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Carolyn Nikkanen

Model agency owner Carolyn Nikkanen is recovering from battling and beating breast cancer once again – “four times lucky.

The 54-year-old former model underwent surgery early this year to remove yet another cancerous tumour, this time embedded in scar tissue formed after her left breast was cut off nearly 20 years ago.

She is now on tamoxifen for five years, and coping with the aftermath of a devastating diagnosis and disease. Physical and emotional healing takes time and Nikkanen is upbeat, brave and resilient.

Her megawatt smile lights up a room, she radiates positivity, warmth and beauty, inside and out. Nikkanen has cheated death one more time. She credits early detection and amazing doctors but definitely her spunkiness, spirituality and inner strength are vital armaments in waging war against this disease that claims more than 5,000 Canadian women annually. Canada has the second highest incidence rate of this disease in the world.

Nikkanen has scaled back on work as president of Carolyn’s Model & Talent Agency, handing over major responsibilities to her two daughters, and is concentrating on boosting down time and grandma time with Melody, 1, and Laila, 3.

“Cancer can certainly turn everything upside down but it also wakes us up to know what is most important to us – family and taking the time to see things in a different light and appreciate everything we have today,”

says the effervescent survivor, who promotes living a healthy life and inspiring others.

She admits that “no matter how positive and strong you are, you have bad moments when you cry and feel sorry for yourself. Then the pity party is over and you go on – you have to, or it will destroy you, physically and emotionally.”

Five years after her first fight, the cancer reoccurred – 19 lymph nodes were also removed, and half tested positive for cancer. She dragged herself into work daily while undergoing six months of aggressive chemotherapy and potent side effects, including hair loss, nausea and memory loss. At the same time she was also struggling through a broken marriage, single parenting two children while running a business that thrives on physical perfection and beauty. Life was far from perfect and she was feeling anything but beautiful.

She was put on tamoxifen for five years. Then in 2000, another cancerous lump on her left side was removed. And this year the cancer was removed along with her implant – luckily, no lymph nodes involved this time.

“Always the same side – my doctor jokingly said I just have a bad boob!”

The diagnosis is always dreadful, distressing, leveling – it’s like a death sentence. “I couldn’t believe this could be happening again. I felt like I was in a movie floating above myself, watching it; I felt lost, like in a tunnel that was spinning out of control.”

However, once again, the spunky entrepreneur picked herself up and fought. Nikannen admits she did lose hope with this fourth reoccurrence – three days after surgery she developed a 104 degree temperature, pneumonia, a Staph infection and suffered a collapsed lung.

“I really thought I was going to die” I couldn’t believe this was happening. But again, gaining strength from my spirituality helped me understand that I am a fighter!”

Ten days in the hospital gave her lots of time to ponder life and 25 years running a company in the highly competitive modelling and talent industry. She resolved to live to see her grandchildren grow up, go to their dance recitals and enjoy being a grandma.

The insidious intruder is stress related, Nikkanen believes. “We live in a very stressful world and it so easy to get caught up in the moment and not take time for ourselves. I believe my cancer has kept coming back because once I recovered, I just kept going back to being a workaholic.”

Now semi-retired, working three to four days a week, five to seven hours a day, she and her husband bought an RV to travel around North America and they also got a boxer puppy, Maggie.

“Today is the best day in my life because I am alive to experience and enjoy every moment. Too many of us get distracted from what is really important,” says Nikkanen, who tested negative for the Braca1 and Braca 2 gene.

Take time to enjoy all the moments good or bad, as there is a lesson in everything that comes across our path, says the survivor, who believes her life’s purpose is to inspire people to be “caring, loving and considerate and be strong and enjoy every day, and take the time to really see things” through her company’s We Care Philosophy and being a positive role model.

“I am not sorry it happened to me, it has made me a better person. Life is beautiful!”

Risk factors:

One in nine women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. But you can reduce your risk. The Future You Change Could be Yours is the new campaign just launched by The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, Ontario chapter – they’re working to stop breast cancer before it starts.

Thousands of Canadians are affected annually by breast cancer. The good news is that 80% of women diagnosed will beat the disease.

Take action and increase your breast health:

  • Regular physical activity
  • A balanced diet
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • Limit exposure to toxic chemicals in your home, including personal care products with fragrance – use fewer and simpler products. Look for the Terrachoice EcoLogo on cleaning products. Check out

Toronto Sun Times October 25, 2011
JOANNE RICHARD, Special to QMI Agency

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