Gaye

audio
Age at interview
57

Gaye (57 years old) is married and has four grown children. She is working as a coordinator in the agriculture sector for the government.

Gaye received her diagnosis in 2009 and is now in her fifth year of taking Tamoxifen. Long before her illness, when her third child was born, Gaye describes having an out of body experience feeling that she was near death. She therefore feels that she has had the chance to live an additional 30+ years as a sort of special gift. This is one of the reasons why having breast cancer at this stage in her life doesn’t upset Gaye too much. On top of that, Gaye feels that she has been lucky to have lived a life full with experiences and opportunities and therefore feels that it is better that she was the one to develop breast cancer, rather than a young child or young mother. Gaye has the capacity to find a lot of humor and laughter in her experiences as a breast cancer patient and feels that this is an important aspect of healing and a way of living with the illness. Despite this, Gaye experienced challenges during her treatments. Gaye lost her taste sensation following her chemotherapy and she would love to get this back. Gaye has seen three doctors so far to ask them to prescribe marijuana for her as she noticed that this helps bring her taste back. She has been unsuccessful so far. Gaye strongly disapproved of the approach taken by the first surgeon she saw who proposed to do a double mastectomy immediately. She understood his reasoning, such that she could develop cancer in the other breast, and that this was a good opportunity to redo both breasts at the same time because her breasts would get ‘more saggy’ anyway while ageing. Gaye told the surgeon that she wasn’t that vain and found another surgeon. Gaye feels worried that health care professionals may affect patients’ decision-making through such information that causes fear. Gaye would like to let women know that as breast cancer survivors they should feel elated that they have come this far and that it is great to still be alive and to be able to tell your story.

Time since diagnosis
6 - 10 years
Phase of treatment
Remission

Audioclips

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And I feel very badly for women who are really upset about it because I do know women who have survived years after breast cancer and it can happen for all of us. The only thing I can say about having my TRAM flap*(Transverse Rectus Abdominis Muscle Flap) is that I don’t know whether it made my stomach smaller or whether it’s just, I didn’t eat a lot while I was on chemo I can’t eat a lot at one time. I eat lots during the day, like I pick during the day because I cannot eat a big meal at once. I can have a little bowl of cereal or I can have a piece of cake or something but I don’t eat a lot and plus I don’t have any taste buds. My, I was hoping and I’ve asked three doctors but they will not prescribe marijuana and so I have some on the side but I don’t smoke it enough because I forget. I’ll lie in bed and think "Oh I should have a joint." But because all it does is I’ll smoke it and then it makes me tired and I’ll go to bed and have a good sleep. And I find that the first day my mouth is really smoky, the second day I can actually taste something for the first time. I had one I couldn’t believe it because I was eating a spinach and feta pizza and I could actually taste the feta and I was so excited that I could actually taste something. But I need to do that more and I think that marijuana should be legalized and I think that Trudeau is on the right track because I do not think that it’s a bad thing.

* TRAM flap: A section of the lower belly containing blood vessels, skin, fat and muscle is cut and used for breast reconstruction.

Interviewer: And then it improves your taste sensation.

Yes, yes it does, one of the fellas I work with is a scientist and he had gotten this information and gave it to me and I do have information on that if you want it, it says that it does.

So I’m going to see, apparently you can get something that you can put the marijuana in and then you can inhale it and you don’t get that smoke and so I’m going to see if I can find one of these little machines and try that. I think that marijuana should be, and I think that if it is beneficial, that it should be allowed and I know that some doctors will give you a prescription.

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I went through chemo, like I said it made my feet numb. After the second treatment I couldn’t walk very well for a while. My feet are still numb, it’s about 5 years, but my balance is much better. I have to make sure that I wear flat shoes, but I’m good. I’ve lost some of my memory and I’m not sure if that’s from the chemo or radiation. I had 25 radiation treatments and I am fine. I lost my hair. My biggest fear was that my dad was bald and I was afraid that I would wake up one night and go in the bathroom and think it was my dad staring back at me, but I didn’t look too bad. My daughter was here and one day we were sitting at the table, I threw a towel or something over my shoulder, she said "Oh my God, you look like Ghandi." And so I got her to take a picture of me, I sent it to my friends by e-mail saying "Ghandi wants to speak" and I told them a little thing and I put this picture on there. I, you know, I wore a couple wigs, I became a brunette for a while and that was something different. My husband wasn’t sure if he liked that, he had said "Don’t wear that when you’re with me." We went out one night for supper with friends and the waitress was a friend of one of my daughters. She was talking to (name husband) but she never said anything to me, and I thought, well, she didn’t recognize who you were. And I said who I was and she said "Oh I didn’t recognize you, I thought (name husband) was with someone else" and my husband said see I told you. So that was quite funny I thought.

