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INSPIRING STORIES. COURAGEOUS WOMEN.

BONNIE WALKER
MOTHER OF TWO | DIAGNOSED AT 55

I focused on controlling what I could control.

One in eight women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis within their lifetime. We don’t control whether we’re going to be number eight or not. We don’t control the diagnosis. But we do control how we deal with it.

I realized early on that I didn’t have a lot of control over the whole medical aspect of it, but that I could control how I was going to deal with it. Was I going to cry in a corner, or was I going to say, “Let’s frigging get this done and move on.” I knew what was right for me – I was always about just getting it done. I approached my breast cancer diagnosis like a job that I had to complete. I didn’t want to feel like a victim. I was going to be a survivor, and that was that.

I’ve always been a black-and-white type of person. I’m very factual and pragmatic. Give me the statistics, the numbers, the probabilities – I need to be informed so I got busy getting informed. I wanted to understand the tests I was undergoing, the different types of breast cancer, my treatment options, genomic testing, and on and on. Again, I approached it like a project that needed to be done. I had a squatter in my body and I needed to get rid of it. So even losing my hair, losing my nails, losing my breasts – I didn’t find it that challenging, personally. For me, it was getting the job done.

And listen, breast cancer is very common. My number came up, plain and simple. Knowing the numbers, the one-in-eight statistic, I realized that I wasn’t the first, I wasn’t going to be the last, and I wasn’t alone. This is something that many people go through. And the science, research, and advancements in treatments are incredible. I never looked at it as a death sentence – just as something that needed to be taken care of.

I approach my whole life this way – with a black-and-white, factual perspective. Some people are emotional beings and others are logical beings, and I simply tend to be more logical. I always say, control what’s in your control and know what isn’t in your control. There’s no point trying to control something that’s out of our control. We’ll just drive ourselves crazy. I’ve had a long corporate career in the travel industry, and now that I’m finished treatment, I’m back at work. I needed to find “me” again, and “me” is not a patient. I was able to prove to myself more than anyone else that the old Bonnie was still there and could still lead a team. In my career, I’ve always been a team leader – I really enjoy developing a team and coaching them. The idea of “controlling what’s in your control” is something that I learned at work. As a leader, I can ask people to do something and generally they will – most people want to do a good job. But things fall through the cracks, people have bad days – and I can coach them, but I can’t demand or control, because it’s not my actions we’re talking about, it’s somebody else’s. That goes for everything. I could ask my daughter to put away her clothes, but I can’t make her. And so however they respond, whatever they do – I have a choice in how I react to that, but I don’t have control over it.

There are things in life I can control – how I reacted to my diagnosis, how I took care of myself, how I showed up every day, my attitude. How I looked and felt leaving the house – I could look frumpy and feel frumpy, or I could put on some eyeliner and have more confidence attacking the day. I could focus on staying in the moment and tackling my treatment plan one step at atime.

From the moment I got my diagnosis, I told my daughters that this is happening for a reason – and that something will have to come from it. If I can help one person through their journey, then maybe that’s my reason. It may not be a black-and-white answer. It may be something that comes in stages. I’m a very logical person so I look for that black and white, but I’m also open to all of that grey area in between.

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FAJR CHOUCAIR
MOTHER OF TWO | DIAGNOSED AT 35

How cancer gave me a new outlook on life and a new career.

My kids were just two and one when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2022. It was challenging to explain to them what was happening with mommy and why I was so sick.

Within just a few months, I had a mastectomy, which led to an emergency surgery the day after due to complications and ended up requiring a four-day hospital stay. I then underwent chemotherapy after discovering that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. It was a whirlwind time.No one talks about what it’s like post-treatment. We know about the surgery, chemo, physical changes, nausea, and so on, but no one talks about how to move past that once the treatment is finished. On the last day of my chemo, July 11, 2022, a psychosocial therapist called me while I was undergoing treatment. That was the first time I cried. I let it all out. I finally started processing everything that had just happened.

The post-chemo phase has really taken a toll on my mental health. I experienced severe brain fog and memory issues. I had two back-to-back car accidents, including one with my kids in the car. That’s when I decided to take a break, stop driving, and see a therapist for a few months. I eventually started getting over the fear of driving, but I still don’t drive at night—I haven’t gotten that fear yet. It’s been a year since my accidents, and I still have a lot of trouble getting on the highway without panicking.

Although I’m cancer-free, I’m still dealing with it. I’m undergoing hormonal therapy and taking other medications, which we’ve had to switch up a few times because my body was reacting badly to them. Now, we’re considering the possibility of another surgery to remove my ovaries. And I still don’t feel at home in my own body.My kids are a bit older now, and they understand a little more. I’ve tried to keep things light, positive, and fun with them. Before cancer, I’d always had long hair—so before having to shave it, I started cutting it gradually and had fun with different hairstyles. When I finally buzzed it, my kids loved it. My son would laugh and say, “”Mommy, why did you do that to your hair? Mommy, can I touch your head?”” The Look Good Feel Better (LGFB) workshop helped me a lot in navigating my appearance changes, especially with my kids.Today, I’ve become more spiritual because of my experience. After my emergency surgery, I felt like I was given another chance at life. I’m much calmer now. I move through life at a slower pace and don’t stress as much. I’m also more patient with my kids. My son is at an age where he always asks, “”Why?”” about everything, and I always take the time to explain things to him.

Before, I was so consumed with work, and when I wasn’t working, I was busy with household chores. Now, I just want to spend time with my kids, answer all their questions, and play with them. Work will always be there, and household chores will never end. But I got a second chance to come home to my kids, and now I feel like I must be there for them more.I was also inspired to completely shift careers. I became certified as a permanent makeup artist and now offer a variety of services through my new business. Part of my mission is to provide free support for cancer survivors, and the LGFB workshop is what inspired me to do that.

