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Image of Lucia and Her Daughter
Lucia and her daughter.
Women’s Health

A shining light in the treatment of breast cancer

by Kris Wallace


It all happened so fast. Lucia was a healthy 40-something juggling a busy schedule of work, family, and extracurricular activities. In the span of just six weeks, all that changed. Lucia went from a mammogram, to a cancer diagnosis, to a double mastectomy. Thanks to the care she received at the Providence Breast Centre, Lucia is back to her healthy, active self.

Image of Lucia after surgery
Lucia after surgery.

After a biopsy confirmed she had cancer, everything was a blur – everything except her doctor’s absolute confidence in the outcome. Dr. Carol Dingee, a surgeon with the Providence Breast Centre (PBC), was adamant, “All you need to remember is that this is fixable!” She was right.

Lucia’s nurse navigator, Imelda Villeneuve, got straight to work implementing Lucia’s comprehensive treatment plan. “It was amazing how fast PBC 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 also has high praise for Dr. Nancy Van Laeken, the PBC plastic surgeon who did her reconstruction. “Dr. Van Laeken is extremely caring. Her team booked all of my appointments in advance and got me all the prescriptions I would need ahead of time. And I couldn’t be happier with the results. Even my oncologist said, ‘They look fantastic!’”

As it turned out, Lucia’s biggest challenge wasn’t the surgery itself, it was staying put during her recovery. “My kids swim competitively and that’s an important part of our family life.” Her surgery happened to coincide with a regional meet. For the first two days, her husband set up a live stream so she could watch from her hospital bed. “But both kids qualified for the finals and I really wanted to be there in person.” With the permission of her doctors, Lucia went from the hospital to the pool and back!

With their mom on deck, the kids earned a spot in the provincials two weeks later in Kamloops. Of course, Lucia was there to cheer them on.

The future of care is here, now

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 one location to another doesn’t “take.” When this happens, some or all of the new breast can be lost.

With so much at stake for vulnerable patients like Lucia, PBC goes above and beyond to secure the best possible outcomes.

So does St. Paul’s Foundation. Last year’s the Foundation’s Feast of Fortune gala was specifically focussed on women’s health and fundraising for research and tools to improve care and outcomes. Thanks to those generous donors, PBC patients and their doctors have incredibly-advanced diagnostic and surgical equipment including a new, state-of-the-art SPY portable handheld imaging system.

It’s like giving the surgeon X-ray vision

Before the SPY, 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, 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 helps us make decisions while we’re still in the operating room. This can prevent post-op complications and improve surgical outcomes.”

Your gift helps green light the green light

This is where Lights of Hope (and you!) come in.

Your gift helps ensure that women like Lucia get the expertise and compassion they need when they are at their most vulnerable.

You can bring life-changing care to the women of BC – and the people who love them.

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

The Providence Breast Centre treats 15% 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.