whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 43
In December 2019, my mother was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.
Earlier that year, during the summer, she had noticed a different sensation in one of her breasts while showering. A kind of lump that was gradually growing over the weeks. At that point, she had wanted to go for a check-up, but she had been on the waiting list for a family doctor for almost a decade and was afraid that she wouldn’t get a follow-up by going to a walk-in clinic. In September, great timing resulted in her being assigned Dr. Théoret. Dr. Théoret did not hesitate to give her a request to investigate further and to do some tests. Ultrasound, mammogram, biopsy… Then came the waiting for the results. In fact, it was not very long. But for us, it seemed endless.
Even before the official diagnosis, my mother was convinced that she had breast cancer. She could feel it. And because she had the opportunity to see a doctor soon after her lump appeared, she thought the cancer might be in the early stages. On the day, Jonathan – her partner – was there with her. I remember her telling me that her doctor was more upset than she was during the appointment because it was the first time she had to tell a patient bad news. After that meeting, my mother remained optimistic and never felt that her diagnosis was inevitable. She never felt it was an injustice either, she knew in her heart that she would get better.
In March of 2020, she had a lumpectomy and the removal of two lymph nodes in her right armpit, enough to remove all of her cancerous cells. Considering her young age, these doctors gave her a three-step treatment plan as a preventive measure to prevent the breast cancer from coming back. Chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy. My mother underwent chemotherapy for about three months before stopping because the side effects were too uncomfortable. Her hands and feet were numb 24/7, she had a metallic taste in her mouth and her body was plagued with generalized muscle pain. These treatments also triggered her menopause, so she also had to live with it’s inconveniences, including recurrent and persistent hot flashes. During this period, she also underwent a physical transformation. To avoid the shock of losing her hair in large clumps, breast cancer survivors advised her to shave her head before starting chemotherapy. Despite this, she still had to face the moment when her eyelashes and eyebrows fell out. I think that was the first time she said to herself, “I am really sick.
In late August 2020, radiation treatments began. Unlike many people battling breast cancer, my mother did not have to travel long distances to get to these daily appointments. The hospital was a short five to ten minute drive away. In times like these, you try to hold on to every little positive thing. Considering that she could not be accompanied by her loved ones during her treatments, thanks to the pandemic, I was relieved that she was spared this extra mental burden. Nevertheless, the radiotherapy was no less strong and demanding. As the days went by, my mother’s skin thinned around the radiated area and lesions appeared under her breast. To be honest, I don’t remember much about this stage… Some time after she finished the radiation treatments, the hormone treatments began. They lasted a year, a particularly difficult year. By taking these pills, my mother felt like she was mortgaging part of her life. The side effects were so severe that she could no longer enjoy her daily life. At that time, she also discovered that she had a heart condition and that some of her joints were being eaten away by arthritis, which did nothing to improve her physical ailment. In short, her health was going downhill. It was a period of questioning whether hormone therapy was worth reducing her quality of life for five or even ten years. After a long period of reflection, her answer was no. And today, I can say that her health is still improving every day.
My mother’s positive outlook throughout her journey was contagious at home; we could only be positive too. Looking back, the people who took her illness the hardest were those who didn’t live with us. To pay tribute to my mother and her immense courage, I launched a fundraiser in September on a socio-financing platform. All the money raised was shared between two organizations, including the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation. When my mother was diagnosed, she was advised not to do any research on the Internet. It was through the Foundation that she was able to obtain credible information, but it was also through the wonderful community gathered on their Facebook group “Parlons cancer du sein” that she was able to receive support. The Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation has been an invaluable resource over the past few years.
As for me, I’m going to have to start having mammograms in my mid-thirties to make sure I don’t develop cancer early like my mother. I honestly don’t have any particular worries about this possibility. I don’t want to live in fear simply because of something that may never happen. On another note, I would like to take this opportunity to say to everyone who is a loved one of someone with breast cancer that: I see you. I know what you are going through, I know what you are feeling. The pandemic meant that I was always at home with my mom, even though we didn’t necessarily share the same room. We could laugh to tears one day and talk for hours the next. We could also just enjoy each other’s company, lying under comforters, binge-watching episodes of a teen show. She knew I could help her at any time, I would just walk across a hallway at the slightest sign from her. I was taking care of her and trying to give her as much love as possible. Because that’s exactly what she needed at that time. We already had a great relationship, but for her to show up so vulnerable to me, it created a different kind of connection. There is a lot of recognition of the contribution of a spouse, but the contribution of other immediate family members is often (too) overlooked. I think particularly of daughters and sons, fathers and mothers, who also make a huge difference. To all the caregivers who have been in the same position as me fighting on the front lines, I know of your great contribution. You deserve recognition and gratitude. Thank you for being present, day in and day out, for the person you care about.
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