Sandrine's Story - It was a major physical and mental battle

26 Jul 2022

At the age of 16, I found a lump in my breast. It was surgically removed, and I was told it was a fibroadenoma.

From that time on, I was vigilant about getting yearly scans as there was also a history of breast cancer in my family. Some doctors told me that it was unnecessary and that I was too young to worry about it. Thankfully, I persisted.

Over the years I had a few biopsies of suspicious lumps. They were always benign. That was until the end of our 2021 family summer vacation.

We were saying our goodbyes and getting our bags packed without thinking much of my recent scan and biopsy. I mean surely it would be no different to all the other results I received over the last 20 years. When my phone rang and I heard my doctor say “it’s cancer”, I went into a state of total shock.

The next few weeks I operated on auto pilot. I sat through many doctor appointments. I cried during countless tests and scans. I imagined the worst waiting for all the results. I prayed that this would all just end.

I had invasive ductal carcinoma that was highly oestrogen and progesterone positive. The oncotype test showed that chemotherapy would be of no use to treat my cancer. I had a bilateral mastectomy on September 16, 2021 followed by ongoing hormone therapy.

It all hit me the moment I was in the operating room for the bilateral mastectomy. I guess up until that point I figured it was just a bad dream.

The recovery after the surgery was tough. It was a major physical and mental battle. I needed help to get dressed. I needed help to get in and out of bed. I needed help to close the car door. I needed help to wash my hair.

I couldn’t hug my kids. I couldn’t carry my kids. I couldn’t drive for weeks. I couldn’t shower till the drains were out. I couldn’t exercise. I couldn’t look at my wounds. I couldn’t believe that this was all really happening to me!

Six months later, it’s still a physical and mental battle. The hugs that just still don’t feel like they used to because of the numbness and tightness in my chest and right arm, still make me a little sad. I still don’t feel like me.

It is very hard to put into words the physical feeling – or the lack of feeling – there is post mastectomy. The scars are a constant reminder of it all, which on my good days help me remember how strong I am. But on my bad days, they have the power to break me down.

The hormone therapy is hard too. I carry a little pink fan with me wherever I go. And also, a jacket, because I get both hot and cold flushes. The night sweats are dreadful. You never get proper sleep, and that just makes everything harder. Brain fog, headaches, leg cramps and joint pain are not as frequent but also sometimes make an appearance.

There are some days I feel like giving up, just stopping the treatment. I do want to make sure I am here for my kids, so I can’t make such a decision right now.

I may look the same to many on the outside, but on the inside cancer broke me into many pieces. In Japan, they repair broken pottery with gold and consider the repaired piece more beautiful because it is part of the history. I am slowly repairing myself with gold.

“You are strong” are the words I heard a lot during my diagnosis. And it's true, I am strong but being strong does not mean I don’t feel pain. It means I can cry with all my heart when I feel sad and scared, and I can smile with all my heart when I feel happy and hopeful. Pretending the bad moments don’t exist only makes the healing harder. The secret is in letting out the sadness & moving on. Have a reason to fight, remember the reason, smile, and fight even harder.

I’m also grateful that I continued with yearly screening, despite the advice I received from some doctors. The only two years I didn’t get screened were during the two worst years of COVID. We were living in Indonesia and things got bad there. It could have easily been another year before I went for screening, but we were visiting family in Lebanon and as I had the time, I booked in to have a scan.

I would encourage everyone to start screening early regardless of family history. There can be no harm in screening early but there can be major regrets in screening too late.

Cancer has allowed me to go back to doing something I love – writing. When I was first diagnosed, I started my Instagram page as a digital diary for myself. It was a private account until I decided to go public in the hopes of helping others too.

I’ve since connected with other women in a similar situation to mine. We chat, complain, and support each other. It helps so much to know that you’re not alone. If you want to connect with me, you can find me at my Instagram page: @wholeheartedly_by_sandy.