Torquay woman shares her story of fighting breast cancer twice

Many people here know Faythe Eastwood as a wonderful person and a great host who always has a joke or two to tell the guests at Barleys Bar in Torquay.

Her positive spirit is the bar's signature, but it also is the feature that guided Eastwood through many challenges she faced throughout her life, including two breast cancer diagnoses she fought over 20 years apart.

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In conjunction with the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Mercury spoke to Eastwood about her experience and attitude towards the disease and treatment.

Eastwood first faced breast cancer in the 80s.

"It would have been 1984. The doctor found a lump in my breast. He wasn't sure of anything, so he sent me for a mammogram," recalled Eastwood.

She couldn't remember what started her inquiry with the doctor, but there was no pain or any major problems associated with the lump. The mammogram confirmed breast cancer, and the doctor gave her a choice: they could either remove the lump or remove the breast.

"I said, 'I'm not going to deal with it in a year … So take my breast off.' So they did," said Eastwood.

The surgery was done in 1985 in Nanaimo, B.C., where Eastwood was living at the time. It was a radical mastectomy with all of the breast tissue being removed along with the nipple, lymph nodes in the armpit and chest wall muscles under the breast. 

Eastwood, who was in her 30s then, recalls that decision as almost a no-brainer. When asked what guided and gave her strength at that time she answered with an anecdote.

"I have to tell you a funny story. When I had my breast removed, my husband said to me, 'You should consider yourself lucky.' I said, 'Why?' He said, 'You were left with three tits, your left one, your right one and me. So you still have two tits.'"

She said that unlike some other people, her husband "was always really good with it" and was by her side.

The breast removal surgery was followed by chemotherapy, for which Eastwood had to travel to Victoria. Someone always had to drive her there, as she would come out of it with no energy.

"Once I had the chemo and came back out to the car all I wanted to do is sleep. So I carried a blanket. I crawled to the back seat, slept all the way home and then when I got home I just laid on the couch and slept for the rest of the day," recalled Eastwood.

Unlike how it's often portrayed, her chemo experience was different. She never was sick to her stomach or lost hair.

"I always felt fine, just the sleeping thing."

She also had to go through radiation. The treatment went well, the cancer was gone and Eastwood could keep going with her life.

"I felt good having that removed and I never thought it would come back again. But it did."

The disease that runs in Eastwood's family returned in 2007, and Eastwood agreed to have the second breast removed. She said it was as simple of a decision as the first one.

"I'm sure there were thoughts with the first one and the second one, that this could be close to the end of my life. But you have to carry on. You can't go sit in the corner until you die," Eastwood said.

In this case, Eastwood didn't need to go through radiation or chemo.

"I guess they were happy with getting it all."

Eastwood's husband had passed away in the 90s. She said that she didn't think about getting into another relationship after, but life moved on.

"I was perfectly honest with (men I met after my husband passed away), 'Hey, I only have one breast. If you can't deal with it, goodbye!'"

Eastwood had a lot of support in her fight with cancer and she never made a secret out of it, but she noted that it probably wasn't the case for other people, which would make this battle even tougher for them.

"It's not something that you should keep inside," said Eastwood.

She added that she recently saw a TV commercial, in which there was a half-undressed woman with both breasts removed, and she felt that it was a great thing to do.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women outside of non-melanoma skin cancers, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. It is also the second leading cause of death from cancer in Canadian women.

Breast cancer turned out to be a common disease in Eastwood's family, but everyone who faced it dealt with it differently. When the doctor found a lump in Eastwood's mother's one breast, she asked to remove them both. Eastwood's sister also had breast cancer, but Eastwood said that her husband was against her having a breast removed, so she had a lumpectomy and wouldn't follow up with traditional medicine.

While most breast cancer survivors don't get cancer again, they are at a higher risk of getting some types of cancer. Eastwood's sister died later of bone cancer.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month runs every year from Oct. 1-31 to increase awareness, educate about the importance of early screening and testing, raise funds for research, diagnostics, treatment, and cure and to provide information to people affected by breast cancer.

© Copyright Estevan Mercury

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