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At 20, Dalia Schaffer was in her third year at McGill University in Montreal studying psychology.
Five days before Reading Week, Dalia made a startling discovery: she had a lump in her breast.
"I immediately texted my parents and called our family doctor," she recalls.
A week later, with her mom by her side, Dalia went to an appointment at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre for a mammogram and ultrasound.
"I felt my stomach drop when they called my mom into the room," Dalia says. "The radiologist told us it appeared to be cancer and ordered a follow-up biopsy."
Dalia is sharing her story as part of The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation's Doves of Hope campaign, an annual fundraising initiative to advance cancer research and patient care. The campaign sees donors write messages of hope on paper doves, which are strung throughout the cancer centre.
Every gift is a message of hope for patients and their families.
In the case of Dalia, her family history includes a BRCA-1 mutation, which makes breast cancer more likely to develop.
The biopsy confirmed what Dalia had been dreading.
"I was diagnosed with Stage 3 triple negative breast cancer, cancer in my lymph nodes and the BRCA-1 mutation," she says. “I had no idea that someone who is my age could be diagnosed with breast cancer.
"When you are 20 years old, you don't think too much about hope. This changed for me when I was diagnosed that day.
"I suddenly needed a reason for hope, and I'm talking about deep, life-sustaining hope that carries you through the most difficult times."
'Hope makes a life-changing difference for cancer patients like me'
The Princess Margaret team moved swiftly to create a treatment plan. Dalia was assured her cancer was treatable and that she was going to be okay.
After freezing her eggs, she underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and right complete lymph node dissection. That was followed by breast reconstruction, 25 rounds of radiation and six months of oral chemotherapy, with a couple more months of treatment to go.
"Since my diagnosis and throughout my treatment journey, I've been treated with nothing but compassion, positivity and respect by the team at the Princess Margaret," Dalia says, adding the Doves she saw on her way to radiation treatment gave her inspiration.
This year, Dalia is dedicating her Dove to other young breast cancer patients.
Doves can be dedicated to anyone – a friend or family member who has been diagnosed with cancer, someone you have lost, a team member at the Princess Margaret, a supportive family member or someone you know who has been touched by cancer.
"My story is about meeting challenges and overcoming obstacles," Dalia says. “I want to let others know it is possible to survive and thrive with a cancer diagnosis at a young age and how hope makes a life-changing difference for cancer patients like me."
Today, Dalia has returned to McGill University to complete the final year of her degree.
"I'm so thankful for the love and support that I received from my family, my dog, Leo, my roommates, McGill friends, high school friends, old friends and new friends," she says.