“Just because I look okay, doesn’t mean I am. I want people to know that you don’t just snap back after cancer treatment. It’s hard work and it takes time.”
“Unless you go through a cancer diagnosis, you have no idea that the cancer journey never ends” explains Pascaline, a 38 year old breast cancer survivor, originally from France but who now calls Ireland home.
Pascaline was a busy working mum on the go when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 and she didn’t realise how much of a journey she would be undertaking. “When I was diagnosed, I was told, and was prepared to give up one year of my life to get treatment, get better and then I thought I would get back to normal. You don’t realise until you come through it that that is just not how it works.” Pascaline had eight rounds of chemotherapy, two surgeries and fifteen sessions of radiotherapy. She is now part of a clinical trial for another two years and is on hormone treatment for at least another eight years as part of her maintenance treatment.
Once her treatment for her breast cancer was complete, and Pascaline was given the all clear, she finally had to come to terms with everything she had been through, both mentally and physically, and learn to adapt to what had become her new normal. “I have an eight year old daughter and even though I was lucky enough to finish up my treatment just before COVID hit in March 2020, it was really challenging to recover when she was at home with me during confinement… she didn’t understand that Mummy couldn’t play with her all the time because I was exhausted. She thought because I looked fine I was fine, but some days I was just too tired to do anything.”
Following her diagnosis, Pascaline reached out for support and availed of various services from cancer charities during and after her treatment. “I knew that if I didn’t ask for help, I would break down. I just didn’t know when”. She joined the Marie Keating Foundation’s free six week Survive and Thrive programme in October 2020 and here she connected with peers on a similar journey that she is still in touch with today. “It’s never a group you WANT to be a part of, but once you’re in, it’s life changing. To be able to share my experience with these wonderful women and hear that I was not alone was so comforting. It really helped me with what I was dealing with.”
Now, Pascaline is working on her own “scaffolding”, piecing herself back together after the trauma and side effects of treatment. “I’m currently Pascaline version 2.0, trying to navigate the side effects of medication and figuring out what my body and mind can and cannot do anymore. It’s really hard to accept I’m not the person I used to be before cancer. I often feel guilty for not being able to do all the things I used to, but I’m trying to accept my limitations. I don’t know what Pascaline version 3.0 will look like. I’m still working on it.”
The one thing Pascaline wants people to know is that a cancer journey doesn’t end when treatment does. “Just because I look okay, doesn’t mean I am. I’m doing well and I’m slowly getting my life back on track but it’s hard, physically and mentally. One moment I’m okay and the next I’m not. I still have fatigue, anxiety and cognitive issues amongst other things. I also have brain fog most days. A cancer journey is a rollercoaster, with many ups and downs. But for anyone out there on a cancer journey, just know it’s okay not to be okay, and there are lots of supports out there that can help you if you just ask.”
If you would like more information about the Survive and Thrive programme that Pascaline has benefited from, click here.