When Mary Granicolo received the devastating diagnosis in August 2016 that she had breast cancer, she was nervous, anxious and afraid.

With no history of breast cancer in her family, Mary wasn't sure what to expect, or how she and her family would get through this.

"It was by far the hardest time in everyone's life," her daughter, Bianca, recalls.

With her husband, Louie, and their three grown children, Robert, Christopher and Bianca, by her side, Mary began her treatment journey with surgery at Mackenzie Health.

Mary arrived feeling understandably nervous and emotional, but the staff and volunteers were quick to make her feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible. For Mary, laughter was the best medicine.

"The nurse that cared for me in pre-op was a comedian and truly tried to lighten the situation. The gentleman pushing my bed to the surgical suite was also very kind and gentle. He sang to me all the way to surgery," Mary recalls. "Laughter, as we all know, is the key to lightening any situation. You don't want to talk about how scared you are."

Mary was scared though. After receiving the life-altering diagnosis, she opted to take a vacation with her family before beginning treatment.

"We had this trip to Sicily planned for a while. I felt like I needed this. I needed to take time with my family before I had to go through the hardest thing I have ever had to."

While going through something so traumatic, Mary says, "friends and family are very important." She also added her diagnosis "was a true challenge for everyone in the family."

"I am the social butterfly and the organizer in the family. It's a tough journey and the emotions are truly uncontrollable."

Mary acknowledges husband Louie for being her rock through all of this.

"He truly put his life on hold for me," she says. "He was my cook, my driver, my caregiver, my everything."

Bianca calls her mother the glue that keeps everything together.

"For someone going through so much, you would not even guess that she was battling cancer."

Mary says it was Louie and their children who held her together.

"My parents and my siblings were also by my side during all of this. It is very challenging for parents to see their child going through all of this. It does not matter how old you are."

Throughout her emotionally difficult experience, Mary says her care at Mackenzie Health was nothing short of "an amazing experience."

She praises her surgeon, Dr. David Weizman, Dr. Rama Bhat, Dr. Kavitha Passaperuma, the nursing and support staff and volunteers who cared for her for being "truly professional, kind, thorough and compassionate."

After surgery, Mary completed radiation at Mackenzie Health's partner hospital, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

"My mother kept herself together and prevailed through months of discomfort from her radiation," says Bianca. "With a smile on her face, she beat it and is stronger than ever."

In a letter to her mother, Bianca writes:

Mom, thank you for showing me how to make the most out of life.
Thank you for teaching me to appreciate the small things.
Thank you for helping us all out and staying so positive.
Thank you for being so incredibly strong.
Thank you for being my rock.

Photos by Gary Collier.