Karen Janigan is a senior marketing communications officer with the IWK Health Centre Fundation
“My name is Elizabeth Hutchinson and I left this life early in the morning of September 24, 2010, after a courageous battle with breast cancer.”
It was a shock, even though it should not have been so. I had gotten word that this courageous, vivacious, fantastic woman was not doing well in her fight against breast cancer. I met Liz this spring, when researching stories for the IWK Foundation Report to Donors. Margaret Devries, her case co-ordinator in Breast Health had told me she found us the most wonderful patient who was willing to tell her story.
After speaking with Liz on the telephone, I knew we had found our star for a women’s health piece. She was funny, warm, and totally open about her breast cancer. She did not shrink from relating her story of going from a clear mammogram to a swollen breast, hot with inflammatory breast cancer within weeks. And then through chemotherapy to a double mastectomy within six months of it being discovered.
It wasn’t until I met Liz face-to-face that I was completely drawn in. Funny, with funky glasses and a “what the hell” attitude, her spirit reminded me of my mother. A witty, gracious woman like Liz, my Mom had died the year before from lung cancer that grew too silently and too aggressively. Liz, like my mother, was facing the cancer head on and not being victimized by the shame that had silenced previous generations.
I love how much her husband Jim obviously loved her. How emotional he was about the possibility of losing Liz. Not that Liz talked like she was going to die any time soon: she was a fighter; but a bone scan the year before had shown a couple of hot spots.
We spent that afternoon in May together on the playground of Westmount School were she looked after the neighbourhood kids, with a photographer and a video crew. Documenting her story, but mostly laughing with her and Jim and their daughter Jennifer.
Liz agreed to be a patient ambassador for Bust a Move next March 26, if she was well enough. But, as I wrote in the annual report about her story, she was not out of the woods.
As Margaret told me when we discussed her shocking death: “She was a lovely woman, so full of life and energy. She always had a great attitude from Day One.”
“I cried when I read her obituary, it was so poignant and so personal,” Margaret said. “I don’t have a lot of patients who die. Inflammatory breast cancer is not very common, but it is very dramatic.”
One phrase in the obituary Liz wrote brought tears to my eyes as well: “I am sorry to leave, but I had a complete and charmed life – one I departed counting the innumerable blessings of a wonderful husband and daughter, a loving family, dear friends and neighbours. May everyone be so blessed.”
Thank you, Liz. I am blessed for having met you. Far too briefly.