Montana McLean-Gregoire poses outside the cancer centre for her last check up after nine years.
By Dan Rankin
When DCVI grad Montana McLean-Gregoire was 18, her mother Nikki told her about the BRCA1 gene mutation, also known as the early-onset cancer gene. It’s a gene that is commonly present in women who develop breast cancer before they turn 30. The gene runs in Montana’s family.
Montana McLean-Gregoire, second from left, in the field with a white sturgeon.
“When my mom explained this to me, she asked if I wanted to be genetically tested to see if I was also a carrier,” she said. “Having just finished my first year of university at Guelph and enrolled in a genetics course, I understood I had a 50:50 chance of being a carrier.”
But even if it meant finding out that she had the gene, and would be at a higher risk of developing cancer, she wanted to know, because “knowledge is power.”
The news that yes, she did carry the gene, might have been scary, but, due to the Ontario Cancer Genetic Testing Program, she was able to receive her genetic testing for free. Then, “once I was diagnosed as being a carrier as well as having a strong family history with the disease, I was established as a participant in the Ontario Breast Screening Program,” she said. “I was closely monitored annually and sometimes bi-annually. This close monitoring is what saved my life.”
That’s why she wanted to start up a team for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run For The Cure, which takes place in London and other cities across the country Oct. 4.
“Research programs like the one I was involved with save lives every day,” she said. “Early detection and screening programs work. I’m proof of that and I am determined to help raise money that will contribute to the research and development required to eradicate breast cancer for good.”
On Oct.4, Montana’s family and friends from around Southwestern Ontario will be running in London under the team name “Tana’s Ta Ta Troops,” while three other groups will be united under the same team name in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Calgary, Alberta, and Vancouver, B.C.
“We have 31 runners including my eight beautiful nieces and nephews,” she said. “I am so grateful for my huge support system every day.”
This broad range of support right across the country helped Montana earlier this year, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“A small aggressive tumour was starting to grow in my right breast,” she said. “Unbeknownst to me, I had an unwelcome guest at my July wedding and only a month later I would say farewell to it and any potential future risks by undergoing a bilateral mastectomy. The nine years of annual visits to my team at St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Breast Care Centre sure paid off in the end.”
Montana says her wish is that, if one day she has a daughter, when she turns 27, “research will be so advanced that being a BRCA1 gene mutation carrier won’t matter anymore and that breast cancer will be a disease of the past,” she said. “I hope the same for my nieces.”
The team is still accepting donations. To contribute to the cause, visit SupportCBCF.com and search “Tana’s Ta Ta Troops.”
Currently living in Vancouver with her husband Thomas, Montana is working towards obtaining a PhD in Ecology and Evolution. You can read more about her research into the potential impacts of catch-and-release fishing pressures on wild populations of white sturgeon, and “see some cool pictures of giant fish,” by visiting MontanaMcLean.weebly.com.