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Breast cancer survivors share their stories

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and five local people have opened up about how breast cancer affected their lives.
Lenna Wilson, Tammie Riddell and Sherry Zacharias have all fought breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and five local people have opened up about how breast cancer affected their lives.

Not that long ago, discussing this delicate subject out in the open was frowned upon. How the times have changed.
Jan Rutten  

Rutten was born with lumpy breast syndrome. Over the years she checked herself out periodically only to be told she had nothing to worry about.

In May 2004, the breast cancer bus came to the Skyline Motor Inn in Carlyle. Her good friend Ardyth Philipation couldn’t make her appointment and offered Rutten her date and time. Rutten accepted the time slot and immediately found out she had breast cancer.  

Within a month, with the guidance from Carlyle Dr. Johann Geldenhuys and Regina surgeon Dr. Suzanne Meyer, Rutten was on the operating table and had her breast removed. The tumour was caught in time and Rutten did not require either chemotherapy or radiation. She now gets checked out annually and to this day remains cancer free. 

“I was fortunate and owe my life to Ardyth for giving me her space on the bus,” said Rutten. “To everyone out there, pleased get checked out regularly. As Dr. Geldenhuys told me, 90 per cent of the battle against cancer is having a positive attitude.”

Rutten is the proud and healthy mother of seven children, 15 grandchildren, and one great grandchild.  

Lenna Wilson  

In 1991, Lenna Wilson was living on the farm south of Wawota. She discovered a lump on her breast and made an appointment with local long-time physician Dr. Choo Foo.

He examined her and immediately called for a biopsy. She had an appointment in Regina within the week.  

Unfortunately, the growth was found to be cancerous but within 30 days of diagnosis, she had her surgery at the Plains Hospital in Regina. Her breast was removed and chemotherapy followed.  

After the mastectomy, Wilson was reluctant to return to work as the Wawota Parkland School librarian as she was unsure of the student reactions.

“But it was nothing but hugs that day and a sincere welcome back from all everyone,” she said. “When my hair started to fall out from the chemo treatments, one student inquired, ‘Mrs. Wilson, why is your hair falling out?’ I replied, ‘It is because of the drugs.’ He yelled out to me, ‘Mrs. Wilson, please always say no to drugs!’”  

Unfortunately, Wilson’s cancer recurred in 1994 and she had to endure an additional 36 treatments of radiation. This was successful and she has been cancer free for the past 28 years. 

Wilson’s son Chad took over the family farm many years ago and is well known in livestock circles for raising purebred Hereford cattle. Daughter Kristy and her husband Nathan Johnson reside in Estevan with their two children, Jada and Dane.

Lenna Wilson lives in Carlyle and is employed as an administration officer with Golf Kenosee.  

Wilson has also been a previous spokeswoman at the Creative Tables for Cancer event held in Arcola.

Sherry Zacharias and Tammie Riddell  

Breast cancer has no rules or boundaries. Sometimes it can be cured without issues, without chemotherapy, radiation or removal. Sometimes it can’t. Some will die from it.

And sometimes, fate brings you together in mysterious ways,   

Sherry Zacharias retired as a teacher from the Carlyle Elementary School in January 2022 after 21 years of service. She is now a substitute teacher. Tammie Riddell was born and raised in Carlyle and for the past seven years has also been a substitute teacher. 

Both were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019. Both had chemotherapy and radiation through nearly two years of a worldwide pandemic. Both elected to have double mastectomies for fear of recurrence. Both have “rang the bell” at the Allan Blair Cancer Centre. Both have developed lifelong friendships with each other.    

Zacharias’ family had a history of breast cancer and for years had worried about her acquiring the disease. Riddell discovered her cancer through self-examination. Both women provided the painstaking details on their road to recovery and the challenges of chemotherapy and radiation.  

Family support for both was strong.

“Husband Dean, daughter Brooklyn and son Kirk were my rocks, as was my mother-in-law Rosa Rolfe,” said Zacharias. “Our friends and families were there for support as well, whether it was phone calls, visits, gifts, gas gift cards, flowers and many travel companions to the city for appointments.

“In 2020, my good friend Nicole Currie helped me with the Look Good, Feel Good program. I would like to thank them again for always being there for me and my family. I couldn’t have won this battle without them.”  

“My entire family was tremendously supportive,” said Riddell. “The school and community encouragement were overwhelming. I had community chauffeurs, gas gift cards, food dropped off and even a parade. On Nolan’s hockey team, they even wore pink tape on their skates to support me.”  

Both Zacharias and Riddell are in the process of organizing a local support group for women with breast cancer. On Oct. 2 in Regina, Zacharias participated in her first CIBC Run for the Cure. Both were guest speakers in this year’s Creative Tables for Cancer event in Arcola on Oct. 13.

Zacharias is married to Dean, who was a high school English teacher in both Arcola and Carlyle. He retired in June 2021. Brooklyn is 26 and Kirk is 24. Brooklyn is getting married next year.  

Riddell is married to Jared, who is employed at Millennium Directional Services. They have four children, Madison, 21, Adrien, 19, Jaiden, 16, and Nolan, 15.  

Both women praised their doctors, the nurses of the Allan Blair Cancer Centre, and the Saskatchewan health care system. Both are well on their way to returning to normal lives. They have proved that with early detection and a positive attitude, cancer can indeed be beaten. 

Joel Carpenter

Together with his father Doug, Joel Carpenter grain farms and harvests around 4,000 acres near Wawota. Carpenter was 13 years old when his mother Shelley died from breast cancer in 2001.  

“My mom was diagnosed with cancer a few years earlier and had a tough time of it. Myself, my sister Colbi and brother Keegan, remember those days of her fighting it and keeping her head held high. She fought it to the end.”  

Shelley Carpenter was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995 and had a lumpectomy. The cancer then spread to her liver and also affected her vision. She was employed as a bookkeeper at D & D Lumber Mart and then with Darren and Troy Swanson. She also worked for the Wawota Health Board.  

Shelley Carpenter was very personable, particular and a perfectionist. Prior to her passing she wrote letters to her husband and to each of her children about how much she loved them and how much she wanted them to excel in life.    

“Mom was a very positive person and wanted to make sure we all did well in life. She had big hopes and dreams for all of us. I miss her a lot,” said Joel Carpenter.

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