I was 30 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s always so hard to talk about it. Even 5 years after my diagnosis, it’s still taboo. Even if writing is easier for me than speaking out loud about such a bad dream, it’s still painful.
It was September 2013, and I had just turned 30 in July. I was packing my bags to move to New York City from Cannes, France. A new life, a new beginning, a new adventure, a new job at a fantastic pâtisserie! I was a happy young lady, positive, full of energy, athletic, and optimistic!
My mother was diagnosed when she was 47. I remember how hard it was for her to face it. She never wanted to have a mammogram; she was scared of hospitals, and disease. The truth is in my family, so many people have died of cancer that we’re always afraid of who’s next. So I made an appointment for her and we went together. It was time, she never had a mammogram at 40, which every woman should. It happened to be the best thing I’ve ever done, I feel like I can say I saved her life. That day she realized that even when you don’t feel anything, your body can betray you and it may be fatal. She had breast cancer.
So before moving to NYC, my mother pushed me to do all my medical exams since I wasn’t sure how the medical system would work for me in the U.S. So the day before my flight I had my first mammogram. I went to the clinic like I would go buy my baguette at the bakery. No fear, no worry at all. Instead, my nightmare began.
I remember how I screamed, cried and threw myself on the floor when they told me I wouldn’t be going to NYC because I had cancer that had been growing for probably a year in my body. My first thought was, they’re wrong, it must be a mistake. I’m strong and I’ll be fine, and I’m getting on that flight tomorrow at noon. But reality was quite different.
When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, your world collapses. Everything is unbearable. Everything feels so unfair.
Putting my life on hold at that time was unacceptable. Telling my boss in the U.S. that I have breast cancer and am stuck in France, that I couldn’t start my job the next day after having struggled for months to get a work visa was unacceptable. Telling my boyfriend in NYC, with whom I’d already had a long distance relationship for two years, that I wasn’t going to be coming, was unacceptable.
When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, you wonder what went wrong, what did you do to deserve this, what is the message? Why you, why now? Why?
I was 30 years old, the best years of my life ahead me. I felt beautiful, strong. Then from one day to the next, I suddenly felt so weak, insecure, devastated.
After my diagnosis, most of my friends went to have a mammogram. Sometimes, and depending on your family history, doctors recommend you wait until 40. But I say, never postpone something that can be done easily and that can save your life, your future, your body. I was only 30!
It’s important to know cancer cells develop so much faster in a young body and the result is that the treatments have to be very powerful and violent, with unbearable results, physically and mentally. One of which is having to undergo hormone therapy for ten years, which means you can’t get pregnant. If you stop the hormone therapy, there’s a high risk the cancer will return. I always wanted to have kids, not one, but five! So this news was devastating. Thankfully I froze my eggs before starting chemo, just in case I’m not able to have kids naturally. My biggest hope right now is that one day I will be able to get pregnant and build the family I always dreamt of.
When I started chemotherapy the thought of losing my hair made me so afraid. I was hoping so much for a miracle. I didn’t wash my hair for days after starting chemo, I was so scared of losing it. And then the day came, and it was terrible.
After that moment, my whole body changed. I loved my long hair, I loved my breasts, but chemo kills all cells, good and bad. It made me feel so miserable, I became a zombie. I felt I lost my femininity, and didn’t love myself any longer. I remember I never wanted my boyfriend to see me without hair, looking so weak and ugly. I was so scared he would leave me. I lost my confidence, my hope, my positivity.
I became angry, mad at the whole world and everybody in it.
I remember many psychologists passed by my chemotherapy treatment room to offer help. I was so upset that I almost told them all to go to hell, that nothing could make me feel better and that I just wanted my life back! I’m one of those people who thinks they don’t need a shrink. Until the day I realized that a little help from a professional can actually do good. But at that time, there was no way.
Looking back, I feel it would’ve helped me a lot. I was too stubborn and too proud to accept help. And today the result is I still have trouble talking about it. It’s still buried inside me, hidden, and so hard to let go.
In hindsight, I should have tried a support group. Talking with other women going through the same thing can help and make you realize you’re not alone, and that it didn’t happen just to you. That it’s a battle that’s difficult but not impossible.
My support group was my loving family, my incredible friends, and my supportive boyfriend. Everyone who was close to me helped me in this fight, they helped me rebuild my life. Instead of abandoning me because of my change in attitude, anger, and stress, they supported me. When you’re battling cancer, you need to hear that you’ll be fine, all the time. You need strong people around you and positive energy. You need love.
To all those who are suffering now, this is a terrible moment, but you have to fight because at the end of the day, life is beautiful, life is a gift. Because breast cancer, if caught in time, is curable. Because you’re not alone. Because even when you’re down, there is always a good reason to keep fighting. You are beautiful, with or without your hair, with or without your breasts. You are strong, you are the future. You are a mother, a sister, a daughter. You are a fighter.
When you’re down, always try to do things or think about things that make you happy. Make a list of what you want to do after you’ve won the battle. Show the world what you’re capable of doing.
After the nightmare, you will realize you are a survivor. You won the battle for your life and that makes you special. It makes you different. You are different. But different can be better.
I want to tell all women, and even men, just go get screened. Breast cancer doesn’t just happen to others. Push your loved ones to just do it. Go with them to the doctor if you have to! Save a life like I saved my mother’s, and she saved mine. Fear of getting screened is understandable, but keep in mind the later breast cancer is discovered, the harder it will be to win the battle. Not to mention the consequences if it is discovered too late.
This year, in April 2019, I hit my 5 years cancer-free. It was such a happy moment, such a relief to reach this milestone. I did eventually move to NYC after my treatment ended in May 2014, and since then I’ve been living my life to the fullest. Of course I cry sometimes just thinking about how so much has changed, but I’m grateful to be alive and healthy. When you win the battle against breast cancer you feel like a super hero. You are a super hero!
The most important thing breast cancer has taught me is that life is precious, and we shouldn’t waste a minute of it. We should always do what makes us happy, be close to the ones we love the most, and tell them how much we love them. We should follow our dreams, not procrastinate doing what we want to do, and just go for it!
For more information, to take action, find resources, and learn more about breast cancer, check out Charity Navigator’s “October Breast Cancer Awareness Month” guide.