Breast cancer: "Being pregnant and having cancer is possible, I did it!"
Published Oct 20, 2021 • By Candice Salomé
Justine was 14 weeks pregnant when she learned she had breast cancer. Between her fears and her desire to push her own limits, she is fighting this battle with a lot of courage. Feeling the need to talk about her journey, she shares her daily life on Instagram in order to help raise awareness about breast cancer. She shares her story on Carenity!
Discover her story below!
Hello Justine, thank you for agreeing to share your story with us on Carenity!
First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I'm Justine, I'm 35 years old and I've been in a relationship with my partner Jérémy for 14 years. I am the mother of a little boy Noa, 4 years old, and a little girl Nina, who will be 4 months old on October 9, 2021. We live in the Paris region.
Photo courtesy of Justine
You have breast cancer; can you tell us about when you were diagnosed? What prompted you to seek help for breast cancer? How did you feel when you found out?
In mid-December 2020, I was applying a stretch mark oil to my stomach, as I was pregnant at the time, I would do it every night but that night I decided to apply it to my chest as well. I had never done it before and I can't say what made me do it that night, but this sort of self-breast exam saved my life!
The next day I mention a lump I had felt to my midwife at my monthly pregnancy appointment. She ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound.
On December 21, 2020, I was told I had breast cancer. I was 14 weeks pregnant; we had just found out the sex of our baby, it was a girl.
I will remember how I felt for the rest of my life, it's always so emotional to talk about it, I think you are scarred for life. It was a real tidal wave of emotion because we didn't expect it. I felt as if a gun was being put to my head. I thought straight away about my son who was 3 years old, that I couldn't die, leaving him so small without a mother, I was at the bottom of the abyss. I thought of my baby, my daughter in utero, I was scared to death.
What type of breast cancer do you have?
I have hormone receptor-positive ductal breast carcinoma that has spread to the lymph nodes. I have 5 tumors in my right breast and 3 lymph nodes out of the 6 I had removed are affected.
What treatment did you receive?
I had a mastectomy on January 7, 2021, I was pregnant at the time. After the operation I had 16 chemotherapy sessions which started on February 8th, 8 of which occurred whilst I was still pregnant. I gave birth on June 9th, and I am currently undergoing radiotherapy which started on September 27th (25 radiation sessions to be done).
After that I will undergo hormone therapy for 5 to 10 years.
You underwent a mastectomy. Could you tell us why?
Yes, I did. The mastectomy was necessary because, being pregnant, I couldn't do a PET scan. So, they decided to remove my breast because there were 3 small but distant tumors.
Finally, after analysis of the removed breast, there were 5 tumors and 3 affected lymph nodes out of 6 removed. I have no regrets about this removal, even though I would have preferred never to be ill and to remain 'whole'.
You gave birth to your daughter, Nina, last June. Could you tell us about your pregnancy? Did you experience any complications related to your cancer and its treatments?
It was very complicated mentally; it was as if my head was split in two. On the one hand, you want to invest in your pregnancy and, on the other, you try to protect yourself.
I was terribly afraid for her, for us. It wasn't easy to go through chemotherapy while pregnant or even to go through all that in general while pregnant. When I had to have my mastectomy, there were risks for me and risks for my daughter.
I wrote a letter to my son in case it went wrong. I was so scared. When I woke up, my daughter was still there. I thanked life. It was a miracle for me. I had lost my breast, but I was still here and so was my daughter. Everything else was secondary.
The day before my operation, my daughter moved for the first time and when I woke up from surgery, I felt little kicks again.
We have a close relationship that really started in utero. What we went through together is more than a mother-daughter relationship, it's a relationship of two people fighting together! There is nothing stronger!
Physically, I was very lucky, I still thank life and my body for it.
It allowed me to discover myself, I who often thought I was capable of nothing... I did it and I am proud of us. And it was not an easy journey.
You're very active on social media. Why did you decide to talk about your fight against breast cancer?
I already had a private personal account on Instagram where I shared little moments of my life. I had this need to share at a time when I thought I would never have children.
