The Winnipeg Free Press - July 20, 2010

Survivor Refuses to Let Breast Cancer Win

Founds Charity to Help Women 'Feel Whole Again'

Breast cancer survivor Jackie Stephen made something positive out of her bout with cancer: a charity that helps Manitoba women get the best breast reconstruction surgery available, an area in which our province is a North American leader.

Stephen's organization, Keeping Abreast, works with a team of Winnipeg surgeons that is providing mastectomies and immediate breast reconstructions as a unified surgery, available to all Manitoba women facing a breast removal under universal health coverage.
The combined mastectomy and reconstruction is a practice rarely available in North America outside of Manitoba.

"It allowed me to feel whole again and certainly made a difference for me getting past the horror of having cancer," Stephen said, stressing the altered body image of a woman who has lost her breasts can hamper emotional healing. Being able to look in the mirror and feel normal is very important to putting cancer behind you, she said.

"This surgery pretty much restores women to the way they were. It's a gift to women," she said. "Time heals the wound, if your memory of it and the fear of it goes away."

Immediate breast reconstructions after mastectomies weren't available in Canada before Dr. Edward Buchel brought the practice to Manitoba from the United States.

Buchel, head of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Manitoba and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, moved back home to Winnipeg five years ago after training and practising in the United States, including a plastic surgery residency at the Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Now, resident physicians from all over Canada come to Winnipeg to train in the procedure.
Manitoba is the only province where the full surgery is offered to all women needing mastectomies.

"That's unique in North America," he said.

Before the technique was brought to Manitoba, women were waiting three to five years after their mastectomies for reconstruction. Now, Buchel and his team, supported by the regional health authorities, aim to provide a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction no more than six weeks after seeing a surgical oncologist.

"It allows that person to go back to their life as quickly as we can make it for them," he said. "We try to give them their body image back."

Keeping Abreast provides cutting-edge equipment, education, and team-building resources to Buchel and his team of four other surgeons and those who work with them.

"Keeping Abreast has allowed us to really develop our program," he said. "Their goal is to build the best team to deliver the best care."

Stephen founded Keeping Abreast with the help of a dozen or so friends and the Health Sciences Centre Foundation in 2008 following her mastectomy and reconstruction in March 2007. She is now cancer free. The group has raised roughly $525,000 through fundraising events and the members show no signs of slowing down.

Stephen said the work is rewarding because those involved see the tangible effects of their efforts.

"It keeps me and my group very motivated, because you have to feel like you're making a difference," she said.

The Winnipeg Free Press - April 1, 2010

High School Course Enables Students to Give Back

Theresa Schwager (right) with her world issues teacher Rob Schrofel, raised $600 for the Keeping Abreast fund in one semester.

Theresa Schwager didn’t need a lot of time to think about what her final project in her world issues class at John Taylor Collegiate would be.

In lieu of a final exam, students at the Crestview school are required help organized a fundraiser for a local charity and raise money, all within a few months.

With her mother having recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, the Grade 12 student knew she wanted to help her however she could.

Schwager contacted Keeping Abreast, an organization with the Health Sciences Centre Foundation that offers hope, encouragement and support to breast cancer patients and survivors.

Schwager, 17, managed to raise the second highest total in school history, $600, and also received 100% on the project.

"It was actually a lot of fun instead of work, and I was actually upset when it was done. It was fun thinking of what to do and then actually doing it instead of just giving money," Schwager said.

Schwager initially partnered with Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, which donated a percentage of total sales of special orders she got.
Schwager received more than $100 from that campaign, but still had a month to go before the semester was over.

And while some might have stopped there, Schwager continued to canvass friends and neighbours to donate to her cause.

She ended up raising an additional $500 that she was proud to hand over to Keeping Abreast.

Teacher Rob Schrofel said Schwager’s accomplishment was exactly the type of outcome he was hoping for in his world issues class.

"I came up with the idea of a philanthropy type of theme, and I called it think globally, act locally," said Schrofel, who is the department head of social studies.

"From my life experience, there’s a lot of need in Winnipeg so I wanted to teach them that if they wanted to be a great global citizen they can start in their own backyard."

Since Schrofel initiated the fundraising component into his class five years ago, students have collected hundreds of bags of clothing and food and raised over $11,000 for local charities.

"My ultimate goal was to reach kids and make them see a whole other side of life and to realize how truly lucky they are," he says.

Schwager’s efforts were appreciated at the organization, and she was invited to watch a breast reconstruction surgery that was truly inspiring.

"I can see now at how bad doctors are needed and how much they help people, and I figured out I can stand being in an operating room without passing out," she laughed.

Schwager plans to attend the University of Winnipeg and eventually become a doctor after graduating from high school this spring.

She says she no longer takes things for granted as a result of the project, and has a greater appreciation for the things she has in her life.

"It’s opened my eyes to how other people are going through the same thing and how they need support and help too," Schwager says.

The Globe and Mail - September 20, 2008

The Gift: $167,000 and climbing.
The Cause: Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre Foundation.
The reason: To fund research and education for breast cancer reconstruction surgery.
When Jackie Stephen was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago she went through several surgeries and eventually had a mastectomy.

Immediately after the mastectomy, Ms. Stephen had breast reconstruction surgery at the Health Sciences Centre thanks to a new technique brought to the hospital by Dr. Ed Buchel.

