Imagine being a survivor of childhood leukemia – after surviving a horrific disease, you build a career and become a proud mother only to receive a diagnosis that you now have an aggressive form of breast cancer. For Santrina, an employee here at Mackenzie Health, that is exactly what happened.

“Even after going into remission, cancer is the kind of thing that stays with you the rest of your life,” she explains. “Cancer survivors live with the experience, the lessons, the scars and the anxiety for the rest of their lives. Having cancer not just once but twice has had such a profound impact on not just my life but the way I see the world.”

Santrina’s story began as a teenager. She was about to begin a special program for gifted students and high-performing athletes when everything suddenly came to a screeching halt. At a routine physical needed for entry into the program, her doctor discovered something out of the ordinary. Later tests would reveal she had leukemia.

“The news was devastating for both me and my family,” she recalls. “The idea that I couldn’t join my new school was tough but the fears of knowing it was because of a disease that could easily kill me was terrifying.”

Santrina began a new painful journey filled with intensive chemotherapy, countless spinal taps and bone marrow tests as well as multiple rounds of radiation in her effort to fight her cancer. She endured it all - overcoming the pain, fear and uncertainty her leukemia had left her with. On the day when her doctors declared her to be in remission, she began her new journey of moving forward with a new positive and grateful outlook on life. 

In the years that followed, she successfully built a life post-leukemia as an accomplished adult with a fulfilling career and was a proud mom to her little boy. Little did she know that fate would cast its shadow upon her once again in 2017.

"One day, I discovered a lump on the right side of my breast," Santrina recounts. "Given my history with cancer, I decided to contact my family doctor." This marked the beginning of a new yet familiar investigation, as she was referred to Mackenzie Health’s Breast Health Centre for an ultrasound, mammogram and ultimately a biopsy.

Santrina’s diagnosis was a realization of her worst fears as she received the news that she had an aggressive and complicated form of stage 2 breast cancer. For the second time in her life, Santrina embarked on an intense treatment plan that included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. With a six-year-old child eagerly awaiting her return home, losing this battle was not an option.

“I was determined to beat my cancer. I’d done it before and knew I could do it again. But it doesn’t mean the fear isn’t there. It just means you have to find a way and your reasons for rising above it,” confesses Santrina.

During this challenging time, Santrina found solace in the care she received at Mackenzie Health and felt a deep sense of safety and support from her health care team, especially with Surgeon and Chief of Staff at Mackenzie Health, Dr. Steven Jackson, performing her surgery.

“The Breast Health Centre is geared towards providing the most comprehensive patient care experience for our patients,” explains Dr. Jackson, Surgeon and Chief of Staff. “Our breast surgeon consultants provide a level of expertise and caring that ensures our patients are treated quickly and incorporate the most up-to-date scientific treatment protocols. I am extremely proud of the level of care we provide.” 

When patients are referred to Mackenzie Health’s Breast Health Centre, they find a specialized health care team who provides testing, diagnosis and counselling. When a diagnosis of breast cancer or other abnormality is made, the team works to develop a personalized treatment plan specifically focused on the needs of their patient.

“Before my surgery, the Mackenzie Health chaplain visited me and together we prayed for a successful procedure,” says Santrina.  As she entered the operating room, the camaraderie among Dr. Jackson, the anesthesiologist and the rest of the team fostered a reassuring atmosphere. Nervously, she joked about aiming for clear margins and just before drifting off to sleep, Santrina recalls the last thing they agreed on was her saying "now let's go kick some cancer butt!"

Waking up to her family's presence, Santrina was relieved to learn from Dr. Jackson that the surgery had gone well. Following surgery, Santrina continued to have follow-up appointments at Mackenzie Health's Breast Health Centre until completion of her treatment in 2019.

Cancer treatments save lives but leave behind a trail of visible signs. Hair loss, weight fluctuations, scars and other side effects all serve as reminders for what people like Santrina have gone through. "It may sound cliché, but cancer truly changes you," Santrina says. "But, beneath the surface, a newfound layer of spirit is revealed and lifted. It is here that you discover yourself and your inner strength."