Kimberley’s Sherah Martin-Pretty, alongside her team of “Sherah’s Sherpas” consisting of friends and family, are participating in Breast Cancer Canada’s Walk-a-Thon to help raise funds for research and improving care for breast cancer patients.
Martin-Pretty is a mother of three who works as a nurse and is a team lead with Kimberley Search and Rescue. A stage-three breast cancer patient, Martin-Pretty is among the third generation of women in her family impacted by the disease.
She knew other people who had gone through breast cancer and had been connected with Breast Cancer Canada, so she’s been following the organization for some time. She got involved with the Walk-a-Thon to help support ongoing research for treatment and improving patient care.
Martin-Pretty originally joined the walk with her mother, her aunt and other family members, and the event has grown to around 14 or 15 since then.
The official Mother’s Day walk is on May 14, and Martin-Pretty will be walking it in Ottawa with her mom, but the event itself runs from April 14 to May 14 and people can join in at any time for the virtual walk.
“I think the Walk-A-Thon is a great event in that daily physical activity helps reduce the risk of not only breast cancer but cancers in general,” Martin-Pretty said. “So I think the concept of doing a 30-day walking challenge is great to promote that physical activity and reduce some of those cancer risks as well.”
In addition to Breast Cancer Canada’s research towards scientific discovery in the pursuit of ending breast cancer, Martin-Pretty said she like the work they do in supporting individuals affected by the disease with mental health resources and educational pieces.
Living in a more rural community like Kimberley, Martin-Pretty is also aware of the challenges faced by people who are impacted by a diagnosis like breast cancer and the barriers to care they must overcome.
“I think Kimberley is a double-edged sword,” she said. “It is an amazing community of people, and so I’ve had a huge network of support from friends around the area which is awesome. But being a rural community we sometimes encounter barriers in accessing health care within our region, and particularly for individuals going through cancer treatments.”
She added that while she feels the oncology unit at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook is amazing for all the work they do throughout this region and the number of patients they support for breast cancer and all other cancers, its capacity is limited.
“That sometimes increases wait times for access to treatment for individuals, and particularly for a lot of treatments involved in breast cancer, like radiation, we have to travel to Kelowna, the nearest centre that can offer radiation currently,” she explained.
She herself went through six weeks of daily radiation treatments and lived in Kelowna for six weeks, which of course comes with some expense.
“I’ve been doing chemo treatments, radiation, surgeries, different regimes since 2019, and I think in one year alone I had $17,000 in medical expenses,” she said. “So as much as there’s amazing resources locally, I think there is more we can do over time to reduce the barriers for people accessing breast cancer treatments and cancer treatment in general.”
The top three individual fundraisers this year will be rewarded with a donation to their local cancer centres from Breast Cancer Canada. That was part of her motivation to join the Walk-a-Thon as she said she’d love to see some funds come back to local oncology.
“I think that’s certainly something for myself and everybody else I know, when you initially get that diagnosis, that lag that can happen between having a diagnosis and accessing treatment can create a lot of anxiety,” Martin-Pretty said. “Once you’re in treatment and doing something about it it helps, but anybody having to wait or having any barriers to accessing I think is huge.”
Another key point for her campaign is promoting awareness and the need to be proactive, to do self checks and the importance catching things early. Both of her grandmothers had breast cancer, as did her great grandmother and aunt.
“Everybody faces a number of challenges throughout their lifetime,” she said. “When you know it runs in your family, you know there’s a higher risk. I think you need to be able to be proactive on doing those self checks and accessing health care to make sure you’re getting the care that you need in a timely manner.”
She added that even for her, by the time it was caught the cancer had advancedsignificantly into lymph nodes and spread. This made the initial treatment very challenging, as she couldn’t do surgery initially. She first underwent several rounds of chemotherapy to shrink it so they could get margins for the surgery.
However, she has been on a waitlist for the surgery since 2020.She wants to reiterate the importance of early detection.
“I think it’s important to be aware and to be proactive and to find a sense of control about meeting your own care needs,” she said. “Early screening and catching things early is huge within cancer treatments. It definitely gives people a much better fighting chance when you can have a little bit of control in catching things early before they get out of hand.”
To support her campaign, you can donate by visiting mothersdaywalk.ca and searching “Sherah’s Sherpas” under the Support a Particpant tab.
Martin-Pretty starts her next round of treatment in the first week of May and will then be spending time with her mom to recover.
Because her family is based out of the Ottawa area, it’s timed out as such that she’ll be able to be there for the Walk-a-Thon on Mother’s Day and get to do the walk alongside friends and family including her mom, and her aunt Brenda who is a breast cancer survivor and retired nurse, who she has always looked up to.