Vina Mohabir has always made the best of a bad situation Skip to main content
Gattuso Rapid Diagnostic Centre – changing lives one patient at a time
Vina Mohabir, 28, was diagnosed with Stage 3C breast cancer at the Gattuso Rapid Diagnostic Clinic at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre within two days of having her breast abnormality assessed by her doctor. (Photo: UHN)
Vina Mohabir has always made the best of a bad situation.

At 15, Vina survived a near-fatal accident that left her with a spinal cord injury and debilitating chronic pain. Turning that pain into purpose, Vina grew up to become a patient advisor and clinical research coordinator at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), helping other young people going through the same.

Then, at 27, she noticed unusual bleeding coming from her nipple. She was referred to Princess Margaret Cancer Centre's Gattuso Rapid Diagnostic Clinic, where she was shocked to discover she had Stage 3C breast cancer.

"I thought I paid my dues," Vina says of the diagnosis in 2022. "It felt like the biggest lack of fairness in the world."

However, Vina says her referral to the Gattuso Rapid Diagnostic Centre – a clinic designed to help people find out quickly if their breast abnormality is cancerous – made all the difference.

Once there, Vina was able to get an ultrasound, mammogram, biopsy, preliminary diagnosis and even began planning her surgery all in the same visit. She was seen within two days of her referral to the clinic and started treatment two weeks later.

"For me, waiting for the diagnosis was just as hard as getting the diagnosis," says Vina.

"I feel very fortunate to have accessed all of these services so quickly."

Goal to 'relieve anxiety' by speeding the process from symptom to diagnosis

Now, Vina's proud to say she's on the path to recovery – a new silver lining in her story she hopes will make her an even better patient advocate in the future.

Dr. David McCready, Head of the Gattuso Rapid Diagnostic Centre, says some people wait weeks to months for a diagnosis after the initial discovery of a breast abnormality. Many women experience psychological stress during this time that can often affect their work or their family.

The Gattuso Rapid Diagnostic Clinic was created by Dr. McCready with the intention of easing that psychological burden by helping patients access diagnostic services quickly, all in one place.

"Our goal is to relieve anxiety in the time taken from symptom to diagnosis by speeding up the process as fast as we can," Dr. McCready says.

"Not all changes in the breast are cancerous. At the very least, finding out fast means less time spent worrying. For others, it means getting treatment sooner."

Dr. Tulin Cil, Vina's oncologist and the Gattuso Chair in Breast Surgical Oncology, echoes this sentiment. She says the clinic has seamlessly streamlined the diagnostic pathway for patients since its inception in 2009. They now see between 1200 and 1400 patients a year.

"It's an amazing resource that works extremely well and has made a huge impact on so many people's lives," says Dr. Cil.
Watch Vina Mohabir's journey at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. (Video: UHN)
For Vina, the impact was getting diagnosed and cared for as fast as possible. After a rapid succession of treatments from March to November last year, she's now back on track to complete her PhD in pediatric pain management this fall.

"I went from losing everything back-to-back, to my hair finally growing in, my energy is coming back," Vina says.

"I'm really turning a corner."

While Dr. Cil says it's uncommon to get breast cancer before age 30, more young women are being diagnosed every year.

She says any new symptoms in the breast such as a lump, skin redness or spontaneous nipple discharge should be checked, noting that it's also important to know your own breast cancer risk factors.

With breast cancer screening generally starting at age 50, it's now being lowered to 40 for average risk women. Some patients may even qualify for earlier screening with both a mammogram and an MRI (through the High-Risk Ontario Breast Screening Program) if they have a very high lifetime breast cancer risk.

"The idea is to get screened before breast abnormalities appear," Dr. Cil says.

"We know when cancer is still local to the breast, survival rates are excellent and require less invasive treatments."

Pushing for more diverse cancer research and widely accessible screening

By the time Vina presented with symptoms, the cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes. Until that point, Vina had no family history of cancer and no perceived lifetime risk.

While that meant Vina had to put her life on pause to go through a series of intensive fertility treatments, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and breast reconstruction, she says she's proud to be a part of the breast cancer community.

The experience has inspired her to get involved in more advocacy looking forward.

"I think there's a lot we don't know about why someone like me, a 28-year-old Guyanese woman, is getting breast cancer so young," she says.

"For me, that's motivation to push for more diverse cancer research and widely accessible screening."

Vina believes the silver lining of having a spinal injury at a young age meant she was an expert in managing pain by the time she was diagnosed with Stage 3C breast cancer.

Now a breast cancer survivor, Vina is seizing the opportunity to live another day – and to continue helping others going through the same challenges.

"I really believe getting screened for cancer should be as easy as telling your doctor your ankle hurts and getting an X-ray," Vina says.

"That would ensure no woman ever again has to go through the pain that I did."

 This story first appeared on UHN News