Brenda Gouthro was always a fighter. She worked as a nurse in Boston from 1971 to 2008. A 37-year tenure that included head nurse of a department in which no one wanted to work. “They wanted me to take over as head nurse because everybody that took the job quit,” she said.
Before Boston she worked at a hospital in Newfoundland where she says, “I delivered eight babies all by myself.” Brenda is not someone to back away from a challenge.
Then, nine years after retiring and moving back to her hometown of Dominion, Nova Scotia and her old house, she developed a Stage 4 Breast Cancer.
Fighting Breast Cancer has been the biggest fight of Brenda Gouthro’s life. The statistics are grim at her stage of cancer. Statistics Canada says that, “less than 5% were diagnosed at Stage 4” but that “females aged 60 to 79 had higher rates of Stage 4 [cancer] than younger counterparts.” According to Statistics Canada most Breast Cancer is detected at Stage 1 and 2 because of access to breast screening methods such as Mammograms.
“It is estimated,” according to the Canadian Cancer Society, “that 1 in 8 Canadian women will develop Breast Cancer during her life time and 1 in 31 will die from it.” In other words, to use 2017 statistics, 300 women developed the disease and 5000 women died.
This being said, Breast Cancer researchers such as John K. Urban, Barbara L. Smith, and Alphonse G. Taghian in their book Breast Cancer: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Diagnosis and Management, suggest that because of the collaboration in the medical society for evaluation and treatment, “the result over the past decade has been a sustained fall in breast cancer – specific mortality, attributable to more effective screening modalities and partly to advances in science that have led to more effective treatments” (p. 1).
Brenda’s hometown roots indeed shine through in the two story, yellow, home she bought and renovated. This is the home in which she grew up and inside is now decorated with pictures of family and friends (some still living while others past on) as well as vacation souvenirs. One such souvenir is an eclectic beer stein she bought in Germany.
Friendships are important to Brenda. She remembers Marie, her closest friend growing up and says, “the friends you had you had forever.” It’s “the people you meet and the friends you keep,” she says, “that are important.” Marie died of Breast Cancer shortly after Brenda retired and moved back home.
Some of Brenda’s friendships journeyed with her through Europe and even encouraged her to pick up the game of golf when she already skied and played tennis. She claims that when she retired, she golfed with the nicest people who became friends.
The importance of friendship in Brenda’s life is paramount to her success in life. She values the friendship of a true friend. Rose Marie Campbell a family friend of Brenda, says, that “she is loyal to her friends” and she always “keeps in contact” with those who she befriended. Campbell also says that, “she is very independent” since she “lived by herself for many years.” Now she plays the game of Bridge for both companionship and stragedy. She even aims for the title of Master Bridge player which is no small feat.
Brenda was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer in June of 2017. July 4, she received her first surgery to remove her breast. Later that summer, doctors did a sampling of lymph nodes to be positive, so she had to go back for more surgery to remove lymph nodes in August. First Chemo session began on October 18, the anniversary of her mom’s birthday. “I felt like she was sitting right beside me,” she said.
Once she thought the Breast Cancer was cured, doctors found a polyp in her uterus with high grades of Cancer. “Once it is all out,” she said, “I am going to consider myself cured. I am going to lick this.” Doctors won’t give a person “the high sign until you’re five years out,” and “Stage 4’s can win the race too and I am planning on being one of them,” she said.
Brenda has, since this interview in January, been diagnosed to be Cancer Free. This is not a cure because the thing about Cancer is that it can always return. This Cancer free diagnosis, however, can give her back a little piece of that “freedom to be” that she values so much about being alive. She can live for the moment and check off her bucket list, of which, one thing is to go to Ireland and another to win a Bridge tournament in Nashville so she can become a Master Bridge player. This is what you do when life hands you a lemon, you make lemonade.