Sherry Dunn was 44 years old when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer.
It was just a year and a half ago that she found a lump in her breast. Further tests revealed two lumps - and then three.
"I was completely freaked out," said the Robert Bateman Secondary School art teacher. "Every test, it was getting worse."
The official diagnosis came on May 24, 2011, the day of her brother's birthday, when she found out it was stage three invasive, aggressive cancer.
Like most women, Dunn was in shock at the beginning, but she set about learning everything she could about the disease.
Further tests revealed the cancer had not moved into her bones and it was not stage four.
"I could breathe again," she remembered, after hearing that piece of 'good news.'
Dunn and her friends also knew she was a fighter, and surrounding herself with positive people, she set about her treatment in the summer of 2011: eight months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumour before she could have the surgery.
"She was fearless and driven," said her friend and mentor Joanne Houghton, a retired bank manager who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001.
They had known each other for 13 years, during which time Dunn would come into the TD branch on Sumas Way with artwork from her students to be displayed at the bank.
Houghton has supported Dunn since her diagnosis.
"We call ourselves 'breast buddies'," she said.
"It's important to have a mentor to help you navigate through the system."
Houghton invited Dunn to come out to False Creek in Vancouver and watch her dragon boat team, Spirit Abreast, race in a regatta.
What happened next was another life-changing moment.
"I saw hundreds of breast cancer survivors. It was really powerful - the races and the breast cancer ceremony," said Dunn.
"I could see the light at the end of the tunnel."
The whole experience gave her friend hope, recalled Houghton.
"Anybody with cancer has to have hope."
Dunn joined the Spirit Abreast team shortly after, and paddled with them at Cultus Lake all summer while undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
It was just what she needed, to be surrounded by other women who knew what she was going through.
"It's been completely fantastic," said Dunn. "They give you insight and they're completely frank."
"Dragon boating saved me," she said. "After 10 years I never reconciled myself to what I had been through. After joining the team, everything about my body is better because I was exercising. It's such a wonderful way for a majority of [breast cancer survivors] to be in a community of people who understand."
Dunn had her surgery and reconstruction at the same time in early January, 2012.
"When I woke up from the surgery, I was smiling," she mused.
"The cancer was out of my body. It was so huge. It was such a relief to have it gone."
Although still involved in clinical trials, Dunn is now cancer-free and raced with her Spirit Abreast dragon boat team at regattas this past summer, and even won a silver medal in Penticton three weeks ago.
She's also back teaching nearly full time at Bateman, where students in the Junior Wolf Pack leadership class signed the running shoes she'll be wearing in this weekend's CIBC Run for the Cure.
"It's really important for students and young women to be aware of breast health," she said.
"Without the research and funds, my prognosis would have been very different."
- To donate to the Spirit Abreast team, go to runforthecure.com, click on 'Donate', and find the team. This year's Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure in the Abbotsford-Fraser Valley takes place Sept. 30 at Rotary Stadium with opening ceremonies starting at 9:30 a.m.
The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure is the largest single-day, volunteer-led national event in Canada in support of breast cancer.
This year, the CIBC Run for the Cure in Abbotsford-Fraser Valley will take place at Rotary Stadium with opening ceremonies starting at 9:30 a.myear, the CIBC Run for the Cure in Abbotsford-Fraser Valley will take place at Rotary Stadium with opening ceremonies starting at 9:30 a.m.