Testimony of a patient – ISABELLE CARBILLET, operated on for breast cancer in 2015
Interview in July 2018
I had this accident two years ago, a little life accident we’ll say… I am currently working in real estate, I have completely changed my professional career, I have changed many things in my life following this medical experience. So, I am here to testify, if it could help women in particular to get through this stage, which is perhaps not easy, but which we can overcome.
THE DISCOVERY OF CANCER DIAGNOSIS
It was during a check-up, because my grandmother had the same thing at the same age… What was reassuring for me was that she lived with it anyway, she was treated, and she died at 96.
All of a sudden, your life changes, you have to make decisions, you have to go fast. It’s difficult morally, you say to yourself “why me, why this? Moreover, this disease is very insidious because it does not hurt, you do not feel it… So, it is complicated to accept. I had a lot of trouble accepting it, because I didn’t understand what was happening to me, I didn’t feel any pain, I had nothing. And then, all of a sudden, you are told: “we might have to remove your breast”, so your life changes a little bit. Because cancer is not a harmless disease, there are people who unfortunately don’t make it.
THE CHOICE OF TREATMENT
It was very complicated for me because my gynecologist had reassured me… When I saw him the first time, the surgeon said to me: “Well listen, given your condition, I think we’ll do an ablation.” And there I absolutely did not expect that, it was terrible! You lose your femininity too.
And all of a sudden, I couldn’t hear anything! I think it’s important to be assisted during the consultations, to have someone next to us, someone close to us, the patient husband, family, someone to listen to what we cannot hear anymore! We shut down and cannot listen anymore. We only hear the negative things, the words that hurt, and not the words that are necessarily reassuring…And so I said to her: “But wait, that’s not possible! I was not told that! I was told that it was not very serious, a lumpectomy was enough…!” And then, since I have small breasts and I had three tumors, he told me: “It could be complicated.” He advised me to go see one of his colleagues to get another opinion, and indeed his colleague told me, “You have to try,” so we both made a bet, we said, “Let’s try, let’s do the lumpectomy, let’s see the results, and if the results are bad, let’s do the removal, if the results are good, let’s continue the process, and then it’s radiotherapy and all that.” So, I didn’t take the easiest path, but I took the path that I thought was the easiest to bear psychologically and for my life!
Dr. Clough did a very good job, he took some skin on top, he lowered it on the bottom, to avoid too much imbalance, he saved my cleavage, it’s my greatest pride, when I wear a cleavage, waooow ! I’m so happy [laughs] because I’m like anybody, even if I was touched by the disease and if they removed part of my breast, I kept my femininity.
WORDS THAT SOFTEN
The entire medical staff was top notch! I was quite surprised to see how we were supported. And it’s true that it’s difficult, it’s a trial in your life. I’m fine, because it only lasted 6 months, because it went well, because I didn’t have chemotherapy, it’s not as complicated as some women who go through much more difficult things!
I was quite surprised to see that the medical team always had a smile on their faces, kind words, reassuring words. The follow-up, sincerely, is something that allowed me to overcome the ordeal, for sure.
When I arrived at the radiotherapy, I always arrived with a smile on my face in the morning because I was going very early, because I was working, I was still working, and then there was a gentleman who said to me, “Ah, good morning my princess! How are you today?” So, it was little words like that that make you feel good, because you go through a little bit of complicated things! …. And they are not people who feel sorry for you. That’s what’s good too. Because they also see it every day!
They give us the words, the strength, the energy. But in any case, whatever happens, even if we are extremely well surrounded, we are alone in the face of all this. You are alone in the face of the disease. Alone to say to yourself: “Here, I have a problem, I have to fight it. Even if you are extremely well surrounded.
The oncologist was scolding me because I was working during my radiotherapy, he was telling me, “Be careful, be careful, you’re going to be tired”. “But no, I’m fine, don’t worry, there’s nothing to worry about! “So, I went for my radiotherapy in the morning, I went back to work afterwards, and it also allowed me psychologically not to feel sorry for myself, it was good! It was good that I went to work.
And indeed, I was tired afterwards. And in addition, in my work, it was complicated and at one point, the doctor told me: “Stop! You have to stop.” In December, he told me: “You stop everything and you will rest, you will think about yourself.” Indeed I worked too much. I had completely discharged the batteries, and then the doctor said to me: “Stop.”
