Katie Cowie finished treatment in June
By Diego Flammini
Katie Cowie may have finished her breast cancer treatment in June, but the struggles continue for the Alberta agronomist.
“You lose a sense of security a bit because you’re no longer receiving the treatment that keeps the cancer away,” she told Farms.com. “The monitoring afterwards is a fine line between thinking I’m being over cautious or if I’m imagining things. It’s always in the back of your mind.”
Cowie’s breast cancer journey started in March 2021 when she discovered a lump on her right breast during a self-exam.
“I wasn’t a serial breast checker, but I felt a twinge and thought I needed to get it checked out,” she said.
Screening for breast cancer is recommended for women usually starting around age 50, Health Canada says.
Cowie visited with her doctor the day after finding the lump and within a week had a feeling it was breast cancer.
“I had an ultrasound, and the specialist came in and asked if breast cancer runs in my family,” she said. “Benign cysts had run in my family so that’s what I thought it could be, but it became pretty clear what we were dealing with.”
Cowie’s official diagnosis was invasive ductal carcinoma, HER2-positive.
This type of cancer tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2.
HER2-positive is more aggressive and more likely to spread than HER2-negative breast cancer.
Cowie found her lump when she was 34.
Women younger than 35 tend to be diagnosed with more aggressive and higher grade tumours, the Canadian Cancer Society says.
The diagnosis weighed on Cowie in the moment.
Katie Cowie and her son, Ryle.
“I have two little boys and I was thinking about what I’m going to miss and if I’m going to be there for them,” she said. “When you don’t know all the information you tend to prepare for the worst.”
Cowie had a bilateral mastectomy to remove the tumour and prevent recurrence.
Chemotherapy and other treatments followed, which took a toll on her physically.
“I had to take a drug that helped regenerate blood cells and my whole body would be in pain,” she said. “I’d climb up my stairs and have to take a break, I’d be nauseous all the time and just feel so gross.”
The treatments also resulted in nerve damage in her hands and feet.
Cowie’s body shows the evidence of her journey with breast cancer.
And it’s a reminder to keep fighting, she said.
“It is hard to maintain your self-confidence, but when I see those scars, it reminds me I’m pretty tough,” she said. “Yes, my physical appearance has changed. But does that really matter in the end?”
In addition to the effects of treatment, Cowie’s breast cancer fight occurred in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This meant she experienced parts of her journey on her own.
“I was in and out of the hospital the same day I had my double mastectomy, and my husband couldn’t be with me,” she said. “I had a very substantial surgery and once (my health team) saw I was doing okay they sent me home because they didn’t want me to catch COVID in the hospital.”
Going through a breast cancer journey also affected Cowie mentally.
She sought out counselling in December 2021.
“I knew I wasn’t myself and I felt like I was in a hole that I couldn’t find a way out of,” she said. “I did an online counselling and I received great tools and affirmations.”
An advocate for mental health, Cowie wants to see mental health integrated into the health care system.
“I feel like mental health should be a mandatory part of the treatment you go through with cancer or any number of health issues,” she said. “It can be hard to receive a diagnosis and have to process it immediately.”
Cowie shared her story to encourage other women to advocate for their own health.
“Do the self-exams, be diligent and go to the doctor if you notice something different,” she said. “You know what’s normal for your body.”
Cowie is helping give back to the cancer community this year.
She’s part of the Prairie Chicks Committee, a group of five women who organize a ladies night fundraiser for local charities.
Since 2013 the group has raised more than $220,000.
For 2022, the women are supporting the Alberta Cancer Foundation to help provide funding for some of its programming.
Anyone seeking more information about the Prairie Chicks Committtee and upcoming fundraisers can email firstname.lastname@example.org.