It's been rewarding, I love the Instagram community for that! I met some great people there, I shared my life as a mum, the evolution of my son Noa, my new pregnancy...
When I found out about my cancer, I felt the need to create a new account, @moncombatcontrelecanceren2en1, I didn't want to share on my original account. I wanted to separate my cancer and my private life.
I felt the need to write what I was going through for myself and for others. I felt so alone, I felt like an alien. I thought it might help other people and if it did, I would be happy.
I've met some great people; I have a lot of support! I wanted to give to others because I had received a lot and I quickly realized that there was a lot to do! I thought that I could potentially pass on messages and participate in the fact that things could change.
You also spoke on a podcast called "Naître princesse, devenir guerrière" ("Born a princess, become a warrior"). What did you talk about? Why did you choose to share your story?
Delphine Rémy, a Belgian Holistic Nutrition and Eating Psychology Coach who underwent her own cancer journey, asked me to speak and I met this strong woman, so inspiring, a real human being. I really enjoyed doing her podcast (in French).
In the same way as with my Instagram account, I agreed to speak with her because I am convinced that it can help. To be at the origin of a self-breast exam that could save a life, to help someone in pain, to tell them that they are not alone, to let as many people as possible know that being pregnant and having cancer is possible!
Would you say that cancer has changed your outlook on life?
I've had other hard times before my cancer. I couldn't say it changed my outlook on life because it had already changed previously.
I already knew how precious life is and how important health is.
I would say that cancer allowed me to free myself a little more, to dare. Clearly, before I wouldn't have dared to do what I do on Instagram, for fear of everything.
Today, I don't let my fears guide me as much. And that feels really good!
It also helped me understand that you can't change your own nature or that of those around you. I was expecting a lot, hoping for a lot... from now on, this is no longer the case. I live in the present and no longer in expectation.
Cancer and its treatments can cause major physical changes. How did you manage to come to terms with your changed appearance?
I didn't have too much trouble getting used my new appearance. I tell myself every time that I feel down about it that it's just temporary. But it still wasn't easy.
When I got the diagnosis, I cried my eyes out because I thought I was going to die and because I was going to lose my hair.
I decided to shave my head because it was very stressful not knowing exactly when my hair would fall out. I had a really good time with it, actually. It's crazy!
That day I really realized that you get can used to anything. When I got home, my son told me I was so beautiful! I was so moved.
My son has been my rock. And my sisters "in combat" have helped me a lot. Many of them inspire me, have made me feel better. Seeing them so strong, so beautiful, it helped me to pick myself up.
For beauty and well-being, I turned to Les Franjynes, a French brand selling fringes, hairpieces, turbans, and caps, and make-up. It helps to feel good.
Have your loved ones been supportive? Are you able to talk openly about breast cancer with them? How do you explain it to your children?
They did what they could, and, with COVID-19, it was complicated. I think, and this is what Delphine Rémy and I were talking about on the podcast, that we always feel alone, even when we are with others, we are the ones who live the disease.
That's why Instagram and Facebook groups have helped me feel better because I've been able to share with people who are going through or have gone through the same thing.
I bought books to prepare my son as well as possible. I didn't want to hide anything from him, it was important for me that he knew. I told his school so that everything would go well for him. He was always my priority.
Finally, what advice would you give to Carenity members who are also living with breast cancer?
To use and abuse the social networks, there is so much support out there. To listen to yourself and your emotions, to sleep or run, to move or do nothing, to eat or fast, to be positive or not, to shout or say nothing, to cry or laugh...
We all experience cancer differently, but we all go through the same stages sooner or later. We sometimes imagine that some people are strong, we often underestimate ourselves. You can do it. I never felt capable of anything and yet I did it. I had cancer during my pregnancy!
Even today, I still find it hard to believe that it happened to me because it was so crazy.
Any final words?
Thank you for asking me to share my story, if my testimonial helps other people to get screened and/or to get better from breast cancer, I would be happy, that is my only goal.
Many thanks to Justine for sharing her story with us on Carenity!
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