The first, then the stage 4 one
“October 2015, I am coming home after a great day at work. I remember this moment very well as it often comes back to my mind when I am not careful! I’m driving and when I shift gears, I get a pain that goes down from my shoulder to my chest. I blame it on a fall on a construction site that happened 8 months earlier. Every time this pain comes back, a little voice tells me “go see the doctor, this is not normal. Maybe it’s something else, you have cysts in your right breast, you should check them out”. Autumn passed, winter set in and I decided to see my family doctor. A routine visit for my 50th birthday. He sends me for an x-ray to check my ribs (the famous fall) and an ultrasound of my breasts to check for cysts.
On January 6, 2016, he calls me into his office with my spouse. Breast cancer, the right breast has three stage 2 and 3 tumors, several nodes are attacked. There followed a battery of pre-surgery tests for which my brain had voluntarily forgotten the results, the sequences, the dates, etc.
January and February 2016 are nebulous months in my head. The announcement of my diagnosis to my children, my guilt and sadness over sharing this news a few weeks before my daughter’s wedding. I remember the comforting words of my loved ones and the little voice that told me “Geneviève, life goes on. You have to hold on, stay the course and smile, finish the research funding applications and be on top of things by the end of spring.”
On February 27, 2016, we celebrate the newlyweds under the snow. On March 3 at 7:00 a.m., I walk through the doors of the operating room in my blue hospital gown. At that moment, the surgeon asks me my final decision on a possible reconstruction. I told her my decision, no reconstruction. I would be an Amazon; there was no way I was going back to the hospital for more surgeries. Spring was just around the corner and I had research projects to do and lots of activities planned. My head didn’t want to register that following surgery, there was chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
The summer of 2016 was painful, a time filled with frustrations whether it was for family, personal or professional activities. In between chemos, I visited my colleagues, tried to canoe, kayak, bike, but nothing was the same as before… Frustrated and unhappy, I mourned my life sitting in my Jeep facing the river. My truck was what tied me to my life before…
In October 2016, I came back to life. No more chemo, no more x-rays, a mild lymphedema requires me to wear a sleeve when I work or play sports. I am on hormone therapy, life is good. Psychologically, I am damaged. I sleep very little, I’m defensive, my brain runs scenarios and I get sick when I have to go to the hospital for my follow-ups. The pivot nurse suggests that I meet with the psychologist of the oncology ward. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t believe it, but I start therapy. The big gray clouds fade and a life almost like before settles in the spring of 2017.
It was short-lived. On April 5, 2019, follow-up test results announced a recurrence. Metastases have set in on the bones of the spine, pelvis, long bones of the legs, ribs. I received the news from my new family doctor. He also tells me that I probably have less than a year to live and explains end of life care… I don’t listen and I don’t hear him. I don’t even remember how the appointment ended. We spend a week in crisis at home. I have an appointment with the oncologist eight days after this bad news. A series of protocols began, hormone therapy and chemotherapy, which allowed me to still be here today despite the advancing metastases in my liver.
This time, I decided to listen quickly to my little voice. I now have a picture drawn on the wall of my home office. It shows three drawers. The first one for scenarios that are useless and do not provide any answers, the second one is for short-term projects and the third one for stressors. I have resumed my psychology follow-up to fight against the white coat syndrome. I want to be able to go to the hospital for treatments and blood tests without thinking about it all the time, crying and anticipating problems… one treatment a week comes back quickly on my calendar! Time with family and friends is a priority. I continue to work because I am passionate about my job, but at my own pace. I put performance, perfection and competition in drawer number 3.
When I feel out of control, my little voice tells me “Genevieve, you need to spend 10% of your time thinking about and managing your cancer and 90% enjoying life… Go for a jeep ride “
-Geneviève Treyvaud, 55, archeologist