In 2006, Stéphanie was 40 years old, with her partner and three young children, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her illness and four suspected relapses up-ended her family’s life for almost 10 years. “We didn’t know that we were undertaking a marathon.”
“We were weakened by this illness, which happened brutally when we were young and unprepared to face uncertainty and my potential death,” said Stéphanie. As time passed, the divide between her and her partner deepened. “I realised that what happens to one person can affect those who are part of the familial and social fabric. We didn’t press pause to see what was happening with the other person until we reached the point of no return,” said Stéphanie, who is now separated from her partner. Her cancer also took its toll on her children, who were then aged three, seven, and nine. “They didn’t say anything, they just accepted it.” Without the ability to talk about it, however, their relationships became tense, and finally reached breaking point with her daughter, who is now in her 20s.
Today this relationship has to be rebuilt, and Stéphanie knows that this will take time. Her children remain one of her three priorities, along with her health and well-being. “I’ve learned to put things in perspective, take a step back, figure out what’s important, let go. For example, work is important, both financially and socially, but I’m not a careerist,” she said. The relationships with those around her have not been always easy, while people were sympathetic they were also awkward when faced with her disease. Today, she has pared down her relationships with others: “The Stéphanie I am today is different to the one I was before. I’m more direct in my language and behaviour.”
However, she is always willing to lend a sympathetic ear to anyone who is suffering: “It has become essential for me to reach out,” said Stéphanie, who remembers unexpected support during her ordeal, such as a university friend who took her to the hospital on the day of her mastectomy. She admits that her strength, the success she is so proud of today, was in seeking out this support. She has also found the courage to participate in the French swimming championships, her previous passion: “It took me at least six months to put a swim suit back on after my mastectomy,” she said.
Today, Stéphanie doesn’t care how people see her nor does she worry about judgement and prejudice, an attitude that has allowed her to regain her confidence and self-esteem: “I’m at the beginning of my new life,” she concluded, not entirely the same, not entirely different.