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Testimonial from France Lemieux, diagnosed at age 30 

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I like to say that Mitsou saved my life. One morning in December 2005, I was in the car on my way to work. I heard Mitsou on the radio talking about breast cancer, and her message was aimed at younger women. She explained that several women close to her had been diagnosed and she warned not to take it lightly if you notice symptoms. Ironically, I had felt a lump in my breast the weekend before. I was 30 years old at the time, and I felt like Mitsou was talking to me. When I got to the office, I called my gynecologist and he agreed to see me right away. 

I wasn’t worried, but the lump hurt. There had never been a case in my family and I knew nothing about it; I basically didn’t even know breast cancer existed. 

I had a mammogram and an ultrasound that same week. It was just before Christmas. I hadn’t told anyone except my husband. We went on vacation and when we came back, I had an appointment with my gynecologist. I had always gone to my medical appointments and pregnancy follow-ups alone, but this time, my husband asked me if I wanted him to come with me. My gynecologist told me that the test results weren’t as expected and that I had breast cancer.  

There was a TV commercial some years ago where people were shown collapsing when they heard the diagnosis of cancer as if they’d been hit by a train. The image of the guy falling back in his chair; that was my husband at that moment. I thought I’d be crushed too, but I wasn’t. I didn’t even cry.  

I remember sitting in the car with my husband, neither of us speaking, and on the radio, they were announcing a walk for breast cancer research. We told each other that this was going to be our reality for the next year. We both have a great sense of humor, and this helped a lot. The doctors told us it was serious, but they never said it was fatal. We decided to take it one day at a time. My husband was very strong. We never cried together. I never saw him break down. We talked about it, but we never went too much into detail. We didn’t need that. 

I had a partial mastectomy on my 31st birthday, February 16. It was a day surgery. I walked out on my own two feet with the drains, but I had my little birthday cake. I began chemotherapy, which would last six months. This would be followed by 25 radiation treatments. 

The first two or three days I was very “high” and couldn’t sleep. My nausea was under control, so I was lucky. The worst part was the fatigue. I started to lose my hair 10 to 12 days after the first treatment. 

 

My children were 3 and 5 years old at the time of my chemo. They knew I was going to lose my hair. We’ve always been honest with them. We’re big hockey fans in our house. A few years earlier, Saku Koivu, a center for the Montreal Canadiens, had been diagnosed with cancer. My kids had heard about it. My eldest son remembered his absence from the ice and his return. We explained to them that Mommy had the same illness as him, that I was going to lose my hair and be more tired, but that I was going to come back like Saku, who was still his team captain. My husband even wrote to Saku to tell him that he had helped us get through it as a family. I’ve been carrying this letter from my husband in my wallet for 20 years. 

I was offered psychological support on the first day, but I didn’t feel the need for it. We were also offered support for the children, but we said no. We felt we were in the best position to guide our children through this ordeal.  

I was 30 years old and it was as if I wouldn’t allow myself to show that I was sick. People would call me and I’d always say I was doing great. It was actually true, apart from the fatigue.  

I was off work for a year and a half. 

Afterward, I took Herceptin to minimize the chances of recurrence. But in 2016, a decade later, I felt another lump on the same breast, in roughly the same spot. I was already in the system, so I contacted my oncologist, and the following week I had a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy. It wasn’t the same type of cancer, so the doctors didn’t consider it a recurrence.  

I immediately told the doctor that I wanted to have my breast removed. He agreed that it would be safer. So, on May 6, 2016 (my father’s birthday), I had my breast completely removed. I had surgery at Pierre Boucher Hospital. I had chemo again, but no radiation. It can’t be given twice in the same spot.  

This time, I knew what to expect; this time, there were no wigs, nothing. My children were older and more aware. They were 13 and 15. I called the school to tell them what was going on. I’d done it the first time too, when my son was in kindergarten. Both times, the teachers were great.  

My oldest, the more sensitive one, found it difficult. He was worried. He did a bra drive at school. He collected three boxes. It gave him a mission. He was very committed. My youngest experienced it more naively, more calmly. My sons wanted to shave their heads too, and we did it as a family, on the balcony. 

As for me, I said to myself: I’m going back into the trenches. 

About three months later, I was referred for plastic surgery at the hospital. I was offered a flap reconstruction. The operation lasted 12 hours. That was the hardest part. They opened me from hip to hip to take the flap to reconstruct the breast. The flap has to be revived and grafted to the skin of the breast. I had several drains. For the first few days, you have a catheter and compression stockings. I was 40 and couldn’t go to the bathroom on my own. One day, a nurse who was sympathetic to my distress said to me: “We know this person who’s here is not you. Let us help you.” 

I now have a mammogram once a year. The disease is still there. I can’t forget it. I see my breast every day. I can’t say I’m always thinking about it, but I recently found a lump in my breast and I wrote to the oncologist. Two days later I had my appointment for my mammogram and ultrasound, and they did a biopsy in case. In the end, yes, I lumped, but this time it was just a fatty cyst.  

The kids know that I like to say Mitsou saved my life. They’ve heard the story often. The doctor always told me that I had a good outcome because it was caught early, and that’s thanks to Mitsou talking about it on the radio. 

This summer, I celebrated 25 years of marriage. My daughter-in-law decided to write to Mitsou to ask if she would be willing to hear my story and make us a little video to congratulate us on our 25th wedding anniversary. It was played at the party and I was sobbing.  

I took a chance and wrote to her on Messenger to thank her. She wrote back and suggested I tell my story for the Foundation. It was important to me that she knew she’d saved someone’s life.