Caroline Noakes says cancer was her “wake-up call to enjoy life.” Diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29, just three years after getting married and months after the purchase of her first house, the Whitby resident has endured three surgeries in just a little over a year, all at Women’s College Hospital.
“Facing cancer at this stage in our lives wasn’t something we ever imagined, but we came out on the other side even stronger than before,” she says of her relationship with husband Matt. “I gained a different perspective and a greater sense of clarity about life.”
Caroline credits her new outlook on life to the excellent care she received at Women’s College Hospital.
Immediately after her diagnosis in March 2012, Caroline was referred to WCH surgical oncologist Dr. Tulin Cil. Dr. Cil performed a lumpectomy in April and Caroline followed up with six rounds of chemotherapy. In December, after an inconclusive result from her BRCA1 genetic test, Caroline elected to have a double mastectomy to eliminate almost any chance of her breast cancer recurring.
The fear of recurrence made the decision straightforward, but, still, Caroline worried about the cosmetic results. Dr. John Semple, chief of surgery and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation Ontario Region chair in surgical breast cancer research, set her mind at ease.
“He presented me with options,” she says. “If I’d known ahead of time how remarkable the results would be, I would have made the decision in an instant.”
Caroline underwent the final stage of her breast reconstruction in May, the first surgery to take place in Women’s College Hospital’s new outpatient hospital. While the quality of care was equal to her previous two procedures, there was one noticeable difference this time around.
“Last year, I remember waking up in a stark, windowless room. This time, it was a beautiful, soothing space, not at all clinical and with lots of natural light. It gave me such confidence in the level of care. I could tell my medical team was bursting with pride of their new space.”
She was back home the same day to recover with her family and the help of a smartphone app pioneered by Dr. Semple to help post-surgery patients keep in touch with their healthcare team.
“Women’s College Hospital has a reputation for ground-breaking work,” says Caroline. “I feel lucky to be part of such a rich history.”