The diagnosis hit her dad and brother hard.
At 17, Deb Middleton had lost her mother to breast cancer.
Now, at 33, she, too, was facing the same disease.
“It was incredibly difficult for my family,” the Port Coquitlam resident recalled. “They didn’t want to go through the pain again.”
A native of the Isle of Man, a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea, Middleton had originally moved to Canada to work as a nanny, caring for three young children.
She loved her life — and was healthy and strong — so the medical results came back as a shock.
Luckily, though, the illness was caught early and she made a full recovery after surgery.
It was around this time that “Dr. Don” entered her life, she said.
In 1996, Dr. Don McKenzie sought to disprove a UBC study that concluded women who had breast cancer shouldn’t do upper-body exercises because they would develop lymphedema.
For his hypothesis, he picked 24 women from the Lower Mainland — including Middleton — to start a program called Abreast In A Boat, the world’s first dragon boat paddle team made up only of female breast cancer survivors.
Middleton took to the sport like a duck to water, even leading the crew.
But the following year, the cancer returned. She underwent radiation only to find it come back two years later, quite aggressively.
Again, Middleton licked the disease.
Today, she proudly states, “I’m clear. I’m fabulous and I’m so, so lucky. I live and love every day.”
And she ensures she stays active.
A manager of a group home for special needs adults in Maple Ridge, Middleton kayaks, hikes, camps and travels regularly.
She also hasn’t missed a year with Abreast In A Boat and also coaches the Al-O-Wetters, a women’s dragon boat paddling club team in Pitt Meadows now in its sixth year.
Middleton keeps in touch with her doctor for check-ups now and then, and she often shares her cancer story with others.
Sunday, she’ll talk about her medical journeys before thousands of people in front of the Hyde Creek recreation centre, where Terry Fox Hometown Run organizers have invited her to be the keynote speaker.
There, Middleton said she’ll praise Fox for embarking on his 1980 Marathon of Hope and for paving the way for cancer research and awareness.
“I want to thank Terry Fox for what he did and for the money he raised. It has helped many people, including myself.”
Afterward, with her red Terry’s Team member T-shirt on, she’ll stand in the front of the line — with other cancer survivors — to kick off the annual run, an event she’s taken part in nearly every year with her friends and other sister paddlers.
SIGN UP FOR LOCAL TERRY FOX RUNS
You can take part in one of the four Terry Fox runs in the Tri-Cities on Sunday, Sept. 16:
• in Fox’s hometown of PoCo (10 a.m. start at Hyde Creek recreation centre, 1379 Laurier St., with three-time cancer survivor Debbie Middleton delivering the keynote speech);
• Coquitlam (10 a.m. start at Mundy Park, 641 Hillcrest St., with Marathon of Hope publicist Bill Vigars delivering the keynote);
• Port Moody (10 a.m. start at Rocky Point Park, 2800-block of Murray St.);
• and Anmore (12:30 p.m. start at Spirit Park, 2697 Sunnyside Rd. with Terry Fox Foundation BC/Yukon director Donna White as keynote).
Register in advance online via terryfox.org.
Do you remember Terry Fox training in the Tri-Cities for the Marathon of Hope? Send us your story, to be published in our Friday edition. Email your words and photos to: email@example.com by Thursday morning.