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North Bay reporter opens up about her personal battle with breast cancer

'My family is taking it really hard, but they know I am going to come out stronger on the other side, and I know I’m going to come out stronger on the other side' Brittany Bortolon

For the past two years broadcast journalist Brittany Bortolon has been reporting on the people who make the news; the good, the bad and the lighthearted.

Reporters make a career out of sharing other people’s stories, never expecting that one day the tables would turn, making them the central focus.    

But that is exacting what is happening with Brittany.

The newly engaged 26-year-old was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.   

Her story begins as an eight-year-old, watching her own mother battle breast cancer.

“She had breast cancer three times before she finally beat it. I remember she was 30 years old. It wasn’t until finally after the third time it came back and was super aggressive that she was like, ‘These things are trying to kill me. I’m going to have a double mastectomy,” said Brittany.

“I remember being bounced around family member’s houses with my younger brother, while my mom was in the hospital going through chemo, radiation, and surgery after surgery, not sure when we would see her again.”

Her mother is now 17 years cancer-free.

“The gene has been passed down in my family. Her mom had it, her mom’s mom had it, my mom’s cousin had it. Every woman on my mom’s side has passed away from breast cancer except my mom. Back then they would have passed away because the treatment is nowhere near what it is today.”

After watching her mother struggle, Brittany decided at 21 that she wanted to get tested for the gene.

“I wanted to try and get ahead of it. I went and got gene testing and at the time they told me you’re 21, we can do the gene testing but there isn’t much we can do because your breast tissue is still too dense to do mammograms or really feel anything.”

Now 26 and wanting to stay pro-active, she made an appointment to see her family doctor.

“They asked if I had ever had a mammogram done. They sent a referral to Princess Margaret and I went this past April and met with my oncologist. She deals with a lot of women and men that have the BRCA1 gene which is linked to breast and ovarian cancer. So, after talking with her, she said something similar that I heard in my early 20’s that ‘Yeah, the risks are there, but you’re too young. This isn’t going to happen for you.’”

Her mammogram came back clear.

“Jake and I are getting married in two years and our future is having kids and building a life together. But I remember what my mom went through, and I didn’t want that for me, and I didn’t want that for them.”

She made the decision to have a double mastectomy.

Doctors scheduled her surgery for later this year.

Getting cleared for surgery required additional testing.

“I was to have my MRI done in June, but for some reason, I just did not want to do it and kept putting it off. Finally, it was the end of August that I did it, and I’m thankful that I did because that is when they found the lump. From there I went and had a biopsy done.“

She was at work when she got an email saying she had new results from Princess Margaret. It was her biopsy results.

The news was not what she was expecting.

“I started googling, which you should not do. It said it was an aggressive form of breast cancer. And I remember thinking to myself ‘No, I’m reading this wrong. This isn’t right.’ I called the nurse practitioner I had been working with and she started reading my file out loud, then she got quiet. All I asked was if it was breast cancer and she said it was. At that moment it felt like time just stood still. I don’t even remember anything else she said to me over the phone because I just started crying.”   

Brittany is now preparing to wage war on the same breast cancer her mother fought.

“If you had told me even two months ago that this is where I would be right now, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m thankful that at 21 years of age I had some mature thought in me that said you need to go and do this because I could be in the exact same position. The difference being that I wouldn’t know that the cancer is there. It could have been years before it was detected and by then it might have been too late.”

The next step is more testing leading up to her first chemo treatment on October 9.

“I’m getting one of the more intense chemos because it is an aggressive cancer that is growing very quickly. So, I’ll be doing eight rounds of chemo over a 16-week period, so every other week. Six weeks after my last round of chemo I’m going to have the double mastectomy surgery and reconstruction surgery, followed by six weeks of recovery. Hopefully, at that point I can get back to living my life,” explained Brittany.

“Staying positive is where my head is at right now, knowing that I’m getting the best care possible.”

She is staying strong in part to the “amazing” support she is receiving from family, friends, and even strangers.

“I can’t even get over the number of people that have reached out to me, even people who I haven’t heard from in years. To be honest with you, I think it has been a really big wakeup call to a lot of people my age, that this isn’t something that affects you later in life. It can affect you at any point in your life,” said Brittany.

In support of his media friend, Cogeco’s Clarke Heipel is encouraging people to walk, run or donate in support of North Bay-Canadian Cancer Society CIBC Run for the Cure Team #BrittsBevy.

Members of the local media, the public, and organizations like the North Bay Police Association have already made donations.  

The run is this Sunday, October 6.

”I think when we all found out about Brittany we were just shocked, having someone that young being diagnosed with breast cancer. No matter what company you work for, we’re all a big media family here in North Bay, so I really felt it was something we needed to do and really show her how much we care about her,” said Heipel.

“I’m asking people to join our team BrittsBevy. Google CIBC Run for the Cure, search for North Bay and type in BrittsBevy. You can join as a team, donate there and leave a message if you like. We didn’t need another reason to fight for a cure, but this really hits close to home.”

Brittany is hopeful that by sharing her story, others will be proactive when it comes to health matters.   

“Honestly at the end of the day, I just hope that it encourages even one person to go out and get checked. That is all I want from it,” said Brittany.

“I have a lot of moments where I just sit and cry and I think to myself ‘How did I get here?’ because I was doing everything to prevent it. I know too this isn’t just my fight. This is a fight for all the women who are diagnosed today, all the women who were diagnosed before and anybody who might be diagnosed in the future. I know that I’m not in it alone. My family is taking it really hard, but they know I am going to come out stronger on the other side, and I know I’m going to come out stronger on the other side.”

See: October is breast cancer awareness month