Gratitude despite cancer

Despite the ups and downs since diagnosis, I have gratitude for : my family physician, my sister, my radiation oncologist, the Quebec Cancer Foundation Montreal’s accomodation, my many virtual or in-person support groups, the Association québécoise de la douleur chronique, the MUHC lymphedema clinic and the Lymphedema Association of Quebec.

I feel like I’ve been in a roller coaster since 2013. Despite the difficulties and mourning, there were some things I feel grateful for even in the first few months after the diagnosis. There are still days where I see them more easily than others. Today is one of those days… What almost always comes first is the gratitude to have met the one who became my family doctor 4 years ago, to the day. For the rest, there is no particular order and the list is not exhaustive.

Gratitude to my family physician

It all starts on July 26th 2013 when I go to the walk-in clinic of the nearest medical clinic. The doctor immediately suspects an inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), but IBC is often misdiagnosed and taken for mastitis. I will learn later that he is freshly graduated and that he saw a case during his residence.

As he is unfortunately right but I am diagnosed at stage 3 (first stage of IBC) against all expectations, I write a thank you letter that I send on the September 6th 2013. I expect, at best, to receive an acknowledgment of receipt. Ten days later, his secretary calls me to tell me that he is very touched by my letter. He offers me to become my family physician. I have an appointment with him the next day to discuss my medical history and sign the papers in order to formalize the whole.

He speaks French with a charming accent since he is an English speaker. He is delicate, respectful, patient, empathetic, compassionate, attentive, available and punctual. Moreover, he often gives me the information before I even ask him the question and has a nice handwriting. From the beginning, he takes me seriously, does not minimize my experience and regularly finds the right words to help me feel better. He is the one who gives me the right time. Even after these four years, I do not find any flaws. Do not worry, I’m not naive to the point of thinking that he does not have one but I do not want to find either. What more can I ask for? Nothing. This is why I choose to continue being followed by him even though I have moved geographically from his clinic.

Fun Fact

Annie is a variation of the given name Anne. Saint Anne is the catholic saint of the day for July 26th. I learned that I possibly have inflammatory breast cancer on July 26th. My parents always tell me that Saint Anne has not played her role. I do not agree and never did. If Sainte Anne has influenced it, she at least made sure that I meet an excellent doctor and that I am diagnosed quickly.

Gratitude during treatment

I am grateful to have received disability insurance benefits during my treatment. This is especially true as it is the first job where I have such coverage.

My sister

My sister and I were distant and she came closer to me after the diagnosis. She attended the chemotherapy preparatory session with me. She picked me up at the hospital after my chemotherapy on December 24th and 31st despite the traffic. We then made a detour in order to get my suitcase before going to our parents. I no longer calculate the number of occasions where she made a big detour to pick me up before going to visit our parents and/or the reverse on return. She came to see me every day during my hospitalization following the bilateral mastectomy. In March 2017, she moved her day off in order to accompany me for my colonoscopy. In the spring, she also supported my cause so that I would be one of the beneficiaries of her employer’s support day. Thank you!

Radio-oncologist and Quebec Cancer Foundation

I am grateful to my second radiation oncologist for at least two points, including his empathy. Almost 6 weeks after my mastectomy, he was the first and the only one who helped me get dressed without my asking. That convinced me to start radiotherapy when I was thinking very seriously about not doing it.

Moreover, he informed me that I have the right to reside at the Quebec Cancer Foundation accomodation in Montreal even if I live in the city of Montreal. At the time, I lived in the west end of the island of Montreal. The public transportation between the hospital and the house lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes. What a good idea to stay right next to the hospital … I resided at the Quebec Cancer Foundation accomodation during the 5 weeks of radiotherapy. I took advantage of the various services including the Massage Therapy which is offered at low cost in partnership with the Fondation de la massothérapie (Massage therapy foundation).

The different support groups

From the suspicion of IBC, I looked for information on the internet. Quickly, I also tried to be in touch with other patients with IBC. In the long run, I found several support groups online. Unfortunately for French speakers, they are essentially English-speaking. I know some doctors recommend avoiding looking on the internet. For my part, I could not have gone through all the treatments without the support of other patients with IBC or similar cancer. Seeing people diagnosed 10, 15, or even more than 20 years ago, it helps to have hope … Over time, various in-person groups have been added: people in remission from cancer, affected or at risk of lymphedema, living with chronic pain, etc.

Gratitude after treatment

My employer

I can work part-time by having a doctor’s ticket. They would rather have me part-time than not at all. They never say no when I have to be absent for medical appointments. With a prescription from the doctor, they brought an ergonomist to adapt my workstation. They followed the 3 recommendations.

Fondation de la massothérapie

Since 2016, I have had several free massages from the Fondation de la massothérapie (Massage therapy foundation). I started with the program for breast cancer (4 massages). I continue with the 4 massages per year offered to members of the AQDC.

Association québécoise de la douleur chronique

Thank you to the Association québécoise de la douleur chronique (Chronic pain association of Quebec) for their work: self-help groups, website, partnership with the Fondation de la massothérapie, collaboration with the McGill University Health Center (MUHC) for the Chronic Pain Self-Management Program, etc.

MUHC Lymphedema Clinic and LAQ

Without the Patient Education & Support Meetings of the Lymphedema Association of Quebec (LAQ), ​​the lymphedema in my arms would probably not be diagnosed and I would still be asking myself a multitude of questions. I asked my oncologist to refer me to Dr. Anna Towers of the MUHC Lymphedema Clinic on the recommendations of 2 people from the LAQ. I went to them because the hospital where I am treated does not have the answers to my questions. Being a special case because at risk for both arms, they did not have the answers for me but gave me an excellent suggestion. During the picnic in August 2016, I even met a sister with an inflammatory breast cancer too …

Thanks to the MUHC Lymphedema Clinic for accepting patients from other hospitals. I see Dr. Anna Towers, the lymphoedema specialist in Quebec, and physiotherapist Marie Jutras. They diagnosed me from the first visit even if the lymphedema is mild. They answer absolutely all my questions even if my list was very long at first …

And you, to whom or what do you have gratitude?


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