Cathy Cotter has been through the fire and came out other side.
And through it all she never lost her sense of humour, her bright smile or her desire to help others.
The Trenton woman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. At the time, she was a busy mom of two — John and Jaclyn — who was heavily involved in municipal politics and working as well.
“My doctor called me at work to tell me he wanted to see me right away. So I went over and he said some of his patients who were on a particular drug had been diagnosed with breast cancer and he wanted me checked,” she recalled.
She had a mammogram pre-scheduled for a couple of days after that and while she was there she had an ultrasound. Her doctor’s office called later that day and asked to see her the next day.
The news was not good.
“He said that it was malignant,” she said, her voice still choking up at the memory.
Within about a week, Cotter had surgery to have the cancer removed and was on the road to recovery.
“I decided to have the mastectomy because I really wanted it gone; I wanted it all gone.” She and her husband Steven talked about it and that’s what they decided.
“At first when my doctor told me it was a shock. I wasn’t comprehending anything. It was like I was in another world.”
Now 14 years cancer-free, Cotter advocates for women to do a self-breast exam.
She spreads her message in many ways to different people: to the group of dedicated volunteers at First United Church where she spends a great deal of time and energy; she talks openly about it to her regular group of female friends who gather “every day except Sunday!” at the Trenton Tim Hortons; and she promotes it in her role as president of the Breast Cancer Survivor Support Society — better known as Women Alike. She joined this group about six months after she had her mastectomy.
“They are a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s not a nice group to have to belong to, but they are a lot of fun!”
These days, Cotter is getting ready for the Relay for Life, coming up at Glasgow Square in New Glasgow on June 3. She credits her involvement in this fundraising initiative to a couple of women she knew who had cancer before Cotter was diagnosed.
“They wanted to go to the Relay when it was out in Parkdale. They didn’t like driving at night … and that’s how I got going to it, through them. And we enjoyed it, the walk around during the Survivor’s Lap and the camaraderie of it all.”
From that first year, Cotter was hooked. Now, six years later, she hasn’t looked back. She is busy making preparations for the 2017 event when she will again gladly participate in the Survivor’s Lap.
After that, she has decided to join the Relay on the committee level.
“They’re just a great group of people,” she said, about the organizing group. “They can’t do enough for us. It’s just fabulous what they do for us (survivors). There’s a lot of work to it, and they’re amazing.”
Cotter is used to hard work. The former school board member, town councillor and mayor, and grandmother of two — Chyanne, 13, and Cierra, 11 — is ready to dive into a new role with the Relay for Life organizing team.
And she is still willing to share her message if it will help others.
“Always, always have your mammogram,” she warned. “Always check yourself. That’s really, really important. If I followed that advice I would have found it sooner; but I was fortunate enough that when the doctor called me I was a Stage 1 and a Grade 1. It couldn’t have been any better.”
A good support system is also important. “Steven was just amazing through it all. I was very lucky because I had a lot of support — a lot of family support and a lot of friends and neighbours. I tell ya, Trenton is small but they pull together when there is a crisis of any kind.”