Christine

Christine
Age at interview
53

Christine is married and teaches sociology and political science.

Christine received her diagnosis in 2012. She had never felt or saw anything different about her breast, even though a tumour of about 5 cm was detected during a regular mammogram. After the mammogram, Christine had an ultrasound and 2 biopsies and then heard 10 days later that she had breast cancer in her left breast. She initially opted for a lumpectomy with radiation. When test results showed that she is not a carrier of the hereditary breast cancer gene, but that she has many family members who are carriers, she was advised to consider a full mastectomy.  In less than 10 days, Christine moved from deciding to have a lumpectomy, to a single mastectomy, and finally to a double mastectomy with reconstruction. After the initial surgery and reconstruction, Christine developed infections as well as other complications resulting in 10-12 more surgeries. Another surprise for Christine was that she needed chemotherapy even though she had understood that she probably didn’t need further treatment after a mastectomy. It was a challenge for Christine to find the right information on what to do during chemo treatment when you have Type 1 diabetes. She felt that the different professional disciplines could have worked much better together to provide her with the right information.  In the end, she found the best support from her diabetic health care team who oversaw her general health during chemo therapy.

Christine had a lot of support from her mother, a cousin and a friend who all helped to care for her during the treatments. She has sometimes heard from others that she dealt really well with her illness. She thinks that because she lives with a number of health conditions, she is able to place breast cancer and the loss of her breast in a different light. This doesn’t mean that it has always been easy for her; she is, for example, experiencing negative side effects from taking Tamoxifen. She feels less healthy now than before her treatments and she doesn’t always remember words as an effect of the ‘chemo brain’. But she has come to terms with her illness and feels at this point anything that might happen to her is just fine. She feels that she can’t be scared anymore thinking about dying after having faced it once and she wonders why she is still alive while others diagnosed with cancer have passed away. She sometimes wakes up in the evening wondering “I am still alive and now what?”  She copes by taking life day by day.

Time since diagnosis
2 - 5 years
Phase of treatment
Remission

Videoclips

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I certainly did some searches on the Internet, but also, I’m an old-fashioned kind of girl in the sense of sort of being quite critical and critically thinking about what it is that I’m reading on the Internet. So I did the Canadian Cancer Society and the American Cancer Society and some of the universities in the States who’d had sort of stuff on cancer. But mostly the folks out of the Breast Network, my family physician and the different specialists, although I, if I was to suggest some issues that need to be dealt with is across an interdisciplinary approach to helping folks. Because I in fact, I mean they were very kind whether it was the dieticians or the doctors, but they in fact weren’t… like am I the only one that has Type 1 diabetes and has cancer at the same time? Do you guys not talk to each other around a holistic approach to this?

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Bless their hearts they’re so sweet, but I’m a Type 1 diabetic and one of the things that I discovered is that disciplines don’t talk to each other so I sat in the chemo session and I said well I’m a Type 1 diabetic, what am I supposed to do? And so okay we’ll talk to the dieticians and the dieticians said “You need to talk to your diabetic people”. So, information session on the 27th or 26th of November, 27th of November round one of chemo. Within 24 hours I was on my back with the leg pains, nausea, started the recovery in my apartment and ended up at my mother’s place on my back. And just for the luck of it I’d had an appointment made with my diabetic specialist on the Monday just to talk about what the heck do you do in terms of feeding. Literally my mother and her friend had to gather me up and put me into the car and take me there.

Interviewer: Because you were so unwell? 

I was so unwell. My diabetic specialist took one look at me and she said, “You’re not doing very good are you?” I said “No”, she said, “You’re dehydrated, you’ve got thrush, you’re going into the hospital.”

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My friends tell me that I’m much more laidback now which is a good thing. I have changed foundationally through this. I can start to tell you I don’t think the change is quite finished. I am beginning to appreciate my limitations, my humanness. There is not a great sort of enthusiastic well let’s go conquer the world. It’s okay, it’s all right, life is okay. I think that for me is the change. I was never a fearful kind of person and now I really am not. If I die today it’s okay, if I die next week it’s okay, if I die in three years that’s fine, if I die in 20 that’s also okay. And I say this with an honesty and not a fatalistic kind of "Oh God!" But it’s okay.

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Devastating in the… okay how do I context this? As a professional as somebody who wants to earn her own way in the world, this has been so problematic, because the assumptions underlying all of this is that somebody else will look after you, specifically your partner. And as much as he’s a lovely man and he earns a good wage and he’s got really good health benefits, that is the only reason why I was able to do what I did. I can’t even imagine if I had to do this alone I would actually have to pull out… what was the comment that was made to me when they were telling me that I’m not eligible for long extended… “Well you need to use up all of your RRSPs and then we’ll start.” I’m like “Are you insane? if I do that then are you going to look after me when I’m 65 years old? Don’t be ridiculous.” The CPP long-term disability, two reasons you have to be away for 2 years and you have to be either dead or dying and that’s the only time that they will kick in. I’m like “uh, uh okay I can’t go back to work… hello! I do need… and I’m not telling you to give me a thousand, hundred thousand dollars a month, even a small percentage a few hundred dollars just to pay for…just to have enough money, I don’t know for parking to the tune of about $20 a time. Who’s going to pay for this? Am I going to pay for this or are you going pay for this?

Unbelievable! So, I’ve been fighting it to make a point to say folks you are making so many assumptions. If I go to the Cross, 4 or 5 hour session, how many dollars do I have to pay including all the follow-up, all of the doctors’ appointments, where you have to actually put in money and you could be sitting there for hours and hours in the emergency. 4, 5, 6, 7 hours to the tune of $30 to 40 a shot for hospital parking.