December 16, 2022Testimonials

Chantal Brousseau – Diagnosed after her pregnancy

I was diagnosed with hormone-dependent breast cancer, with the axillary lymph nodes also affected.

I first felt the lump in my breast myself. I had a 16-month-old baby at the time whom I was still breastfeeding. Even when I was pregnant, I could feel a hard lump in my breast. I told my family doctor about it, but she wasn’t concerned, because of the pregnancy-related hormones and changes that occur.

However, I kept thinking about the little lump and it would annoy me every time I breastfed my baby. At night I would go into worry mode, with thoughts running through my head. I went to see another doctor, at a walk-in clinic, who ordered a breast ultrasound. He clearly felt the lump, which was about the size of a pea, but very hard. This was the second baby I had breastfed; I knew my breasts very well and I knew there was something wrong.

I waited from March to July and finally had my ultrasound on August 30. The radiologist found an enlarged lymph node near the armpit. At that point, I went into “I’ve got cancer” mode. Being a nurse, I’m able to make connections. He compared it with the left armpit and saw the difference. Once I was told, I felt it too and thought, “My God, it’s true.” He had me come back for a biopsy at both sites: breast and lymph node. The following week I got the results from my family doctor.

I was very distressed by the announcement. I was angry at my doctor for not taking my concern seriously months before. I thought cancer could have been detected earlier. I told her what was on my mind.

I already had a first-degree relative with cancer. We are three girls and it was my father’s sister who was affected. At first, I wondered: “Why me, and why so young?” I had just fulfilled the most beautiful dream of my life, becoming a mother, and I thought it was terrible that these moments were being ruined. I live on the North Shore, in Port-Cartier, and I’m alone here with my husband and children. My whole family is in Quebec City. Fortunately, when I was diagnosed, I was in Quebec City with my family. We cried together; I felt their support and that helped me.

I was concerned that they were so far away and I didn’t understand how I was going to get through this ordeal without them. But in the end, even though my family is far away, I feel very close to them. With social networks and FaceTime, I know that they are very present.

My spouse found it difficult, especially during the period when I had to undergo all the tests before starting the treatments. I was very worried that they would find that it had spread. Once I knew it was localized, I was relieved. I told myself that I couldn’t change the fact that I had cancer, but I should be happy with the good news.

For me, cancer does not mean death. I continue to live as I always have. My husband’s attitude helps me a lot: he’s calm and doesn’t really look too far ahead; he brings me back into the present moment.

I decided I wouldn’t just sit around and think about my illness. I have two young children aged three and a half and one and a half; they keep me busy. My kids need to live their kid lives. My youngest doesn’t really realize what’s going on, although she does see some of the changes, for example, my hair loss.

I decided to shave my hair off before it fell out because of the chemotherapy. I felt like I was losing my femininity. I took it one step at a time. I cut it gradually and after my second treatment, I shaved it completely off. In the meantime, I tried different styles, and gave myself bangs. My daughter did the first pass with the clipper and my nephew continued. I was afraid I would look even worse. I have a wig that I might wear one day, but not for the moment.

I have six months of chemotherapy and I am halfway through. My older daughter knows that her mommy is sick and will get better. She talks about it a lot, but I haven’t seen any specific changes in her behavior. We answer her questions as best we can. The Foundation suggested a children’s story explaining cancer, and the mommy gets well at the end: my daughter often reads it.

Of course, I don’t have the same energy as before. I never took a nap and now I take one daily. But I expected worse. I still get nauseated easily, I have some neuropathy that has set in, but they have adjusted the medication I need to take. I am not non-functional. I keep moving, and I’m in good physical shape. I take my walks, I run twice a week, I do the Foundation’s kinesiotherapy program online and it does me good. I see other people. I also signed up for a yoga class to help me relax.

My treatments are at the hospital in Sept-Îles. It takes 40 minutes each way, but my husband accompanies me every week. So far I have good news, as I am responding well to the chemotherapy.

The next step will be a total mastectomy of the right breast, as it is full of small calcium deposits. These are pre-cancerous cells, so they can’t be left there. They have to be removed and analyzed. My lymph node also has to be removed. This surgery should take place on January 2023, after the chemotherapy. We will let it heal, and then the radiotherapy will start. I’ll have to go to Quebec City for that because it’s not a service provided in Sept-Îles, but fortunately, all my family is there.

In my case, immediate reconstruction of the breast is not possible because it is advisable to start radiotherapy as soon as possible. Delayed reconstruction will not be possible in Sept-Îles either, and will have to be performed in Quebec City.

I’m lucky to have good insurance coverage at my work. As far as psychological support is concerned, when I saw the oncology nurse in Sept-Îles, I expressed my desire to see a social worker. We have met each other twice and it did me good. I have also received a lot of support from my family and my sisters. Because one of my sisters is an oncology nurse, she answers my questions. I am lucky. My other sister gave me a gift of what she called the “comfort box.” It consists of 24 capsules, one for each treatment, and each contains a note from a family member or friend. I read a note at the end of my treatment and it motivates me. It’s also a nice visual way for my older daughter to know how many treatments I have left. She helps me pick out the capsule. On Fridays, Clara says: “You’re going to fight the bad cells.”

I have decided to roll up my sleeves and fight. I have a strong desire to stay happy and get on with life. I think everyone experiences cancer in their own way, but I’m glad I can stay positive and control my thinking. If my strength in the face of this ordeal can give others a boost, I will be very happy.

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