HWCDSB teacher shares story at Terry Fox Run

Keynote speaker shares story of hope and resiliency for Stoney Creek Terry Fox Run
Posted on 09/19/2023
Claudia holds sign for Terry Fox Run

Annual fundraiser is scheduled for Sept. 17 at Confederation Beach Park

By Mike Pearson
Stoney Creek News (August 31, 2023)

A surprise cancer diagnosis taught Claudia Sambuco everything she needed to know about the power of hope, strength and resiliency.

After more than two years of treatment for Stage 3 breast cancer — plus additional surgeries still to come — Sambuco is looking forward to an anticipated return to her teaching duties with the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board next year.

Sambuco, 36, plans to share her story as the keynote speaker at the 2023 Terry Fox Run, returning on Sept. 17 to Confederation Beach Park.

Back in November 2021, Sambuco detected a lump on the left side of her chest.

After following up with her doctor, Sambuco received an appointment at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton’s West 5th campus. Her screening appointment and a subsequent emergency breast MRI confirmed the presence of a tumour that had spread to her lymph nodes.

The diagnosis of breast cancer came as a shock.

“I didn’t think that (I would have it) at such a young age,” she said in an interview. “Oftentimes breast cancer, you think, is an older type of cancer, but it’s not the case anymore.”

While the Canadian Cancer Society notes on its website that breast cancer is most often found in people 55 years and older, the organization states that those under 35 tend to be diagnosed with more aggressive, higher-grade tumours that are often more advanced at the time of diagnosis.

“We should be screening way earlier than 50 years old,” Sambuco said. “I’m an example of someone at 34 who had it in an advanced stage.”

While her message rings of hope, Sambuco doesn’t sugar-coat the early stages of her cancer treatment.

She opted for extensive chemotherapy, radiation and multiple surgeries, including a double mastectomy.

“I was worried and scared,” Sambuco recalled. “I was very emotional about it. But eventually, as soon as I started my chemo, I wasn’t scared anymore.”

While undergoing treatment at the Juravinski Cancer Centre, Sambuco developed a severe allergy, requiring intervention from the medical oncology team. The medication was causing her to have difficulty breathing, a red face and an accelerated heartbeat.

Medical staff responded by administering the medication more slowly, over a longer period.

With her active cancer treatment complete as of August 2022, Sambuco will undergo some additional reconstructive surgeries before making a hopeful return to work for the second term of 2024.

Sambuco turned to a solid support system of family, friends, her fiancé and the St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School community to get her through the most difficult times. She also praised the staff at St. Joseph’s and Juravinski for their care and guidance, especially when pandemic protocols prevented her from bringing a companion to treatment sessions.

“That was really what kept me going and staying positive and looking ahead,” she added.

Undergoing a double mastectomy, plus enduring hair and eyebrow loss, was difficult.

“For a lot of women, that’s your sense of beauty,” Sambuco noted. “It’s the loss of something that kind of defines you as being feminine. And it affects your self-esteem and confidence. So you have to be really strong about that.”

Today, Sambuco is full of hope and optimism for the future. She’s also planning to marry her soulmate, Davide Massafra, next summer.

“Knowing that I was going to have reconstructive breast surgery was kind of like the thing that kept me going. But I also admire and value women who choose not to reconstruct. It’s a personal choice,” Sambuco added.

Encouraged by friend and work colleague Marisa Mariella, Sambuco took part in the 2022 Stoney Creek Terry Fox Run.

Mariella, site co-ordinator for the Stoney Creek Terry Fox Run, asked Sambuco to appear as this year’s keynote speaker.

“With her treatments behind her, she is ready to share her story of true grit, faith and hope,” Mariella said.

It won’t be the first time Sambuco has stepped up as an advocate. She inspired a fundraising event for Hamilton’s Cancer Assistance Program (CAP) at St. Thomas More in 2022 and spoke at CAP's online virtual gala.

Sambuco also raised more than $6,000 for the CIBC Run for the Cure in 2022.

Held in support of the Terry Fox Foundation, the annual event raises funds for cancer research and honours Terry Fox’s 1980 Marathon of Hope.

Claudia at the finish line

CHS students volunteering at the event and holding the certificate of appreciation plaque
Cathedral High School students volunteering at the Terry Fox Run, holding the certificate of appreciation plaque

Staff and alumni at Terry Fox Run

From left: Lucia Marchionda, Christian Service Program Webmaster and Coordinator, Aron Fortino, Educational Assistant St. John Henry Newman CSS and Bishop Tonnos CSS alumnus Jenna Madalena