Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

She supported her sister -- and saved her own life

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It's not by chance that there's a wellness expo in town this weekend, not when you hear the life story of the woman behind it.

Particularly the chapter about Ida Albo's surprise breast cancer diagnosis 31/2 years ago.

How it happened.

And more specifically, how she probably saved her own life because of the kind of person she is.

-- -- --


It's Friday morning and Ida's younger sister, Belinda Albo, and I are chatting over coffee in the Fort Garry Hotel's breakfast room.

I'm finishing research on the link between Ida's breast cancer story and the latest passion-driven project for the hotel that she and husband, Ric Bel, manage.

Do you remember how your sister told you she had breast cancer?

"I was with her," Belinda says.

But Belinda lives in Toronto.

Actually, Toronto is where the story starts a few years ago with Belinda being diagnosed with an illness and being told there was a six-month wait to see a specialist.

Which is where her big sister in Winnipeg comes in. Ida insisted Belinda go straight to the internationally renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

When Belinda hesitated, Ida told her she couldn't put a price on her health.

And then Ida called the Mayo.

Belinda wasn't surprised.

"She's someone who's always taken care of everybody," Belinda says. "She's taken care of my brother, my dad. She's supportive of the community. The kids... That's just who she is."

Ida has another trait that she shares with her cerebral husband.

"They're problem-solvers," Belinda says.

The problem this time? The Mayo Clinic wouldn't let Ida book an appointment for Belinda. Privacy considerations, you understand. How was she going to solve this one? Easy. She had already decided to accompany her sister to Rochester because Belinda didn't want to go alone, so Ida booked herself a while-you-wait, state-of-the-art physical. Plus, an appointment with a specialist.

Then she gave her little sister the specialist appointment.

Problem solved.

There was a bigger one to come.

Ida was only at the Mayo because her sister needed her, so when a doctor began detailing what's commonly called the executive checkup, Ida balked.

"I remember saying 'I don't need this and I don't need that' because I do get regular checkups."

But the doctor convinced her.

She was waiting at the clinic for her same-day results when they told her to report to breast imaging.

"They just were concerned with some calcification."

Ida was caught off guard. She'd had a mammogram a year earlier in Winnipeg. There was something else.

They wanted to do a biopsy. Ida asked, 'when?' They said 'now.'

She was back in Winnipeg the same night. That was Friday.

Monday at noon, the phone rang.

It was the Mayo Clinic with her results. She had breast cancer and it was invasive. Days later, she and Ric were in Rochester.

"When I met with the surgeon she said, 'Well, you know Ida, we don't know what we're going to find.'

"And I said. 'Take it out. Remove one breast, remove two, I don't care. Just get rid of it.' "

It turned out the surgery at the Mayo was confined to a lumpectomy and Ida would do her radiation here.

Did catching the cancer that early save her life, given that she turns 50 next week and wasn't scheduled for another mammogram until this year?

Ida answers this way: "I probably would be being diagnosed with cancer now. And it would be at a different stage. There's a certain karma in things, and it was kind of the right time."

Her sister is more definite.

"Her coming with me to be my support saved her life."

For sure, it changed Ida's life.

"It just makes you stop and think how much time do you have left? Whether it's three years, or five years, or 10 years, or 30 years. That's it. And so you start thinking: I'm really going to start enjoying myself and being myself. I'm going to start having fun."

Fun, as it turns out, is doing what she's always done, except faster. Building the business, looking after her own health and encouraging others to look after their own.

Now you know where the Live This Life Expo came from.

Happy 50th birthday, big sister.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 20, 2010 B1

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