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Mildred Butler was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 32 years old. The 90-year-old Corner Brook woman says her story is proof cancer can be beaten
Mildred Butler was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 32 years old. The 90-year-old Corner Brook woman says her story is proof cancer can be beaten - Diane Crocker

For a young mother with four children at home, finding a lump in your breast can be a frightening experience.

When it happened to Mildred Butler at the age of 32 it wasn’t surprising that her first thoughts went to cancer.

Now 90, Butler is likely one of the oldest breast cancer survivors in this province.

Butler shared her story with The Western Star as she sat in her room at Mountain View Retirement Centre in Corner Brook.

Butler was living in Clarke’s Beach all those years ago. Her husband Harold Butler, who died in 2006, worked with Canada Post travelling with the mail on the railroad.

He would be gone for a couple of weeks at a time and Butler stayed home with the children (Dianne, Gary, Cheryl and Derrick). The children ranged in age from seven years old to 15 months.

One morning after waking up Butler rubbed her hand across her chest and found a lump.

She knew it was unusual.

“Of course, I heard about lumps and cancer,” she said. There is a strong family history of all types of the disease in her family.

“It was sort of on my mind. So, I went to the doctor right away,” she said.

“Yes, I was scared, but I kind of had a feeling that there was something was going to be done.”

Leaving her children behind she went to St. John’s where she underwent a radical mastectomy of her right breast. That was the first step in treating the cancer.

After she underwent radium and cobalt treatments for about six months.

“I had to go every day and take my treatment,” she said.

Those six months felt like six years to her eldest daughter, Dianne Butler.

At seven she was fully aware of what was happening and recalls how the news of her mother’s illness quickly spread around the community. Another child even told her that their mother and father said she was going to die.

Not having her mom there for events like Mother’s Day was hard and she would pray that her mom would be OK when she had to go for checkups.

For the next five years Butler travelled to St. John’s for regular checkups before being declared cancer free.

“And I’ve had no problems since,” she said with a big smile on her face.

“I guess I was lucky.”

After the young mother recovered, life went on as it had before her illness and her children took up a lot of her time. Three years after her surgery she gave birth to her fifth child, Wendy (Keats).

Still the disease impacted her.

“I was a bit nervous, thinking will it come back.”

The family moved to Corner Brook when Dianne was 13 and then went to Mount Pearl. They made the move back to Corner Brook in 1970. Mr. Butler was active in the community and she was involved in helping him out. She also did a fair bit of skiing.

All these years later Butler believes her story is one that can inspire other women facing a cancer diagnosis today.  

She encourages women to check for lumps and to get them looked at by a doctor.

The diagnosis and treatment process has changed a lot, and she said to try not to worry about it.

“It can be cured. I had it and got over it and there’s always something to do about it.

“There’s hope, definitely.”

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