Kate Bilson’s Breast Cancer Journey: Living Life in a Kind & Generous Way

When introducing themselves, people usually start by describing what they do in their professional life…

Kate Bilson may begin her answer this way, by describing her career as a lawyer and privacy officer, but at the center of her life are her family and friends. Kate gained her greatest insight into the importance of community after she was diagnosed with breast cancer on August 8th, 2019.

The night before Kate was leaving for Italy to celebrate a family member, she found a lump in her left breast from a self-exam. Knowing something wasn’t right, she immediately scheduled an appointment with her family doctor for her return. She made a conscious effort during her trip to conceal any trepidation she had. Upon her return, and after a visit to her family doctor, Kate got a life-changing phone-call while at work.

“The day of diagnosis I felt like I was shot into outer space and everything became very surreal very quickly. Everything was a little bit strange. I had been living this pretty normal life and then all of the sudden I was catapulted into a completely different world. I just remember sitting at my desk and listening to my family doctor tell me the news and kind of feeling immediately paralyzed and then just falling apart when I got off the phone.”

Thankfully, Kate’s family doctor had proactively booked her an appointment at the Breast Health Program at the Foothills Hospital and was quickly able to discuss her pathology results with Dr. May Lynn Quan. Originally, the plan was to have surgery to remove the tumor first. However, due to a combination of age and the specific kind of tumor, Kate underwent chemotherapy first to quickly slow the growth of the tumor and prevent cancer spread. Early detection with the self-exam yielded a still isolated tumor. Under the primary care of Dr. Marc Webster, Kate underwent chemotherapy from August to December 2019, had surgery in January of 2020, then 20 rounds of radiation just as the COVID-19 lockdown started. Dr. Quan and Dr. Sia were also key contributors to her care. Debra Carnat was also a huge help for Kate’s emotional wellbeing.

“Once the cancer centre went into full lockdown I had to go to all of my appointments by myself, I couldn’t take anybody with me anymore. My husband had been coming with me to my appointments and my friends would step in when he wasn’t able to. Then I was launched into this world of being alone during treatment.”

Kate’s cancer odyssey was lined with kind gestures. A friend sent a care package every round of chemo because she couldn’t be physically there, Kate’s husband curated a ‘cheerleader’ playlist made up of her family and friend’s suggested songs to play on her way to chemo and to help when she felt low. Another friend came to give her a needed injection of medication after each chemo session. There were caring phone-calls, cards, walks, visits, help with meals from dear friends, and beautiful flower arrangements. Kate is so grateful to her beloved stepson, daughter-in-law, and sister-in-law who would come to stay with her if her husband had to be away for work. Kate’s 12-year-old son was also a great support to his mom.

“My son has been amazing he would make me cards to take to chemo, he would dance with me in the kitchen, read magazines with me, he would bring me a snack, and get me outside every day. He’s been my little ray of sunshine.”

Kate has spent a lot of time this year feeling grateful despite her hardships.

“I call it my sacred circle of family and friends. Before the lockdown, when the world was more normal, I had people traveling all the way through chemo to spend time and help and do what they could. I feel extraordinarily lucky for that and extraordinarily grateful to have the kind of support I’ve had. It’s reminded me how much the people in my life mean to me. There were a lot of dark days but a lot of reasons to stay hopeful and find the good in each day, even when I was feeling terrible”

Through her philanthropy with the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Kate feels that her inspiration for giving is multifaceted.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the Alberta Cancer Foundation does. It’s been a life-changing experience. I’m grateful for every nurse, doctor, everyone I’ve run into at Tom Baker as they have been nothing but encouraging, compassionate and positive.”

“I also feel very grateful that things are looking positive for me. If I can draw one positive from this year of treatment it would be that that there has been a lot of time to think about what’s really important to me. I’ve had a lot of time to think about how grateful I am for the life that I have. I’m in a position to help in this kind of way- I want to do that. I am doing it also as a celebration that I got through my year of treatment and that I’m still here. I think the work that the Alberta Cancer Foundation does, and that Dr. Webster, Dr. Quan, and Dr. Sia do every day is amazing. This is my way of saying thank you for all that.”

Kate is now recovering emotionally and physically from her cancer journey. As she processes the emotional trauma and lingering side-effects that often accompany cancer treatment, Kate is staying active, harnessing her gratitude, and showing kindness.

“I believe in living in a kind and generous way, that’s how I was raised. Those are still values that are really important to me, along with being open to diversity and being curious about different perspectives. Those are all guiding principles for the way I live my life.”