Claudia Boudreault, 25, diagnosed one year after her first symptoms

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Claudia Boudreault

I turned 25 on October 4, 2021, and on December 1 I was diagnosed with Grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma. There is a significant history of breast cancer in my family and I was very alert to anything that was a lump or mass in my breasts, but still not enough.

I think the Internet is something my generation turns to when we have questions: we do research online. When I wanted to know more about breast cancer before the age of 30, most of the information I found said that it’s almost impossible. So when I thought I had symptoms, I reassured myself that I’m much too young and that I’m not affected.

The first time I felt a lump in my breast was in November 2020. At first, I panicked, but apparently not enough, because it took me almost six months to go see a doctor! My mother has had cancer twice, in both breasts, the last time being in 2019, and she was pushing me to go see a specialist. I was so convinced that it was a cancer for older women that I kept putting it off. It was only after six months that I decided to consult. Since I didn’t have a family doctor, I had to go to a walk-in clinic. I was told that there was nothing to worry about, that it was most certainly benign, and to come back in six months.

Just before my second appointment, the lump had doubled in size. Based on my own research on the Internet, I had self-diagnosed it as benign. I waited for my follow-up, and that’s when I was referred for a breast ultrasound.

I then had my first biopsy in late November, and it was this test that determined that I had cancer. I pushed to get my result as soon as possible: the hospital had given me an appointment, but I made another one at the walk-in clinic, knowing that my referring doctor would have the results. I took him by surprise, and he had no choice but to tell me the diagnosis.

My lymph nodes were really big, so I had to have a second biopsy on December 23. They also looked at my genetics and that’s how we found out that my mom and I are also Li-Fraumeni carriers.

I was shocked when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My oncologist informed me that she was seeing younger and younger women coming through her office. I immediately thought that more people needed to know about it, and that I had to share my story.

For now, depending on how my chemotherapy goes, I have eight weeks of treatment planned followed by a surgery. In my case, a partial mastectomy is not possible, and I will have to have a bilateral mastectomy with immediate breast reconstruction. That was my first piece of bad news.

As soon as I learned that chemotherapy could cause early menopause, I wanted to be referred to a fertility specialist to freeze my eggs. The treatment failed. This was the second major blow for us, as my husband and I wanted to start a family in the very near future.

Radiation is not in the plans for me at the moment because, given my type of cancer, it could cause more harm than good. So I’m going to continue with hormone therapy for five years, but I don’t want to wait that long to try to have children. Right now, my oncologist is not opposed to the idea of treating me for two years with hormone therapy, letting me have a baby, and then resuming treatment. These are things that we discuss and that reassure me.

I was put on sick leave on December 12. I am a social worker and was working with the homeless.

There have been several adjustment periods with my spouse. I didn’t think it was going to disrupt our daily lives to this extent. We have to learn to communicate better. I thought my cancer was my problem, but it has had a profound effect on those around me. I didn’t realize how much everyone would be affected by it.

My mom has been through it and she’s like my best friend. She supports me as best she can. At the same time, I realize that life goes on for everyone: they go to work, have children, make plans… I feel like my life is on hold and I’m on the sidelines right now. It’s very lonely. I’m a very sociable person so I found a support group on social media that led me to meet a young woman my age who went through the same thing. The funny thing is that we have the same profession, we come from the same city, and we were treated in the same hospital. Meeting her and being able to talk about our experiences has done me so much good, it’s crazy. Cancer at 25 is not the same as at 50.

It just goes to show that social media can also be a good thing in our lives! This woman is like an angel that was put on my path. Honestly, I felt out of place, like an alien, for having this disease. One thing led to another, and I came into contact with other people who had gone through the same thing and who had come through it. Even though I had my mother who understood me, I felt a strong need to talk about it with new people because my mom had her cancer after having my brother and me, so I couldn’t relate as much to that experience.

I’ll say it again: my biggest shock was finding out that breast cancer at my age is possible. I kept thinking to myself: “I’m starting out in life, it’s not possible.” My friends who I told had the same reaction: “Can it be?”

As for my follow-up, I can’t say enough about it; it’s perfect. My pivot nurse calls me back the same day if I have any questions. Since I also suffer from panic disorder and agoraphobia, I was put on the priority list for psychotherapy. My cancer diagnosis exacerbated my panic disorder and was a major setback to all the progress I had made.

Chemo is hard on the body and the mind; you become hyper aware of your physical sensations, and it is mentally exhausting. I’m on my third treatment; it’s scheduled every two weeks on Fridays. Because of this, I’m weak from Friday to Wednesday and the second week, I’m mentally exhausted from the week I’ve had, and then it starts all over again. I’ve also become hypersensitive. If I watch a movie where an animal dies, I can cry for an hour.

I knew about breast observation. I was aware of it, but I didn’t think it applied to me. The doctor I initially saw when my symptoms first started didn’t even tell me it was possible to have cancer at my age. And because he told me that he would see me again in six months, I was under the impression that it wasn’t possible.

It’s important for me to get this message across : doing a breast self-exam every once in a while can save your life.

Entrevue réalisée par Martine Côté, 1er mars 2022