Age at interview

Ginette is 64 years old and lives together with her sister. Ginette has worked as a recreation technician but is now retired.

Ginette was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. Ginette and Jeanine were interviewed together as Ginette has some memory issues that arose due to a former health condition. Jeanine is Ginette’s friend and caregiver, and is closely involved in Ginette’s treatment and follow- up. Ginette has always participated in regular screening mammograms and after her last screening in 2005 Ginette had received a letter stating that there were no signs of breast cancer. However, in December 2006, Ginette noticed a lump in her breast and decided to see her physician right away.  She received her breast cancer diagnosis after a series of tests and then started treatment in January, beginning with a lumpectomy.  When her stitches were removed, she was told that she needed to have a second lumpectomy as the margins were not clear. Then, 15 days after the second surgery, Ginette’s surgeon told her in a very insensitive and unkind way that she needed a full mastectomy. On top of that Ginette found out that the mammography in 2005 had already indicated a lump. She felt so angry after these events that she didn’t even want to tell anybody about the diagnosis. Undergoing three surgeries in six weeks took its toll on Ginette’s physical condition as well as on the people caring for her. She therefore decided to arrange a place in a convalescence home after the mastectomy. For her surgery, Ginette was operated at the end of the afternoon and was then told the next morning that she needed to get ready to leave the hospital. Ginette, who could barely move, argued with the nurses, telling them that she wouldn’t leave until proper care was arranged for her or until she could move to the convalescence home, which was then organized.

After her recovery from these surgeries, Ginette had chemotherapy and radiation. She has since lived with rare and long-term side effects due to her various treatments. She has constant pain in her mouth which is very sensitive so that she can only eat soft and un-spiced foods.  She has to drink her coffee with a straw. Ginette has been a participant of several trials in an attempt to reduce the pain; she is now able to regulate her pain better. Despite all of these ordeals, Ginette feels that she has learned to appreciate life by being more aware of the little things that happen. In moments when she was hardly able to do anything else, she has learned to take one step back and look at the things that were still possible. Jeanine admires Ginette’s persistence and is impressed that she has never given up no matter how hard things were at times.

Time since diagnosis
6 - 10 years
Phase of treatment


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Ginette: Well I must also say that I am a religious person and at some point in time, it must have been a year and a half for sure, that I was always into this, and then it was the radiotherapy, and in radiotherapy the staff was amazing! (It is at the hospital), the radiotherapy, fantastic! Compassionate! Really…

Oh yeah! I was saying that I am a religious person. Then I had been around all the resources that I could have within a year and a half, may be two years. I am saying a year and a half, may be 2 years. So I am the kind of person to say to God: “Listen! It has been almost two years that I am sleeping on my stomach, now you have to do your part. I’ve done all that I could, everything that could be done and see what I look like. Now, I would like you to put someone on my path to at least try to help me heal that wound and be able to move the arm.”

I am that kind of person and two days later I am living here with Janine. Janine gets up and says: “Ginette I don’t feel well this morning. I have an appointment with my doctor, would you drive my car.” I said: “Yes I can drive.” So we go to her clinic and then there was a door in the corner, it was Mr. (name). It was written: “Physiotherapist with osteopathic approach and acupuncturist.” And then there was a click in my head. I said: “Yeah, I think I just did…”.

Janine: It is her answer….

Ginette: I had never heard of this case. So I took and appointment, I went to see the secretary…

Janine: Well, you had never been to that clinic.

Ginette: No, I had never been to that clinic. So I make an appointment for the following week. I went to see that man. I said: “Listen, I don’t know if you can do something for me.” I show him the wound and all that. He said: “Listen, I did have a cancer and I studied at…” I don’t remember if it’s in Europe or the United States “to care for wounds”…

Janine: In Europe.

Ginette: He was exactly the person that I needed.

