My name is Mylène and I’m 29 years old. I was 23 when I was diagnosed with hormone-dependent breast cancer. I had no symptoms. I was in a class at university: I was a bit chilly and had my hand under my scarf. I felt a small lump above my breast; it wasn’t painful. During the break, I went to the washroom with my friends to see if it was normal and take a closer look.
Luckily, I already had an appointment with my family doctor scheduled the following week, so it was good timing. When she examined me, she told me it was probably a cyst. Since she follows my whole family, she knows that several women in my family have had them. She prescribed an ultrasound and a mammogram, which took place the same week.
At that place, they were more concerned when doing the tests. The doctor touched my thigh after the tests and said: “You’re going to go back to see your doctor on Monday.” My mother was a pharmacist. Her pharmacy was just below my doctor’s office, so she was quickly able to comfort me.
My family doctor told me it was very likely that I had cancer. A biopsy was therefore scheduled in the following days. The appointments followed one another very quickly: I went before everyone else, given my age. My mother came with me for the biopsy.
I had read the doctor’s report, which said Birad Stage 3, and 90% chance it was cancer. In my head, I saw five doors that I opened, and I imagined that four of these doors represented cancer. The worst thing about those three weeks was the doubt; the unknown. I wasn’t sleeping. I went to university during the day. My family doctor gave me an appointment with a surgeon: he was the one who gave me the diagnosis.
The first oncologist I saw wanted me to start chemo right away. At the time, I was following Nalie Agustin on social media. I was supposed to follow essentially the same treatment plan as her. I even bought myself a wig. Then, the second oncologist gave me an oncotype test to see what my risk of recurrence was, and the results were very encouraging. It was therefore decided that I would only have surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy. So I didn’t do chemotherapy.
I also had a lumpectomy. They would have done a reconstruction, but I didn’t want to, so we just removed the mass. Then I did radiation, 40 treatments of about 20 minutes each. It made me very tired; I slept a lot. My breast was bright red, covered with bandages, I felt like it was about to fall off. I still continued my master’s degree studies during this time; I canceled some courses and my full-time internship, and I stopped working, but I kept one course for my mental health.
I’m lucky; my parents are well-off. It’s another thing when you don’t have insurance. When I got my diagnosis, my parents transferred money to my bank account and told me: to continue to enjoy life without thinking about money. When you’re a student and you don’t have a full-time job, you can lose all your income after a diagnosis. Cancer doesn’t take into account your age or your financial situation.
When I was diagnosed, my mother was sad and my father was more positive, even if he found it very difficult too. I clung to his positivism. It was a very difficult ordeal for my mother: she told me that she wished it was her instead of me. Now that I have a four-month-old daughter, I understand what she means, how powerless you feel to see your child suffer. No one in my circle of friends had experienced this, so I had no guidance. But my friends were really supportive. I was never alone at any of my treatments: they also took turns making me dinner and keeping me company. I stopped drinking alcohol for a year because I read that it could help, so my friends brought me teas or they always had an alcohol-free option for me.
Having a relationship and dating are not ideal when you’re 23 and have breast cancer, and at the time, I didn’t have a boyfriend. I tried to see people, but it wasn’t easy to find someone who would accept it. My scar was small, but I was still self-conscious about it. There weren’t many resources for young people, and at the hospital I was around older women who didn’t have the same concerns as me at the time. I was offered psychological support at the hospital, but it wasn’t a good fit with the psychologist. I think she was more experienced with older people and didn’t understand my reality.
What I found most difficult was the process with the OVO fertility clinic. My treatments could potentially reduce my chances of being able to conceive a child naturally. So I chose to freeze my eggs. I was already emotional about the diagnosis and I was being injected with a bunch of hormones on top of it.
At the end of the treatments, the doctor told me that I might not be able to have children. That made me angry. He was apprehensive about me getting pregnant, for fear of a possible recurrence. For years, I negotiated with my oncologist to allow me to try to get pregnant. I also kept informed of the adoption process. I met my boyfriend right after the end of my treatments, and we talked about adoption. At one point, in light of recent studies that didn’t find a connection between the end of treatment and a possible recurrence, my doctor gave me the go-ahead to stop hormone therapy and made me promise to let him be the first to know I was pregnant if it worked. It was a miracle baby: I got pregnant the first month of trying.
I managed to breastfeed my daughter for four months and I just stopped. I breastfed from the unaffected breast. The other one had latent ducts and didn’t produce any milk. In a few weeks, I have a follow-up mammogram. I didn’t have one while I was pregnant or breastfeeding, so I’m looking forward to being reassured.
Throughout the process, what helped me the most was talking about it. You don’t have much control when you have cancer, but you do have control over your mind and how you take it day by day, so I found it important to be positive. I’ve been considered in remission since April! I opened a bottle of champagne and sent a card to my oncologist with a photo of my daughter. Finally, I feel like I can move on.