Breast cancer: "Writing has become indispensable for me!”
Published 8 Jul 2021 • By Candice Salomé
Valerie2l, a member Carenity France, has breast cancer. Her family health history led her to go for a check-up every year, until the diagnosis was made. As a healthcare professional, she was nevertheless stunned by the news. She took refuge in writing and was able to put her experiences into words. She shares her journey with us Carenity!
Discover her story below!
Hello Valerie2l, thank you for agreeing to share your story with us here on Carenity.
First of all, could you tell us more about yourself?
I am 56 years old and am married with two children - Matthieu, 31 and Faustine, 25. I live in the north of France.
I am a nurse by passion and trade, and, after years of work and additional training in health management, I became chief nurse and then a senior health manager. I was in charge of managing a centre of activities for the operating theatre, anaesthesia and inpatient and outpatient surgery beds.
I enjoy swimming and golf. I love reading and have always enjoyed writing, whether for my work or for family events, or even for small press articles.
Photo courtesy of Valerie2l
You have breast cancer, can you tell us about when you were diagnosed?
My mother and grandmother were diagnosed with breast cancer. I was being regularly monitored by my gynaecologist and would undergo yearly check-up mammograms.
In 2018, during an annual check-up, they discovered a tumour.
How did you feel when you found out? How did the doctors tell you? Did you receive all the information you needed to understand the cancer and the future treatments?
I was stunned. As a healthcare professional and, above all, having cared for my mother until her death (after a recurrence), I was terrified. The doctors reassured me at first by showing me how responsive they were.
But understanding what was happening was made difficult by my emotions, despite my medical knowledge.
I was given statistics, which I had heard 100 times for other people, but I was unable to face them on my own. I was almost angry when they told me that "the tumour was so small that everything would be fine". As a medical professional, I felt doubly guilty for not being able to cope.
Through my family experience, especially as a woman, I convinced myself that I was going to go through the same thing as my mother.
I lived with anxiety during the period of follow-up scans and tests, which were to confirm the diagnosis. When the radiologist made the "final" announcement, all he told me was: "You must make an appointment with a surgeon." I called the cancer centre... I felt so alone. Fortunately, the staff at the centre were very attentive. I scheduled an appointment within the following fortnight with the surgeon.
What treatment did you undergo? What did you think of it all?
The operation was scheduled quickly and went well. The surgeon took the time to give me all the details before the operation. Then, afterwards, he immediately gave me a first analysis of the tumour. I felt confident.
My file would go to the medical committee and an oncologist would take over my care.
My radiotherapy began, as did the visits with the oncologist. This is where my care started to feel not right for me because of the oncologist's behaviour. He was friendly, but he never answered my questions. He examined and checked the state of my skin and just asked me to come back the following week, without any further explanations. I was only able to get information or explanations from the nursing staff during my radiotherapy sessions.
Hormone therapy started afterwards, still supervised by the oncologist. I was given no information about the side effects.
When I mentioned my joint pain, the oncologist told me it was in my head... My GP also had no answer.
So, when I discovered Carenity, I was able to talk to other people who were undergoing the same treatment and I realised that we were all more or less affected by the same side effects, such as joint pain. Sharing with others was a really calming step for me.
It was this process of speaking with others that helped me to accept my treatment, along with changing my GP.
I was given physiotherapy sessions and pain medication. I had the feeling that I was finally being treated effectively.
Mentally, I was much better.
Are you currently in remission?
I was diagnosed with cancer in 2018. They explained to me that I would be considered to be in remission after five years following my diagnosis and if I had no problems between now and then.
You felt the urge to write while on your cancer journey. Why do you think that is?
Writing has always been a way of sharing and communicating in my personal and professional life, and is meant to be a complement to speaking.
After I was diagnosed with cancer, my relationships with others were disrupted. Some people felt sorry for me. Others were afraid of me. My emotions were so strong that I was convinced that only writing could calm me down.