So that’s important too, it’s something I learned during my illness, to know how to listen to yourself when you’re tired, to know how to rest for a quarter of an hour or half an hour, but to listen to yourself. I listen to my body, I rest. The good thing with working was to feel not sick. I was forgetting my illness.
Sophrology has helped me get through some stages. It is sure. To be wiser, to accept things, not to be angry, to know how to manage anger, because we are also a little bit angry against this disease. So, to know how to manage anger, to know how to face it.
You feel an intruder inside you. You feel it because it is sneaky. So yes indeed, it’s a battle. It’s a battle, saying: no, no, no, you’re not getting me. I will get you.
THE END OF THE TREATMENT
So, the most complicated thing, I’ll tell you, is: you are surrounded for six months, and all of a sudden, they tell you: “Last appointment with the oncologist”, they make a little assessment of everything, they tell me: “Appointment in one year”, I go: “What do you mean?” “Yes, you will have check-ups, your gynecologist will make the check-ups, your surgeon will make the check-ups, in six months”. And all of a sudden, you’re let go! And that’s the most complicated part, actually. It’s the aftermath.
It’s the aftermath that you have to deal with because you are a little bit afraid, you don’t really know! For six months, you are surrounded, you need advice, you have someone who answers you, then suddenly you have someone who says: “Go, ciao, see you in six months” or in one year, depending on the doctor. That’s complicated.
TALKING ABOUT IT OR NOT?
I didn’t want anyone to look at me differently. When you tell someone that you have breast cancer, you know what the first thing people do? They look at your breasts….
I know that I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t talk about it very much, I forbade my daughters to talk about it because I didn’t want – it wasn’t a shame, not at all – I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me, to say: “Oh my poor thing…” I didn’t want that. I didn’t want that. I wanted to deal with it, I only told people in my family, my friends around me, my relatives, it was very limited. Now I talk about it from time to time, when I hear people who have a concern like that. I tell them, “I’ve been through this, you can do this.”
A CAUSE FOR CANCER?
I’ve had some trials in my life that have been pretty complicated and I think my body has paid for it one day. I’m sure of that. Regardless of my hereditary problem, I think so. At some point, the body got some bad things.
My divorce was very complicated, I raised my kids alone, it was heavy – it lasted seven years – I was officially divorced in 2014, and I was found to have cancer in 2015. So, I think there’s a relationship to all of that.
That’s what’s complicated too, is that we don’t know where this disease comes from. It can be hereditary, it can be the difficult pathways that I went through, it can be food, it can be many things. We don’t know! Because if we knew what was happening to us, we would say to ourselves today: no, I can’t take this, I want to, I can’t take this, because I am at risk. Today we don’t know!
AFTER THE DISEASE
I was already very epicurean, but I think I became even more so!
I have always kept my positive side, I have always moved forward in life, it has not changed anything. I have changed. I changed because I see life differently. I don’t get bored with things anymore, I move on, I put things in perspective. When I hear someone complaining about a little injury, it really gets on my nerves.
You try to make your dreams come true. I learned to play the piano because it’s a dream I had for a long time. To take the time to do things, to give love to the people you love, I live day by day, I enjoy life.
ADVICE TO AN ONCOLOGIST
A patient needs to be told the truth, for the doctor to be frank, to tell the truth, but not to be brutal either, to be formal, to repeat things several times; from the moment we are told something that is quite hard to digest, we no longer hear.
For example, I know someone who, when she found out she had cancer, when she had her appointment with the doctor, I ask, “And he told you that, he told you that?” And she says to me, “I don’t know, I don’t remember.” I said, “Did he talk to you, did he tell you the procedure, what you were going to have? If it was an ablation?” “I don’t know anymore. I don’t know anymore. “You know? That’s it. You’re a little bit lost, so it’s mostly a matter of the doctor explaining things well, and especially explaining them to the person next to them so that the person can say things back.
ADVICE TO A WOMAN WHO GETS BREAST CANCER
The first piece of advice is to get checked regularly before… I have a friend, I fight her. If one day she sees this interview, she will recognize herself, I wage war on her every day, I tell her: “Go do your check-up.” “Yes, yes, I’m going to do my checkup,” “Go do your checkup, it’s important.” So already, to be checked. Early on, it allows us to treat the disease as soon as possible. The second step is to tell yourself that there is always hope. No matter what happens, you have to have hope.