In this together: The newly launched PYNK program is meeting the unique needs of young women with breast cancer.
Sandra vividly recalls the moment her life was upended.
The 31-year-old had been referred to Mount Sinai Hospital after discovering a large lump in her breast.
“I was prepared to learn that I had breast cancer,” recalls Sandra of that first, fateful appointment with Dr. Christine Brezden-Masley, Medical Director of the Cancer Program at Sinai Health. “But I had no idea that I’d be dealing with Stage IV.”
Sandra’s diagnosis happened to coincide with Mount Sinai’s introduction of the PYNK: Young Women with Breast Cancer program, designed to meet the unique needs of women 45 and younger who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Those specific needs can include everything from fertility preservation to balancing work with treatments to helping navigate new personal partnerships.
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre’s Odette Cancer Centre created the groundbreaking program in 2004. Thanks to the generous support of the Jesin Neuberger Charitable Foundation, it has now expanded to serve patients at Mount Sinai’s Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre and the Juravinski Cancer Centre at Hamilton Health Sciences.
A program like PYNK is invaluable to a historically underserved, yet growing, patient population. While young women make up a smaller portion of those diagnosed, the incidence of advanced breast cancer at diagnosis is increasing in women between the ages of 25 and 39.
When Sandra learned about PYNK and the opportunity to help pilot the program at Sinai Health, she jumped at the chance. “It can be overwhelming to navigate the physical and mental impacts of cancer. I feel so supported knowing that there’s always someone an email or phone call away to answer my questions and walk me through it,” says Sandra, who has formed a special bond with PYNK Coordinator, Linda Muraca.
“Talking to Linda is like catching up with a friend. She creates a safe space where I can ask or share anything,” she explains.
Linda works closely with PYNK social worker Victoria Calleja to provide patients with invaluable support, including help navigating the complex health-care system. “They help me follow up with surgeons, doctors, nurses and administration – there’s a lot when you’re dealing with cancer,” says Sandra. “But PYNK has my back.”
Sandra became PYNK’s first patient at Sinai Health in October 2022, and the program currently supports 30 young women with breast cancer. With an expanding team that now includes a nurse navigator, social worker and research coordinator, its life-changing impact at Sinai Health has only begun.
“PYNK is helping me live my best, fullest life in the time I’ve been given,” says Sandra. “I don’t know how long this journey will be, but I know that Sinai Health will be by my side.”
Illustration by Jeannie Phan