Growing up in Sudbury, sisters Lori Ann Clements and Heather Hillier were very different.
“She had fair hair, I had dark hair, she wore blue, I wore pink,” Hillier said. “She didn't like getting her hair done, I loved nothing more than poofy hair. I loved sparkly skating dresses, she loved plain skating dresses.”
Given how different she is from her older sister, Hillier said it's ironic that they were diagnosed with breast cancer — albeit very different forms — less than a year apart.
The sisters were the guest speakers at the 14th annual Luncheon of Hope Sept. 28. The annual event raises funds for breast cancer research funded by the Northern Cancer Foundation.
Cathy DiPietro, chair of the Luncheon of Hope committee, said most of those who come to the fundraiser have either been directly affected by breast cancer or know someone who has.
“There's so much research going on in the areas of treating breast cancer that it encourages us to volunteer and raise money so that we can provide the researchers with the funds needed to further their work.”
Clements, who now lives in southern Ontario, was the first of the sisters to be diagnosed.
In February 2009, she went for her first mammogram at the age of 50, and was diagnosed with an early-stage form of breast cancer known as stage zero ductal carcinoma in-situ.
Clements had two lumpectomies, but her doctors were not able to get clear margins around the cancer, and she opted to have a mastectomy.
“I was fortunate,” she said. “That's how I approached my diagnosis and treatment, that I was one of the lucky ones. I just kept moving forward with that.”
Less than a year later, in January 2010, Hillier was also diagnosed with breast cancer. In her case, it was a much more aggressive form of the condition — stage three invasive globular cancer.
It was at that point that Clements' then eight-year-old daughter, Olivia, asked her mother if she was going to get breast cancer one day.
“I could not say no,” Clements said.
“I said to her 'Olivia, they will watch you very closely.' That's my hope today, that research in the area of early detection continues, and improvements continue to be made in areas of detection and treatment.”
Hillier, who lives in Pittsburgh, said she had noticed a thickening in her breast more than a year before her diagnosis. She received a mammogram, but it came back negative.
It wasn't until an injury which caused her nipple to become inverted that she realized something was seriously wrong.
Two more mammograms and two sonograms also failed to turn anything up. It wasn't until Hillier had an MRI that she learned she had cancer.
“My husband and I walked out, and in the car I cried for about 30 seconds,” she said. “It was only 30 seconds because I was already in attack mode. I immediately picked up the phone and started making phone calls.”
Hillier eventually ended up having a modified radical mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy and plastic surgery to reconstruct her breasts.
While the last few years haven't been easy, she said she prefers to look at what her cancer treatment has given her — the ability to celebrate her mother's 75th anniversary, her older daughter's first off-Broadway show and her younger daughter's university graduation.
“Most importantly, I get to see my husband's wonderful smile every morning when he brings me coffee in bed,” Hillier said.
This past June, the sisters celebrated their journey as cancer survivors and those who have helped them through their treatments with a party dubbed “Boob-a-Palooza.”
“To look around at 100-plus friends and family was so heartwarming, and boy oh boy did they party,” Hillier said.