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And anyway I just I feel that you shouldn’t feel sorry for yourself. I feel that if you want to feel sorry for someone feel sorry for the children who have cancer and haven’t had a life yet or the young mothers who, like my neighbor down the street, had 4 little girls and she passed. That is a tragedy. I find that I cannot belong to cancer groups because I went to one dinner and people were up there telling their story and you know, “Oh poor me.” I wanted to stand up and say “Look around this room we are all living, tell positive stories, tell good stories, tell jokes.”

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Every week I had to go to the hospital or every second week and see the cancer doctor. Every week I would go, he would say to me "Gaye, you know you’re really high risk to reoccur." And I told him, after about the second time, that I didn’t want him to tell me that again. He’s told me once, I know that and I would, if it happened, I would deal with it then. And I told him that I could walk out of this hospital and get hit by a car as well and so I wasn’t going to worry. I’m not going to worry about whether or not I get cancer again. As much as I don’t want to get it, I’ll deal with it if it happens.

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I had a TRAM flap*(Transverse Rectus Abdominis Muscle Flap) and what they did, I’m not sure if you know what that is, that’s when they removed your (a muscle from your) stomach and they put it into your breast and Dr. (name) did that and he was excellent. Before that I saw Dr. (name), I saw another Dr. I was very disappointed with him because when he had checked looked at me he told me that I was getting older and saggier and my breasts were drooping and I’d probably get cancer in my other breast, so I may as well have a double mastectomy. I told him I wasn’t that vain and I left. I asked to see another doctor and then I went to Dr. (name). Dr. (name) was absolutely wonderful, he came to see me every day in the hospital and a couple times a day. He was very attentive, very good and I was quite happy to have him. One of the nurses asked me why I would go through all that at once and I told her that I liked to flash the girls at work and I needed a set. I don’t know if she thought that was funny or not but we that’s just me.

The sad thing is that I know a lot of women, younger women who have had a double mastectomy and when I’ve asked them they have said “Oh! I don’t want to get cancer in my other breast.” I think that was put there by a doctor and I don’t think that they should be fear mongering and it’s too bad that they do. I understand they’re doing, as far, as I’m concerned, they’re doing it because they get paid for two mastectomies, not one. Or it’s, they’re on the table, they just want to do it so that then this person won’t be back again to have the other one done and it’s too bad. It’s too bad that a lot of women are waiting for mastectomies and they haven’t been able to have them yet.

* TRAM flap: A section of the lower belly containing blood vessels, skin, fat and muscle is cut and used for breast reconstruction.

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I had a lot of lymphs in my arm taken out and so I have to wear a sleeve if I travel or whatever I don’t wear one all the time but my arm is really affected by the barometric pressure. And , it was kind of like my arm would swell and I’d go to the hospital and they’d say, “Have you been lifting something too heavy?” and I’d say, “No (it swells) when the weather changes because I have bad allergies and I get bad headaches from the weather and it affects my arm. So when the weather changes my arm will tend to really ache and it will swell.” So I go to the hospital and get a pump, have my arm pumped and have a little bit of physio done on it and then it is fine. But I just have to watch that because I had so many lymphs taken out and I don’t like to wear a sleeve all the time. I know that you can get coloured sleeves and stuff. I don’t like that because I don’t like when people ask me why I’m wearing it because then they always say, “Oh I’m so sorry.” Well it’s all right, so I just try to tend to wear a long-sleeved shirt or something when I have to wear my sleeve so that people don’t notice. I just don’t want people to feel sorry for me because there’s way too many things in the world that are worse than my breast cancer.

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I don’t eat a lot and plus I don’t have any taste buds. I was hoping, and I’ve asked three doctors but they will not prescribe marijuana. I have some on the side but I don’t smoke it enough because I forget. I’ll lie in bed and think "Oh! I should have a joint" because all it does is... I’ll smoke it and then it makes me tired and I’ll go to bed and have a good sleep. And I find that the first day my mouth is really smoky, the second day I can actually (taste something.) The first time I had one, I couldn’t believe it because I was eating a spinach and feta pizza and I could actually taste the feta and I was so excited that I could actually taste something.

I think I have to get on a pattern where I smoke it more because I have to get my taste buds back. There’s nothing worse than not being able to taste chocolate let me tell you. I still eat it but it does not taste.

Interviewer: So what kind of things can you taste?

Not very much, my taste buds... if I have anything hot, it’s really hot, it burns my mouth. So I don’t eat that. Potatoes, I used to love mashed potatoes, but now, I don’t like them because it’s just fluff in my mouth. I can taste a couple things. I can taste a little bit but I... they don’t taste like they should taste so I don’t know what to say. I’ll be glad when they come back and I can actually say I can taste chocolate or I can taste blueberries or something.