Joccy Brewer was moved to tears on Tuesday when Starbucks staff at Ferraro Foods in downtown Trail surprised her with a $5,000 cheque. The baristas pooled their tips over the past several months and donated the money to help the young mom in her fight with breast cancer. From left: Rae Lyall, Melinda Johnson, Joccy Brewer, Erin Palesch, and Keri-Lynn Prough. Sheri Regnier photo

Story of young Kootenay mom shows breast cancer can strike at any age

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

“There is no such thing as being too cautious,” says Jocelyn Brewer. “Don’t say, ‘it’s probably nothing, it’s probably nothing.’ If something seems wrong with your body, get it looked at.”

Jocelyn, or Joccy for short, is 32 years old.

She lives in the Beaver Valley with her two children and husband of 10 years, Tyler.

And, exactly six months to the day, Joccy has been battling breast cancer.

As the Canadian Cancer Society launches Breast Cancer Awareness Month for all of October, Joccy is sharing her story from the time she first noticed a change in her left breast to when she was diagnosed. She shares her challenging treatment regimen, how much further she has to go, and the impacts this devastating illness has had on her young family.

“I first noticed a small bump on my left breast, it just kind of looked like a bruise,” she began. “At first I thought I may be bumped myself at work. I was an overnight manager at Walmart, so I was stocking shelves and dealing with pallets and what-not, and it was just a little bruise and bump.”

After a couple of weeks the bruise did not go away, so Joccy went to see her doctor.

She was immediately sent for a biopsy at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital. Within weeks – on April 2 when she was still only 31 years of age – Joccy was confirmed to have breast cancer.

“Luckily I had a friend with me when I got the diagnosis,” Joccy said. “It all happened really fast. I had never even had a mammogram before all this.”

That’s why she urges women to check their breasts regularly, no matter the age. If something is off, see a doctor.

“There is (early) screening if you have a family history,” Joccy said. “But in my family, there was no real history or reason for me to be over worried or cautious about breast cancer.”

On April 26, Joccy had a double mastectomy at the hospital in Trail and has been undergoing chemotherapy in the hospital’s oncology unit. Nine days ago, she had her last dose of chemo, for now.

Of course, this ordeal has been trying both emotionally and financially on the young family. But Joccy takes it all one day at a time.

“My children are trying to live a daily life, and going to school,” she shared. “They are obviously upset and aware that cancer is a very scary thing, so quite often they miss school because they are just having such a hard day. But the school system and the community have been very supportive in helping anyway they can.”

Joccy’s husband works full time for a local retail store, but with only one income, the family is struggling.

She is worried about the financial burden of having to stay in Kelowna for radiation treatment next month, not to mention the follow up surgeries she will need.

“I can’t actually focus on my health without having to worry if the mortgage is paid, what are we doing about the power bill, and do we have enough food in the house,” said Joccy.

That’s where the community has come together to organize fundraisers for Joccy and her family this month.

For all of October, bottle and cans can be donated into a special bin at the Trail Bottle Depot on Rossland Avenue. Kreative Cupcakes and Café Michael have teamed up to sell “Joccy’s Whoopies” (whoopie pies) this month, with all proceeds from those sales going to the Brewer family.

Her supporters are also throwing a Halloween Fundraiser Dance at the Trail Legion on Oct. 26. The night starts at 8 p.m., and includes live music by Hairlöss plus a silent auction. Tickets are $10 each.

“Jocelyn’s first trip to Kelowna on Oct. 24, to meet and make a plan for her radiation, the next step in her treatment, has been stressing her out,” Laura Boily said. “Being away from her family and two children … is going to be hard for her, so I’m helping out as much as I can because the family has been through the ringer.”

The two have been friends since Boily moved to Trail five years ago.

“With her not being able to work and the cost of her treatments, it’s going to be really easy to fall behind,” said Boily. “We just want to help relieve some of the stress.”

Breast cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms in its early stages. Signs and symptoms often appear when the tumour grows large enough to be felt as a lump in the breast or when the cancer spreads to surrounding tissues and organs. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as breast cancer.

The most common symptom of ductal carcinoma is a firm or hard lump that feels very different from the rest of the breast. It may feel like it is attached to the skin or the surrounding breast tissue. The lump doesn’t get smaller or come and go with menstruation. It may be tender, but it’s usually not painful. (Pain is more often a symptom of a non-cancerous condition).

Lobular carcinoma often does not form a lump. It feels more like the tissue in the breast is getting thicker or harder.

Other symptoms of ductal and lobular breast cancer include: a lump in the armpit; changes in the shape or size of the breast; changes to the nipple, such as a nipple that suddenly starts to point inward (called an inverted nipple); and discharge that comes out of the nipple without squeezing it or that has blood in it.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women, excluding non-melanoma skin cancers. It is the second leading cause of death from cancer in Canadian women.

This year alone, the Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 26,900 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. This represents 25 per cent of all new cancer cases in women in 2019.

On average, 74 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every day. On average, 14 Canadian women will die from breast cancer every day. Breast cancer can also occur in men, but it is not common. An estimated 230 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and 55 will die from breast cancer.

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