I am a natural redhead – have never colored my hair – and losing my hair was devastating. I cried harder and longer the day my hair started coming out in handfuls, than the day I was initially diagnosed with the disease. My red hair was a huge part of my identity. I got an amazing wig and was able to maintain my privacy and dignity as a result. Once, when I was wearing my wig I was riding the elevator with another female and she said to me “you are a natural red-head just like me”. I smiled and inwardly thought how surprised she would be to know that I don’t have a hair on my head!

On Princess Margaret Cancer Centre…

My experience as a patient at The Princess Margaret was amazing and thanks to them, I am healthy and living a wonderful life today. I am sure you all know of their incredible reputation in terms of treating cancer. But as part of my experience they offered so much more.

  • They run the Look Good, Feel Better program and there are classes that teach you how to use make-up to help disguise that you have no eyebrows or eyelashes left.
  • There is a store in the cancer centre where you can buy wigs but also has terrific scarves and other accessories.
  • They have a Survivorship Centre and there are support groups and all sorts of classes to help you cope, learn how to meditate, do yoga and support you through your cancer journey.
  • They also have Genetic Testing so you can learn whether you carry one of the identified genes that make you and your children more susceptible to cancer

On The Shoppers Drug Mart® Weekend to End Women’s Cancers™

I have done the Weekend five times; the first four times with my friend Cheryl, and last year and again this September as the team captain for my company, Loyalty One. The walk happens regardless of rain or shine. One year it was pouring down rain and Cheryl and I didn’t have any rain gear – we wore garbage bags – we looked like idiots and got soaked! I have raised almost $45k for the Cancer Centre. The walk itself is a blast. People dress up in all sort of crazy outfits. Every couple of kilometres there are rest stations where they give you food, drinks and there are nurses and doctors if you need help as some people get blisters. All along the way there are people out supporting the walkers. In some neighborhoods people set up their own tables and have homemade treats out for the participants. As cars drive by, they honk to show their support.

The first year we actually camped at Downsview. The other times we got a hotel room and my office would drop off a basket of junk food and wine and we had a great time. One year we even had massage therapists pre-ordered and they came to the room. This year, camp is being held at Rogers Centre!

My kids are now 15 and 12. The good news, thanks to events like this walk is that the mortality rate from breast cancer has fallen by more than 30%. But not a day that goes by that I don’t feel pain in my breast. Not a day goes by that I don't worry my daughter will be more likely to suffer through this disease because of her genetics. There is not a day that goes by that I am not reminded that I live with threat of this disease reoccurring and that the next time I may not be so lucky.

Reviewed: October 2013