"I couldn't believe this existed," Ms. Stephen recalled from her office in Winnipeg where she works as an executive at WOW! Hospitality Concepts, a restaurant company.

"I was just so impressed by the whole procedure. I basically look exactly the same as I did before."

A few months after the operation, Ms. Stephen and her husband, Doug, planned to have a dinner for friends to thank them for their support.
They turned the dinner into a fundraising event in May, 2007, called Keeping Abreast and raised $26,000 for cancer research.

The event's success prompted Ms. Stephen to ask the hospital if she could raise money for Dr. Buchel's work. They agreed and she organized an even bigger party last spring, attracting 400 people and raising $105,000.

There were various games on the "Bra dway Midway," including putting golf balls into various bras and taking a bra off of a mannequin with a fishing pole, as well as "boobie" prizes.

Ms. Stephen is already planning next year's evening and she has created the Keeping Abreast fund for year-round donations.

One donor has pledged $9,000 a year for four years.The operation "was such a big part of my recovery, I wanted to support it," she said. "This surgery is an extraordinary gift for women with breast cancer."


The Winnipeg Free Press - June 4th, 2008

Don't ignore tap on shoulder - It could be warning, or gentle request for donation to cancer program.  Gordon Sinclair Jr.

I didn't know what to say. It was about a year and a half ago when I heard Jackie Stephen had breast cancer.

But instead of me having to reach out to her, she reached out to me. And to everyone else in her circle of friends.

Jackie wanted to share a story.

"This story is not so much about me or the illness, she wrote in an e-mail, "but the 'good' that actually came from having breast cancer."

So it was that we met in the lounge at 529 Wellington, the fine-dining steakhouse that's part of her husband, Doug Stephen's, WOW Hospitality restaurant group.

Jackie told the story, beginning with the warning she got in November, 2006, just before for her annual medical.

She felt a firm tap on the shoulder.

Except when she looked around, there was no one there. That wasn't the first time it had happened. The phantom shoulder tapping began just after her mother died in 1996.

Jackie was extremely close to her mother.

So, just to put her mind at rest, Jackie said she asked her doctor for a mammogram.

"And she said no."

Doctors prefer not to order mammograms before age 50 and Jackie was only 47.

But Jackie was adamant.

"I had a feeling," she said. "And I was quite forceful."

Just like that touch on her shoulder had been.

Fortunately, the doctor relented, because after Jackie had the mammogram, she had a biopsy then a lumpectomy and by February a doctor was recommending a mastectomy.

Jackie was caught off guard.

It was late afternoon the day after Valentine's Day, 2007. Soon she would be re-evaluating her life -- what she wanted from it and even whether she still wanted to be married.

She called Doug from her car, weeping inconsolably.

"He was devastated, too. He felt bad that I was alone. He felt helpless."

They both went home to tell her children, as they would later tell Doug's two boys.

She gathered her daughter and son in the living room.

Katie was 16 then. Dylan was 13.

"They sat sort of bewildered. And afraid. They really didn't say anything."

Until Dylan asked her if she was going to die.

"I said, 'No, don't think so.' "

Jackie tried to protect her children in different ways, including telling the other hockey moms, the teachers, and the kids' friends to look out for them. But, as I suggested earlier, it wasn't just her children's friends she reached out to.

"I had to find some positives in it. I just couldn't let it beat me. I needed to do something."

As she wrote later: "I decided to be very public, in order to warn my friends, male and female, that cancer can happen to any one of us and we should all be vigilant about being tested and taking care of ourselves. Selfishly, I also wanted and needed their love and support to help me get through this scary ordeal. I received an outpouring of concern, not only for me, but for my husband and children, as well. We were showered with cards, flowers, meals, visits and e-mails."

One of those e-mails arrived for Dylan from one of his 13-year-old pals.

The subject line was heart-wrenchingly perfect.

"Come to me," Dylan's friend wrote.

"Hey man, You got friends to bring u threw (sic) this like me, Reed, Alex, Tyler and other peeps to. Im always here for u ALWAYS! Your one of my best friends and u will always be. If u wanna spill the beans and if u need some help just come to me and BIG J will help u out! Ur mom is one tough cookie and she will make it through this (i no she will)"


Jackie had her mastectomy and reconstruction surgery in mid-March, 2007.

She is now cancer free.

But only because she wouldn't take no for an answer from her doctor.

And because she listened to that firm tap on the shoulder.

"When I think about it now, I believe it was her," Jackie said. "And that she doesn't feel that her work was done."

Neither, apparently, is Jackie's.

Last month, she and her friends raised $100,000 for the Health Sciences Centre Foundation and its breast-cancer reconstruction surgery program.

So be warned.

If you're out and about somewhere, and you feel a firm tap on your shoulder, don't be startled. It's not Jackie's mother trying to warn you about something.

It's probably just Jackie herself.

Hitting you up for a donation.

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Check out the video at of Dr. Ed Buchel in the Operating Room demonstrating some of the surgical and patient monitoring equipment purchased by Keeping Abreast.

Thank you Glenn Tinley and Winnipeg Women Magazine!

River Park Flooring will be presenting their annual Breast Ever Flooring Sale on Saturday, September 28th, with proceeds going to Keeping Abreast!

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