Victoria O’Connor

She’s a Young Woman

And a Breast Cancer Survivor

When Victoria O’Connor was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 23, she was shocked. She had no idea someone that young could get breast cancer. 

Victoria was born and raised in Dundas, now lives in Brantford and works as a paralegal at a Hamilton firm. The 31-year-old married mom of two is our BRIGHT 2023 survivor spokesperson.  

“I am very honoured to be asked to take on this big responsibility,” Victoria said. “I hope that hearing my story will teach young women to listen to their bodies, to do self-checks. I want to raise awareness that this is a younger person’s disease as well.” 

Victoria is also excited about the PYNK Program, partially funded by BRIGHT Run, that will open at the Juravinski Cancer Centre later this year. 

“I think the PYNK Program is great to have locally,” she said. “Young women have a unique set of challenges when they face a breast cancer diagnosis. The fact this is tailored towards them is amazing.” 

Victoria was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2015. After having attended university, she was starting a paralegal course at Mohawk College. She has no genetic predisposition for breast cancer. 

One night, warming her hands in her arm pits, she felt “something that shouldn’t be there.” She assumed it was nothing, but went to her family doctor, who thought it was likely a cyst but scheduled Victoria for a mammogram just to be sure. 

A day or two later, Victoria had a biopsy. She was diagnosed with cancer. She was scared and worried; it was a big shock to her and to everyone around her. 

It was an aggressive cancer that was growing rapidly, so Victoria underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy, every other week, to shrink the tumour.  In February 2016, she had a right mastectomy, followed by several weeks of daily radiation that finished that May. Her annual visits with her medical oncologist ended recently. 

Victoria and her then-boyfriend had been together about a year when she was diagnosed. 

“We had a young, fresh relationship and the diagnosis was shocking to him as well,” she said. “He was so supportive – he had my back every step of the way.” 

She and that boyfriend, Anthony Dingle, got married on Aug. 24, 2019. Their first child, Miles, was born in August 2020 and daughter Hailey was born this past December. 

“They were both happily planned,” Victoria said. “I am so grateful for them.” 

As a young woman undergoing breast cancer treatment, Victoria had a range of unique concerns that don’t apply to older patients. 

She had always wanted to have a family, but would that be possible? Her doctors had no definitive answer. Freezing her eggs would have delayed treatment of her fast-growing cancer, so she decided against it. She went into early menopause during chemotherapy, but her cycle returned and that was a good sign regarding fertility. 

If she did have a child, what about breastfeeding? Keeping her left breast eased her mind on that issue, and breastfeeding has worked with both children. 

And what about body image at such a young age? 

“I chose not to have reconstructive surgery, mostly because I just wanted to be done with doctors and hospitals,” Victoria said. “I’m constantly trying to even out my breasts! Bikinis, low-cut tops – there is so much societal pressure to look a certain way, particularly when you’re young.” 

Victoria has been participating in the BRIGHT Run since 2016, when she spotted BRIGHT posters at the Juravinski Cancer Centre.  She, as well as the members of her team, Team Victorious, love the community spirit and the fact the money is used locally to fund breast cancer research. 

“BRIGHT Run is an amazing event,” she said. “Everybody is so positive and full of energy. It’s so uplifting to be there.”