I began to put words on my computer screen. I came out of my anxious world and made up stories. Day or night, as soon as I was with my words, I soothed my own pain.
As the pages were filled, a story and characters were born. They experienced strong emotions through their relationships with each other.
Writing has become indispensable to me.
Then, when my novel was published, I had fresh connections with publishers, booksellers and readers. These interactions were calming, constructive, and showed me the picture of who I was and what I loved. I was no longer just the "woman with cancer". I was the person who was trying to rebuild herself, to reach out to others, to exchange and share. Writing and the discussions that followed gave me back my self-confidence.
You noticed that other people felt this same desire to share their experience with cancer. In what way?
When I started sharing through my first novel, I met many people and these encounters changed the way I saw myself.
At book signings, they would tell me how much they appreciated my journey, which they saw as a "return to life". Many of them had wanted to write, not necessarily a novel, but had not dared. What's more, often some of them had already written a note, a letter to their child, just in case... But out of embarrassment, out of fear of frightening them, they didn't dare to send it.
COVID-19 has really made us stop and reflect, especially for those who have long-term cancer.
Some people would like to share their experience of cancer and what they are going through, but how?
A mother told me that she had preciously kept the poems of her son, who died of cancer, and that she would like to publish them to keep her son's inner beauty alive, through his writing...
These stories moved me to the point of dreaming of a community that could come together to share the writings of people who, in suffering, have found a way to ease their pain. I had the impression that despite the abundance of groups on social networking sites, there was no place for us, free from judgement, competition and the need for "results". Where we could just share the emotions of our journey through life and feel good about having put words to our pain.
You had the idea of creating a website where anyone who wanted to publish stories and testimonials. How did the idea come about?
I felt lucky to have been chosen by a publishing house and also because those around me had supported and encouraged me.
I was lifted up, I overcame my fears and regained my confidence. I had lost so much of it through cancer and treatment...
I told myself that many people are more isolated than me and cannot offer themselves this chance. To write about one's journey and one's desire to write for others or for oneself is a very intimate ordeal. It allows you to regain your self-confidence and an incredible feeling of well-being. It gives you strength for the rest of your cancer journey.
Social networks do not emphasise the link between a person's life journey and writing. They offer the finished product (a book, collection of stories, etc.). So, the emotions that we experience through our journey are not valued, although they are of immense power for our existence. They help us to accept ourselves and to confront our differences with serenity.
And yet, having faced such terrible hardships, having cared for someone who is ill is a story, a journey as important as what was written at that time. It is also a way of bringing memories of people who are no longer with us to life...
This site is an opportunity to share your own words about your journey and what the written word has brought you in these circumstances. It's an opportunity to publish your thoughts without constraint and share them with those who have lived a similar story, to publish the words of people who would have liked to be read but who can no longer do so.
I knew a little about social media and had developed my own author site. To encourage sharing, I had to create a different website where everyone would feel like a participant, a member.
To create this site, I had the help of four young people who were touched by my story and my project. They brought their computer knowledge to the table. My husband and children support me and suggest improvements. I contacted people around me to get their opinion before opening it to the public.
What advice would you share with other women affected by breast cancer?
Breast cancer invites us to examine our existence, our femininity and our relationship with others.
Once I was diagnosed, I learned the importance of being the person I wanted to be. I wanted to be appreciated for what I thought was most beautiful. I wanted to write to the world because "I was afraid to speak out and not be heard", like when the oncologist looked silently at the breast without hearing my fears...
I wanted to give those who have had a difficult path in life the means to share their emotions and testify to their immense courage...
Any final words?
Each discussion on Carenity has been a place of listening and respect. Each time the Carenity community has brought me comfort, and allowed me to regain confidence and serenity. Thank you all so much.
Find Valérie2l on Facebook (in French): Wake Up Artist
Many thanks to Valérie2l for sharing her story with us on Carenity!
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