When the streets of Toronto turn pink and white as thousands turn out to fundraise for breast cancer research next month, it'll be especially poignant for one Mississauga mother.
On Oct. 1, Maria Igreja will be among those participating in the Canadian Cancer Society CIBC Run for the Cure — Canada's largest single-day fundraiser for breast cancer research.
Igreja has taken part in the event since 2018, but this year is special. Igreja is now a breast cancer survivor.
"This year is a little bit more personal in that I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year," Igreja told CBC Toronto this week. "It's going to be, I think, a more emotional event for me this year."
Igreja said she is grateful to be alive.
Last year on Oct. 2, Igreja volunteered at the Run for the Cure in Toronto, helping to set up what is called the hope tent — a tent for survivors and women and men going through breast cancer treatment.
Less three weeks later, on Oct. 19, Igreja went for a routine mammogram herself, only to find out she had a tumour. Subsequent biopsy results confirmed it was stage 1B breast cancer.
1 in 8 women will have breast cancer, organization says
Treatment included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, ending in June.
Igreja said she had a lumpectomy, in which cancerous tissue in a breast is removed, instead of a mastectomy, in which a breast is removed. She lost her hair, but it is now growing back.
"Finally, June 7 of this year, I finally rang the bell!"
Igreja is far from alone. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, one in eight women will have breast cancer in their lifetime. Still, the organization says, the breast cancer death rate in women has been nearly cut in half since its peak in 1986 due to improvements in prevention, detection and treatment.
It says 89 per cent of women and 76 per cent of men with breast cancer in Canada survive at least five years past their diagnosis.
Erica Igreja, who has volunteered as a run director in Toronto for the past six years, says: 'I know my mom. She's strong and she's a fighter and I knew she would overcome this.' (Submitted by Erica Igreja)
Tanya Henry, vice-president of signature programs for the society, said millions of dollars raised at events such as the Run for the Cure make a difference.
"The Run for the Cure is incredibly important to the breast cancer community. Every year over the last five years, thanks to the run, we've been able to invest over $60 million in the best breast cancer research across Canada," Henry said.
"The funds raised by the Run for the Cure are primarily invested in breast cancer research and programs to support people that are in the midst of a breast cancer diagnosis. And that could be investments in late stage research and clinical trials, or that could be supporting our online wig bank, or one of the many lodges that we have across the country that allow people to stay close to the hospital where they're receiving their treatment."
In a news release, the organization said funds also go toward programs like transportation services, accommodation, an online community and a toll-free helpline.
Mammogram 'saved' her life
Henry said the Toronto run, which begins at Nathan Phillips Square and is considered the society's marquee event, is expected to raise more than $2 million and nearly 10,000 people are expected to take part. In 2022, 45,000 Canadians who participated in the Run for the Cure raised more than $13 million.
For Igreja, volunteering at the Run for the Cure is a family affair. Her daughter, Erica Igreja, who has volunteered as a run director in Toronto for the past six years, became a volunteer before her mother.
"I know my mom. She's strong and she's a fighter and I knew she would overcome this," Erica said.
Maria and Eric Igreja say volunteering at the Run for the Cure is a family affair. (Laura Pedersen/CBC)
Igreja said her daughter was "her rock" during treatment.
"She's been my support over the last six years, attending the event to support me, and now I'm here to support her," she said.
Igreja will be walking at the event, rather than running. But either way, she says reaching the finish line will be important this year.
"Crossing that finish line is always a treat. It's a very emotional time. That's when you see people's emotions actually come out. And I'm kind of looking forward to that this year."
Igreja is also urging other women to get a routine mammogram, saying: "It could save lives. It saved mine. I believe it saved mine because I caught it early."