After breast cancer. After mastectomy. There is hope.

January 22nd, 2020

By Kris Wallace

It all happened so fast. In only six weeks, Lucia went from a healthy, active 40-something to a breast cancer diagnosis, to a double mastectomy. Thanks to the care she received at the Providence Breast Centre, just six months later, Lucia is back to her healthy, active self.

After a biopsy confirmed she had cancer, everything was a blur – everything except Dr. Dingee’s absolute confidence in the outcome. Dr. Carol Dingee is a surgeon with the Breast Centre at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital (MSJ). Lucia recalls she said, “It’s okay if you don’t remember everything I’m telling you. All you need to know is that this is fixable!”

Lucia took Dr. Dingee’s words to heart and began a focussed exercise program to help her bounce back more quickly after the surgery. Meanwhile, Lucia’s nurse navigator, Imelda, got straight to work implementing Lucia’s comprehensive treatment plan.

“It was amazing how fast the Breast Centre was able to pull everything together to schedule my mastectomy and reconstruction so they could be done on the same day. It was all so reassuring.”

Lucia says that all the nurses at MSJ were “amazing” and she is especially grateful to Imelda. “Having someone like Imelda as your advocate really sets the Breast Centre and MSJ apart. She’s so helpful and compassionate. She’s also a breast cancer survivor, so I really felt she understood what I was going through. It was great to have her on my side.”

Lucia has equally high praise for Dr. Nancy Van Laeken, the Breast Centre’s plastic surgeon who did her reconstruction. “Dr. Van Laeken is extremely caring and organized. Her team booked all of my pre- and post-surgery appointments in advance. I also got the prescriptions I would need ahead of time. She’s phenomenal! And I couldn’t be happier with the results. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much, I just wanted to look okay in my clothes. But the results are incredible! Even my oncologist said, ‘They look fantastic!’”

Peace of mind for women – and the people who love them

With so much at stake for vulnerable patients like Lucia, the Centre does everything possible to secure the best possible outcomes. That means staying current with rapidly-evolving surgical tools and equipment. This is where the Scotiabank Feast of Fortune (and you!) come in.

Now in its 13th year, the Scotiabank Feast of Fortune is an annual celebration of the Lunar New Year. It’s also a critically important fundraiser for St. Paul’s Foundation and Providence Health Care: since 2008, this event has raised more than $6.7 million for programs and equipment to ensure our patients get the very best care.

This year, to welcome the Year of the Rat, our goal is to raise more than $1 million toward women’s heart, breast, and maternity care at both MSJ and St. Paul’s. If we reach our goal, we can purchase a state-of-the-art SPY-PHI (portable handheld imaging) system for the Breast Centre.

A device so advanced, it’s like giving the surgeon X-ray vision

Imagine after the ordeal of her diagnosis, mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery for a woman to face losing her breast a second time?

There’s so much to deal with in the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis; the last thing a survivor needs is the fear that something will go wrong with her newly-reconstructed breast. Unfortunately, sometimes tissue moved from elsewhere on the body to its new location doesn’t “take.” When this happens, some or all of the new breast can be lost.

Before the SPY-PHI was developed, surgeons would use their experience and clinical judgement to attach the new breast tissue. The problem is, it’s impossible to see all of the tiny blood vessels or how well the blood is circulating through them.

With the SPY-PHI, a special dye is injected. When lit-up by the handheld wand, even the tiniest capillaries glow bright green. The blood flow is so vivid, surgeons say it’s like having X-ray vision. They can see right away if the blood is getting where it needs to go. If it’s not, they can make adjustments on the spot to prevent complications and promote faster healing.

In the words of Dr. Van Laeken, “The SPY-PSI will help us make decisions – while we’re still in the operating room – to prevent post-op complications and improve surgical outcomes.”

Please help green light the green light

You can help bring this life-changing technology to the women of BC. Join us for the Scotiabank Feast of Fortune on Saturday, February 8, at the JW Marriot Parq in Vancouver. For tickets or information, email Johnson Lee at If you are unable to attend, please consider making tax-deductible donation here

“Together, we can make a big difference in women’s lives.” – Lucia

The Providence Breast Centre treats 20% of the province’s breast cancer patients. Each year, the team performs some 1,200 breast cancer surgeries, more than any other facility in BC. The Centre is also home to one of the busiest breast reconstruction programs in Canada.

St. Paul's Foundation