Testimonial from Pierrette Branchereau, diagnosed three times with cancer

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Walking a tightrope over a chasm, and knowing there’s someone at the other end who says in a calm, gentle voice: keep moving, don’t be afraid, you’ll make it.  Here’s my story…

March 18, 1996. I open my eyes. A majestic bouquet of flowers lays on a small table near me. I should be happy; it’s my 45th birthday. A tear rolls down my cheek. From the folds of my bed, in a hospital room, I feel an indescribable pain. I have just had a mastectomy, following a diagnosis of breast cancer. It’s a distressing, awful reality… what will become of me? Chemotherapy and all its side effects follow, and in this hell that is mine, I think of my five-year-old son, and all those I love.

Coming from who-knows-where, the instinct to survive surges within me. I vow to wage a relentless battle, drawing on all the energy I have to convince myself that I will survive in spite of it all. Despite the ravages of chemotherapy and surgery, I do my best to take care of my appearance, to remain attractive and cheerful. I’m overcoming this painful ordeal, but at what cost, I wonder!

I set my sights on new horizons in order to distance myself from this sad episode in my life by deciding to embark on a dream I had been nourishing for a long time. A real surprise awaits me, as this dream will enable me to discover a true passion: painting on wood, which will give my life a new perspective. I abandon myself to it with heart and passion!

Just as I am slowly being reborn, swept along by my art, at the dawn of the new millennium, another cancer (ovarian) takes me by surprise. My life is turned upside-down again. I am plunged back into total darkness. “This time,” I think, “I won’t be spared.” But I am wrong. With my new-found strength in the face of this second ordeal, my survival instinct kicks in again. That same little voice tells me once again: “Hang in there, girl, be brave, believe in yourself, believe in God, believe in your dreams and you’ll triumph once more.” So I believe in myself, I pray to God, I dream even greater dreams, and I am granted my wish… not without pain, of course.

However, I don’t win this “victory” alone. I owe it to all those who, in one way or another, support me in my battle.

Fearing a third relapse, I can’t concentrate and abandon my painting. I can’t get my life back on track. I am suspended in time, fearful, oppressed. So one autumn morning, in the midst of my tears, feeling something between vulnerability and shyness, I dip my pen in my torment. I put my “cry for help” on paper, writing to a singer-songwriter whom I greatly admire for his talent with words. Two weeks later, the man nicknamed “L’orfèvre des rimes et des mots (the goldsmith of poem and verse),” Yves Duteil, writes back.

It’s a real revelation, so touched am I by his kind gesture. Like an antidote to my helplessness, it feels like the helping hand I’ve been waiting for. A new energy envelopes me like a soft blanket, giving me the hope, confidence and strength I need to get back on my feet and move forward again.

To thank this great French singer, I decide to pick up my paintbrushes again after many long months and to give him one of my best creations, a symbol of my gratitude. On April 7, 2001, during his tour of la belle province, I personally deliver my gift, a painting of children playing in the snow on a winter’s evening in a little Quebec village. “A painting that radiates peace and light” he tells me.

In 2004, like taking final bow when the show is over, I make an important decision: to impose a long interlude on my life in order to stop the tornado into which I had been sucked for several years and which, to my great dismay, ended in the break-up of a 20-year marriage. So, just divorced, my body, heart and soul shattered, I decide to return to my roots. As I set foot on the soil of my native France, time brings me what I have come to seek: a reconciliation with life, inner peace, the passport to definitive healing of body and soul, crowned by a halo of mental and physical health. This long pause enables me to appreciate just how precious a gift life remains, despite all the twists and turns it can throw our way, and how much it is worth fighting for, again and again.

Against this backdrop, the outline of a new life is taking shape. So, a year and a half later, I am back in the autumn colours of Quebec, which I love so much, indescribably happy to be reunited with my son and the rest of my family and friends, and looking to the future.

With my body and soul at peace, I am now focusing on the things that can still nourish me, including the close connections that, without having made this journey, I would not have been able to recognize.                                                  

By sheer force of courage and hope, my life has once again become a tranquil river, but in the fall of 2012, the season when everything seems more illuminated, my life is once again thrown into turmoil.

The ruthless returns. I am told I’m facing breast cancer again. I am devastated; the news is so cruel. What I think is so far in my tumultuous past is suddenly so close. Inevitably, I think of my older sister, my friend, my “twin,” my confidante, who died three years ago of the same illness, in distressing circumstances. In a few seconds, the film is rewinding. I have a clear vision of returning to square one. The void is widening in front of me…

I sense an overwhelming feeling that I’ve never felt before. In the depths of my being, I am convinced that I won’t survive this third cancer. I feel both abandonment and acceptance. If this is my destiny, I will go follow where it takes me. Death no longer frightens me. I tell myself that it awaits us all at the bend in the road, and that my time may have come, especially as, without the slightest doubt, I know that my sister is waiting for me somewhere. She has given me so much guidance and advice in life. She will be with me when I close my eyes forever!

But the road we think we should take isn’t necessarily always the right one. I must not despair like that, I’m told. It is true that life’s difficulties are an invitation to an awareness that challenges us to go beyond our limited thinking. So I take a break to allow myself to open to other thoughts. I take control of my mind and channel it towards the outcome I want most: to get through this ordeal and heal once again.

A race against time begins. I’ve got to be quick! Wisely, I decide to trust my medical team, undergo a whole battery of tests and endure the long wait for further results. I assess the situation with the doctors, putting things into perspective more and more, all the while keeping in mind that no one is master of their own destiny, even if we are, on the other hand, master of our own happiness!

Testimonial from Pierrette Branchereau, diagnosed three times with cancer

Finally, my medical results are excellent. I learn that the cancer is very localized and there is no metastasis. There seems to be a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel I am traversing. I have to undergo a second radical mastectomy, which will be the price I have to pay if I want to survive once more. I am gradually realizing that I have a chance of emerging from this. I am pushing death away, keeping my head high, determined to fight, whatever the cost.

Beyond its benefits, I know the ravages of chemotherapy, and for many other personal reasons, I decline it, deciding to fight bare-knuckle, with hormone therapy as my only ally. I am convinced it is the right decision and a few days later, the medical professionals finally concur.

I have faith and I know it can be heard. My cry is more than a hope; it’s a prayer! I rediscover my spirit. I want to continue to rise from despair, let myself be guided by this strength of courage that rises within me again, crush this evil within me so that I can continue to live this life that we are only loaned.

With firm resolve and rooted in this reality, this is how I pick up the thread of my life at the start of 2013. This is a battle to be fought with a positive attitude, while accepting the irreversible loss of my femininity, in the knowledge that my trials will keep me human and my failures humbling.

Ironically, I’m not forgetting that cancer is also a kind of gift for me: it introduced me to the art of painting on wood, which I still do to this day. Indeed, it is in this medium that I am able to anchor all my anxieties, joys and disappointments! What a wonderful antidote!