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You know the care. As an example, in the operating room, it tells you the kind of atmosphere, doesn’t it? I was operated on four times, I am starting to know. Sometimes the way people are interacting could be pleasant, the way they are talking to each other. But some other times! Tabarnouche! I ask them: “Hey, could you put me to sleep before?” I couldn’t take it anymore! I felt that they were not working as a team but rather in hostility. I say, we don’t have to put up with this. Then a resident comes to give me a shot – is it to put me to sleep? I don’t really know. As for him, I think he has never done it before or he has not done it often, but he enters the vein and he hurts me. Now I know that he is a resident. Then I take deep breaths and I am talking to myself: “Ginette, he has to learn, relax. You are going to help him. Relax!” But then he plays with the needle in the vein! Then I said: “Look, I am sorry, but I can’t take this anymore. Leave! Go!” Then I said: “Look, start over as many times as you want, but do not play into the vein because it is too painful!” He started over and I saw that he was stressed because he couldn’t do it. Then I was talking to myself! I was saying to myself, well, it is blue. The anesthetist came. He tried three times and he was not successful. The anesthetist tries to make me think of something else by talking to me, but I was aware that it was only to make me think of something else.  Then the anesthetist himself came, and he showed him how to do it. Then when I went back, because I had to be operated again – because you have to go to preoperative surgery – I said: “Listen, do I have to accept to have a resident that doesn’t know how to sting? This time I don’t want to have him. I am sorry but I have done my share. I have done my share!” She said: “Yes you have the right to refuse. It’s ok.” But I asked. And finally it wasn’t him, but you know, it wasn’t fun! It was not really pleasant. So the care depends on the person, but we must also say that they are very very busy. I make no bones about it.

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Did I lose faith? I don’t know what to tell you because I am a little mixed up. Because they almost gave me an insulin shot although I am not diabetic, trusting is difficult. I am more on the defensive now. In general, I am very sincere when I say: “Do not leave a person alone, whether at the emergency, whether in outpatient consultation, wherever.” That’s it, I found it not easy.  Not easy! The care? Well as for the care it depends on who is there. The oncologist, I didn’t… She is fantastic. The chemo treatment went well. But it wasn’t their fault if they were late! These are technical elements. Sometimes, it’s a machine that is out of order. Things like that happen. I don’t blame them for this.

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But I believe that it completely changes a person, it changes your attitude towards life. The little pieces of happiness, what I call the little pieces of happiness, sometimes it is not much. Before I didn’t see them but now I do. The neighbor that comes here, that comes to talk to us, she is 4 years old, she is so funny, she is nice. I gave her a flower one day, she comes back to thank us and it was so funny! You know the little pieces of happiness that I didn’t even see before, but now, today, you are more focused on the current moment because you know that your life is fragile. You know that… Still I am, I will be 64. You are more focused on living, I would say, intensely. This is very important.

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Indeed I was operated a second time, and then, they put staples because this is what had to be done. And when I returned to remove the staples, may be 10-15 days later, then it was really like the ad we see on television. When you fall on your back! I was sitting in a wheelchair because already my health wasn’t too extraordinary and I was… The way I was told, nobody ever talked to me about a total mastectomy. So the surgeon – I will repeat the words as is, it was not very kind, he told me: “Christ! De tabarnak! De calice! There is still some remaining Ms. (name)! It will be total mastectomy!” Then I was completely flabbergasted! Flabbergasted! I couldn’t believe it!

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Ginette: So I was not very pretty. I was as white as a sheet. And during many months I only ate…

Janine: A white porridge that I was making…

Ginette: A white porridge because I couldn’t eat anything else because of my mouth. This and Ensure. So when you have this in front of you, you lean there and look at it and you say: “Well, if you want to survive, eat! Even if you don’t feel like it, eat!” It’s not pleasant, so… Janine was trying to put a little bit of fruits, a fruit that I would like, but you know that it is tofu with yogurt.

Janine: Tofu, full fat milk, yogurt, wheat bran, peach or pear because these fruits were the smoothest one for her tongue.

Ginette: It was the nutritionist…

Janine: I had to do it thick enough, but liquid enough to go through a straw. So it was…

Ginette: It was the nutritionist that I had…

Janine: It was a porridge.

Ginette: Porridge, porridge! A nutritionist that I had to see because I had lost… for sure 30 to 40 pounds.

Janine: In few weeks…

Ginette: In few weeks. So I was telling myself: “You cannot continue like this. You must eat something.” And she was asking me what I was eating. Of course I was not eating, I was taking bottles of Ensure, but it was not sustaining me. So she gave us this diet that went on for many months.

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Ginette: But this is something that people are forgetting! This is difficult because when your chemo and your radiotherapy are over, for your relatives – we don’t talk about cancer anymore, it’s over! You are cured! You had your treatments, all is well! You have to be positive in life! All is well! But in real life, at least for me, that’s not how it works. Because of the after-effects in my mouth, because my treatments are over, it is not automatic that everything is 100% wonderful and that you are cured. You know that you still have 5 years to go.

Janine: But it is still there, in your mouth, anyway. It will always be there.

Ginette: Yes, yes, in my case, yes. But you still have 5 years to go before they tell you: “Well, you are cured.” Whether you want it or not, it’s not an obsession, but it is something that stays on your mind.

Janine: It haunts you.

Ginette: Yeah, that haunts us, yes.

Janine : Yeah, you’re always thinking about it.

Ginette: Yes, this is it, yeah.