Meet Vicky, Uncovered

Vicky (she/her) — Inuk
Diagnosed at 43 years old — Stage 2 cancerous lump
I am an Auntie. I am a Sister. I am a Knowledge Keeper.

While I was diagnosed in 2019, my treatment started officially in January 2021 with my first surgery. After my diagnosis, it took a process of me relationship-building with my healthcare team and getting them on board with me, to build trust and get to a comfortable space to proceed. I had the ‘luxury’ of a slow moving and low-grade diagnosis to be able to take the time to really do what felt best for me.

As an Indigenous woman, I have hesitancies with the western medical system. In my experience, it often treats the symptom, when I am looking for a cause. They find a mass of abnormal cells and they want to remove it, but I want to know why it’s there in the first place and address that. This also stems from my culture and my beliefs. Indigenous people have been around for thousands of years without this medical system. It’s a new system for us to have to work with. This process has been a process of listening and trusting my intuition, what I call body intelligence, and my diagnosis had allowed me that with a bit of time and space.

“I’m so blessed that I had someone there. I want that for everyone”

The first surgeon I was assigned to was so dismissive. He was speaking to me, not with me, and told me what I needed to do with my body. He wasn’t concerned with me at all. That experience led me to not want to put my trust into his hands. Once again, I felt like I was a number. Of course, he was an educated surgeon, but quite frankly he was still a person I didn’t know that was asking me to put my life choices completely in his hands. I chose to get a second opinion. Ultimately, I wanted my healthcare team to see and hear the reality and truth of what some people don’t or feel like they can’t say. I knew I was serving other Indigenous women and people of colour in my appointments through the truth I shared with my healthcare team. What I was sharing was important not only to myself, but to my medical team as well, and they told me that.

The second surgeon was more willing to work with me and hear me out. The hospital had both an Indigenous Patient Navigator and an Elder accessible to me, so I was able to have cultural support and hear the experience of another Indigenous woman who had gone through a similar diagnosis and had similar hesitancies. Knowing that the Indigenous Patient Navigator was there for me was so incredibly valuable. It was immeasurable to my feeling grounded and supported, having someone by my side who understood my perspective. He affirmed that I was doing the right thing by communicating my needs. It’s so important for the healthcare teams to know these kinds of supports are available for patients and to implement resources to offer them, not only for Indigenous People, but for Black women and other people of colour, immigrants, etc. I think of everyone who goes through this system, and they all deserve a patient navigator like I had who understands them and can help. I’m so blessed that I had someone there. I want that for everyone.

I had to prepare myself to be grounded before my appointments and prioritize my self-care so I could be present with my medical team. This was my body, my diagnosis, my treatment, not my healthcare teams. I would listen to their recommendations and take them home to sit with them, reflect on them and identify what really felt right for me and my body. Knowing that there were options and taking the time I needed was what got me to the point where I was able to get on board with my first surgery.

That’s why my advice for others going through this is to really connect with yourself, so that you can know what feels right for you. Know that in the entire process, you have choice. We can choose how we proceed. Sit with the fear and let it move through you. There is a grieving process we need to work through with this diagnosis, because it is devastating. If I showed up to my treatment having not taken care of myself, not having processed that grief, living in fear the whole time, I wouldn’t have the strength and grace to move through that process with dignity and integrity to myself and what I deserve. And it’s up to us to show up in that way.

My physical body had been altered, but my spirit
was strong, intact, and whole”

After treatment, I worked with Indigenous organizations, healers, traditional medicine, and cultural therapy with teachings, and that’s when I integrated my community care. One of my Elders had gone through a similar diagnosis, and one of the medicines and teachings she gave me was that “I had to accept that this disease may very well take me. And if it did, that it was God’s way, divinely ordained.” There is medicine in that profound acceptance of knowing all the possibilities of this diagnosis, but still, how can I show up with integrity to myself and do so without fear? If I hadn’t sat with my fear and arrived at acceptance, the fear would seep out and be with me in every meeting, in every treatment session, everywhere  in my life. So now, I’m going on with my life, not living in fear today. What happens in the future is what is. I deal with that on that day, not today.

I’d love for us to have a system that truly is patient-centred, a space that honours not only the entire human experience, but the entire feminine experience, with these types of diagnosis in particular. Being seen as not only human, but as a spirit and woman, as a feminine spirit and the importance that she is in the world. I want to believe that that is possible. Maybe that is a glimmer of light that I’m hanging onto…

Going into surgery, I was afraid that I was going to lose myself somehow, that I was going to be a different person on the other side of it. I prayed not only for myself, but I also always prayed for the medical team, the administrative team, everyone who had to somehow touch my ‘case.’ Prayer is powerful – so I know that when I do it, whether they acknowledge it or believe in it, it doesn’t matter. I prayed for everyone all along the way. I woke up from surgery and I burst into tears of gratitude that I was not broken. My physical body had been altered, but my spirit was strong, intact, and whole. That was a big lesson: the spirit is unbreakable and can get us through these seemingly impossible times. We may be altered, but I promise there is our own medicine through this experience. I kind of look at scars as signs that I’ve been through life and I’m still here and look what I get to do, I get to share my story with others who need to see themselves, and that they too can get through this. That in itself is a privilege. There is not just the voice of the medical system, there are the voices of all of us. — Vicky

Uncovered: A Breast Recognition Project is a resource that focuses on the breast cancer experiences of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. Through powerful imagery and genuine storytelling, it shines a light on the physical and emotional scars of breast cancer, cultural barriers and health equity. Uncovered was created in collaboration with Michelle Audoin and developed in response to the significant underrepresentation of, and lack of support for, BI&POC in the breast cancer community. Through the amplification of this collection of stories and experiences, our hope is to help educate all people, including healthcare providers, on the realities and
needs of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour with breast cancer, so they are
better equipped to support all the people they care for.
Learn more about the resource and meet others in the project here.

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