When I tell people what happened to me, they are surprised that I had breast cancer at my age.
It all started in the fall of 2020. I felt a pain in my breast and saw that its appearance had changed. It was swollen. It wasn’t comfortable at all; it was a bit tender and my nodes were inflamed. I thought it was a symptom of having my period.
I waited two or three weeks before going to see my family doctor, but when I told him, he took it very seriously. That same day I had a mammogram and an ultrasound. One of my cousins was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer 15 years ago, so I was worried.
Three or four weeks later, I was called back for a breast and armpit biopsy. I was really nervous. I felt like I knew the answer before I was even told my diagnosis.
I was with the father of my children when I found out. It was during COVID so everyone in the room was masked. I couldn’t see facial expressions. I felt like the moment wasn’t real. At this appointment, the doctor also explained that with the size of the mass (4 by 5 cm), it might be Stage 3.
I subsequently saw my oncologist, who told me that I had triple-negative breast cancer. He said I would have to undergo chemotherapy quickly due to the size of the lump, with the aim of shrinking it, and then I would have surgery followed by radiation. I started the treatments very fast. I responded very well to the chemotherapy. The lump shrunk significantly after only two treatments. The Taxol treatments were much harder on my body. I was in pain everywhere, but I was still able to move around.
I was readier than I thought: as soon as I had the game plan, there was a beginning and an end to this story for me. I had a let’s-do-this attitude.
At the time, my son was three and my daughter was five. I explained to them that there were little soldiers in my body trying to fight my disease, and that they were not strong enough on their own, so the chemotherapy was helping them with the fight. I also told them that the little soldiers had become so strong that it was making my hair fall out. My son was really affected, because recently he was still saying I had cancer. I think he was too young to understand it all when it happened.
When all this was happening to me, the vaccines for COVID had not yet come out, so everything was closed. So my daughter spent the rest of the year going to kindergarten remotely with me. I was undergoing chemotherapy and then teaching her, while also taking care of my son who no longer had day-care. My mother was an angel to me and my children’s dad, despite our recent separation, was a great help and moral support throughout this time.
My cousin who had been diagnosed with breast cancer years earlier was very helpful during the whole process. She had received exactly the same number and type of treatments. She is a nurse and helped me a lot to prepare myself and answered all my questions. I am lucky to have a close-knit family. At the hospital, the nurses there were also very helpful in making me feel comfortable.
My treatments were every two weeks. After each session, I was pretty messed up for three days, then I would feel better gradually. My routine continued during my treatments, and with the two children at home, every day was not easy. My mother would leave Lac-Saint-Jean every two weeks to come and help me at home. She always had a great positive attitude and was hugely supportive. Because it was at the time that travel between regions was forbidden, my oncologist had given me a prescription that exempted me from this rule, and gave my mother the title of caregiver. My mother and I each had a copy in our car, just in case. My kids’ father was there for me despite his busy work days. He never let his sadness show and helped me stay smiling!
I had come to terms with losing my hair, but because I am the youngest in the family, my mother found it very difficult. My former spouse shaved off my beautiful long hair and he shaved his off right afterwards, which was a very emotional moment for everyone. I think the disease becomes real to everyone at that point; you certainly look sicker.
As far as surgery was concerned, I had the choice of removing my entire affected breast, removing only what had been affected by the cancer or having the entire breast removed and then reconstructed. I didn’t want to live with the breast that had cancer, constantly thinking about it and worrying that the disease would return, so I chose to have my breast removed. I had the reconstruction only a short time ago.
Eight to 10 weeks after the surgery, I started radiation treatments. Unfortunately, these treatments are not available everywhere, so I had to go to the hospital in Montreal. I live on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River. It lasted five weeks; five times a week for a session of about half an hour.
Before my acceptance of the diagnosis, I went through a phase of anger and questioning. I wondered why my body had betrayed me, and I was mad at the whole world that it had happened to me. Besides that, during COVID, we were not with our family and were left to ourselves more often. It was very hard. If I could give advice to someone who is going through this, I would say: “Take all the medication you are given for nausea. Rest, don’t overdo things and accept all the help you are offered.”
I wanted to look for mental health resources, but near where I live the position of psychologist for cancer patients has been vacant for a year. I still managed to get sessions at Saint-Eustache hospital recently after being on the waiting list for almost a year.
The post-treatment period was the most difficult for me, probably because of the fear of recurrence. During the treatments I was living my life more day-to-day, but now I guess you could say I’m really afraid of not seeing my children grow up, of not becoming a grandmother someday.
I am considered to be in remission, but the doctors are not as clear and direct as that; they prefer to call me “cancer-free.” I had a follow-up every three months for the first year. Now it’s every six months. I’m happy when the appointment comes because it reassures me, and I’m not left on my own. I also have the help of a pivot nurse who is assigned to me. She is very important because I can call her at any time.
I would advise someone who has just been diagnosed to take things a day at a time, and not to hesitate to ask for help from family and friends. You have to use all the help you can get and not stay alone. There are private Facebook support groups. It helped me a lot at the beginning to have support from people going through the same thing as me; I really felt listened to and understood.
I think you appreciate the positives in life even more when you have been through something like this.
Last spring I had the courage to change careers after a year and a half off work on sick leave. I became a school secretary, because I really like being in contact with young people. I also think it is important to make high school students aware of breast cancer and breast observation. I wasn’t, and the reality is that breast cancer also affects young women.