When Anastasia Chomlack was told she had cancer in late July, it came as a shock.
The 39-year-old mother of two lived a healthy lifestyle, had no family history of cancer and was symptom-free. “It wasn’t even on my radar,” she said.
But nonetheless, the Pemberton resident was diagnosed with HER2-positive invasive ductal carcinoma, an aggressive form of breast cancer.
When the shock subsided, Chomlack and her family opted to take an even more aggressive course of treatment. Their decision was soon confirmed when, in only five weeks, Chomlack’s tumor had tripled in size.
Fortunately for Chomlack, an immunotherapy drug called Herceptin was recently approved for use in Canada to treat her specific variation of cancer. Administered through chemotherapy and followed with hormone therapy, she said it’s responsible for lowering what would have been a 50 per cent chance of the cancer metastasizing to a five to 10 per cent chance.
“Five years ago my cancer would have been a death sentence,” Chomlack explained.
She’s also turned to alternative treatments like mistletoe, and sees a naturopath to complement the chemotherapy.
So far, the treatments seem to be working: Chomlack said her tumour has shrunk by nearly 90 per cent since she began chemotherapy. But while the chemo is covered under B.C. health care, the alternative — and costly — treatments are not.
Chomlack, a well-known wedding photographer and founder of the Whistler Wedding Collective, is also taking a year off from her business to focus on healing.
When Chomlack’s friend Liz Tiedeman first heard about Chomlack’s diagnosis, Tiedeman said “it was pretty devastating, to say the least.”
Tiedeman, an event planner and self-described “do-er,” said she knew high costs would be associated with Chomlack’s treatment and wanted to help.
Chomlack’s friends launched a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the financial burden that accompanies a cancer diagnosis, and also, upon Chomlack’s request, to give back to others facing a similar diagnosis. Soon after, her friends also began planning a fundraising event.
“I didn’t really have a choice with the fundraiser or the GoFundMe,” laughed Chomlack. “They took over and just did it. I think my friends know us better than we know ourselves.”
That event, held at North Arm Farm in Pemberton on Saturday (Oct. 15), featured dinner, dancing and an auction. It drew over 200 people to support Chomlack — one guest even flew in from Fiji for the occasion.
While the final tally has yet to be counted, Tiedeman estimates the event raised well over $35,000, in addition to the over $37,600 already donated via the crowdfunding campaign.
“It was a very special night that we will all remember forever,” wrote Tiedeman in an email on Sunday.
While Chomlack and her husband, Chad, initially wanted to keep her diagnosis private, Chomlack said they’ve since been proven wrong.
“My husband and I are constantly blown away by this community,” she said. “We daily find ourselves in tears over the generosity of people. It’s been a very humbling and amazing experience. I feel fortunate in some ways that I’m going through this and I get to experience this kind of community support.”
Although Chomlack said her cancer treatment “feels like a full-time job,” her positive outlook has enabled her to find a benefit in a difficult situation.
“I keep saying that I think this cancer is not happening to me, it’s happening for me,” she said. “It made me pause, take a deep breath and slow down, and realize how fast I was going… My life moving forward will look very different.”
To donate to the campaign, go to gofundme.com/anastasiachomlack.