“I Beat Breast Cancer at 33”

Young breast cancer survivor Stephanie Nugent takes to her feet to raise money in the fight against the disease, all for the sake of her daughter.

Other walkers at the Weekend to End Breast Cancer in Ottawa are surprised to see Stephanie Nugent wearing her name tag on a pink rope around her neck, which signifies she’s a breast cancer survivor. Nugent, a 36-year-old Grade 1 teacher from Carp, Ont. (near Ottawa), looks too young and healthy to have had the disease. “People say, ‘You had breast cancer?’ They always seem shocked,” says Nugent. But if they knew the measures she had taken just weeks earlier to ensure she doesn’t get cancer again, they would be even more surprised that she participates in this gruelling event.

The Weekend to End Breast Cancer is a 60-kilometre, two-day walk, which takes place in six Canadian cities, to raise money for cancer research, prevention and treatment. This year, Nugent did the walk with two old friends (and with three new friends, from P.E.I., whom she made at the event). Battling sore feet and exhaustion, all six held hands and walked triumphantly across the finish line together on June 7. They were among 1,000 keen participants who raised $2.1 million to bene­fit the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. “My husband, daughter and parents were there to cheer me on. My mom was crying,” recalls Nugent, who also did the walk in 2007. “They all said they were very proud and there were lots of hugs. What an amazing feeling. You forget how sore you are!”

Nugent was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 when she was only 33 years old. She underwent surgery to remove the lump in her left breast, followed by six months of chemotherapy and then six weeks of radiation. By 2007, she was cancer free, but then black clouds gathered again when she tested positive for a genetic mutation to the BRCA2 gene, which increases the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. “The chances of [breast cancer] coming back were relatively high. If I were 80, I might not have done anything, but with a daughter who was then two, I had to do something.”

So, to eliminate her risk of developing ovarian cancer, she had a hysterectomy in December 2007. That was emotionally painful because it meant Nugent and her husband, John, would not have another child. “That was the thing that bothered me the most,” she says. Then she had a double mastectomy in March 2009. Less than 10 weeks later, she was participating in the Weekend to End Breast Cancer. “I needed to do it,” Nugent says. “The thing I worry about is my daughter, who has a fifty-fifty chance of inheriting the gene and developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer as an adult. By that time I hope there is a cure.”

For now, this young mom is full of hope about her future. “I’m assuming I’ll grow old and be a grandma.” And she’s doing everything she can to make that happen.

Pictured: Stephanie Nugent with daughter, Carmen, and husband, John.

Next: What Doctors Want You to Know About Breast Cancer

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Originally Published in Best Health Canada