Passage to Higher Ground
In July 2019, on the eve of a much-anticipated departure for a family vacation in Italy, Kate Bilson found a lump in her breast.
“I knew right away it wasn’t okay. Something in my heart said this is trouble. The next morning before we boarded the plane I called my doctor and said I need to see you as soon as I get back.”
At 47, Kate was at the pinnacle of her law career, working as Chief Privacy Officer and employment lawyer for a major pipeline company. Her pace was frantic, but Kate loved her job, and family life with her 11-year-old son at the center, was solid and happy. Though every hour of Kate’s day was scheduled, the world made sense.
And then it didn’t.
“No one knew about the lump except my husband so the whole time we were away I tried to put on a brave face and act normal.” If all seemed well on the outside, inside fear was building. Breast cancer was a factor on Kate’s maternal side, and she had lost her dad to brain cancer at age 15.
Upon their return, a biopsy confirmed the unthinkable, a less common and more aggressive form of breast cancer.
“I was at work in my office when I got the call with the results from my biopsy. I fell apart. Thankfully, I work with unbelievably kind and supportive people – all my co-workers rallied around me.”
Chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, and radiation ensued in rapid succession, all within one year. The side effects were, at times, insufferable for Kate, but the treatment was successful – the cancer eliminated. Kate credits the Calgary Breast Health Program and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and specifically Dr. Webster, Dr. Quan, and Dr. Sia with saving her life. Through tears, she communicates boundless praise and gratitude for her extraordinary medical oncology team.
Kate also credits Wellspring Calgary with playing a vital role in rebuilding her health and wellness.
“Wellspring has been so important to me throughout this cancer odyssey – I simply would not be doing so well without the programs, compassion, and genuine kindness of this community.”
Kate took part programs at Carma House before it closed due to the pandemic, and now she enjoys programs online. “I’ve done art workshops with my son – those were really great for both of us – especially the ones where he could spend time with other kids of parents with cancer. I do as many of the Living Well sessions as I can, this is my favourite program. I’ve also participated in Yoga and iRest® – both really important for my physical strength and also for my spirit.” More recently, Kate added the Return to Work program to her slate of Wellspring activities.
In August, as her treatment was wrapping up, Kate called Wellspring with the spectacular news that her cancer appears to be gone, and that she plans to commemorate the victory with a gift to Wellspring.
“I wanted to do something to mark the end of a year that forever changed my world. To celebrate this one-year milestone, I’m giving a $10,000 donation that I hope can partially help fund more family programs.
For Wellspring the news is magnificent on both fronts … Kate’s cancer treatment a success, and her incredibly generous donation to help ensure that others can freely enjoy programs and support.
Kate says a positive outcome of her difficult year was being able to pause and look at life. “I learned to breathe again, both physically and mentally. I’m resetting and questioning everything. What do I want my life to be about? What do I want it to mean? I still want to work, I love my job and the people, but I’m planning to take some of the lessons I learned at Wellspring and Tom Baker into the next phase of my life, understanding that there’s a lot more to life than what’s in your calendar.
For Kate, the prospect of losing her hair became far more distressing when her son expressed that he was worried he would not recognize his mom without hair. To quell his fears, Kate decided to try Cold Cap Therapy, offered at a cost similar to a wig, but designed to prevent hair loss by stopping chemotherapy drugs from reaching hair follicles. The process worked. Kate kept her hair throughout treatment, mitigating the stress on her loved ones. “On chemo days I would spend up to eight hours with this frozen cap on my head and with my hands and feet packed in ice. It was tortuous but worth it. I think for my family it was a game-changer to keep me looking like myself.”