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JOYCE BORNIARD
NURSE | DIAGNOSED IN 2022

Learning to Truly Love Myself, Even in the Darkest of Times

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2022. I’d first noticed a lump in 2020, but I’d had a mammogram and the doctors had said not to worry. Then COVID hit, and I’m a nurse, so you can imagine how stressful that was. The lump wasn’t on my mind. But time passed, and the lump was growing – and it felt like it had a heartbeat. I got it checked out again and the news floored me.

My first reaction was, “I’m going to die and I’m going to die tomorrow.” It was a fear like I’ve never experienced before. That first night, I went to bed crying and shaking. You know when you’re really cold, and you can’t stop shivering? It turns out, that’s what anxiety looks like. I lost control of my body. I don’t even know how I slept that night.

Those first days, I felt like I was in a tunnel and I couldn’t see the end – everything was black. Fortunately, I soon got connected to a friend of a friend – a woman named Aza who lives in Spain – who had been through the same thing. We chatted via WhatsApp and something amazing happened: she brought me out of the darkness. She’d made it, so maybe I could too – maybe I wasn’t going to die tomorrow after all. I’ll never be able to express how grateful I am for her. She brought me hope. After that, I followed the path that Aza had set for me. I got a plan from my oncologist – chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and immunotherapy. Aza had told me what to expect at every step of the way, and she was right. I just had to follow her footsteps. My husband Jordi is the other person who I get emotional talking about. He and I are alone here in Canada – the rest of my family is in Spain – so he was my only caregiver. He was incredible. I have no words to express it, not even in Spanish. I don’t know what I would’ve done without him. And although it was difficult being alone, just the two of us, in a way, it made the journey extra special. It was me and him against cancer. Losing my hair was traumatic, but I invested in some beautiful wigs and now I have fun with it. Every day I look different. I attended the Look Good Feel Better (LGFB) skincare and makeup workshop and learned all these great little tricks, like how to apply eyeliner when my eyelashes have fallen out. It’s not something I felt I could ask my oncologist about, but it was important to me. Those little things brought back my dignity as a woman, as a human being. I wanted to look beautiful – not just for my husband, but for myself.

Jordi and I would go on weekly date nights, exploring different restaurants in downtown Montreal. We love Japanese food, Peruvian, or maybe steak and cheesecake, a glass of wine. I loved putting on my makeup and my wig and looking amazing – and feeling like just a regular couple out for dinner. Even when I was feeling awful inside, being able to look in the mirror and to say, “Yeah, that’s me” – that was priceless. LGFB gave me this by teaching me how to feel good on the outside. LGFB teaches you how to pick a wig, how to mimic the look of eyelashes. These small things make a huge difference. It was a mental thing for me. I found that when I looked less sick, I didn’t feel as sick. Looking good was like a sunny day – it gave me a bit of energy, it gave me life. It made me feel good. It also brought home for me how even in a tough situation, there’s always an opportunity to love myself. Maybe it’s the wig and makeup, or date night with my husband. Maybe it’s getting a massage to soothe my sore joints and muscles after immunotherapy, or doing some chair yoga. What better moment is there to show appreciation for my body by loving it?

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VANESSA LEMIEUX
MOTHER OF ONE | DIAGNOSED IN 2021

How I Found Strength in Giving Back

In November 2021, my life changed when I discovered a lump in my breast while in the shower. Reacting fast, I reached out to my family doctor, who promptly scheduled an appointment for me. Following a series of ultrasounds and a mammogram, I was relieved to learn that the lump was not cancerous, but rather identified as a fibroadenoma. We established a follow-up plan for six months later.

Fast forward to June, the lump had grown significantly and was distorting my breast. I opted to have it removed. Despite being reassured by multiple medical professionals that it wasn’t cancer, my fate took a turn when the biopsy confirmed the presence of cancer. I received the life-changing call from my doctor requesting a face-to-face appointment, while at the Blue Jays Stadium in Toronto with my boyfriend and son. This unexpected diagnosis left me in shock, as I had minimal family history of breast cancer. My profile didn’t suggest cancer, and I was finally optimistic.

However, my type of cancer, triple negative, is known for its aggressiveness and potential for misdiagnosis. Still, I was trying to be positive, protecting myself from spiralling as I awaited further tests and evaluations to determine the extent of my condition. The following two weeks were incredibly stressful, they ultimately revealed that the cancer was also in my lymph nodes, but it was curable. This news gave me hope. I embarked on a treatment journey that included chemotherapy and immunotherapy adapted to triple-negative cancer. I was also able to undergo genetic testing, which revealed that I carry a genetic mutation (BRCA1) that significantly increases my risk of developing breast cancer. This news guided me in my choice of surgery.

Throughout this challenging period, I underwent surgery and radiation therapy. While the treatments took a toll on my energy and physical well-being, I remained steadfast in my resolve to maintain a positive attitude. Despite the temporary loss of my hair and eyelashes, I found strength in the support of my loved ones and the knowledge that this was a part of my healing process. My 6-year-old son played a significant role in my journey, as I strived to shield him from the emotional toll of my illness. I would joke about certain aspects of my appearance like my shaved head, and I aimed to reassure him that I would be better soon. I also wanted to raise awareness about early cancer diagnosis, encourage self-examinations, and promote understanding and empathy towards those facing health challenges. In terms of my appearance, I chose not to undergo reconstructive surgery, as I had previously undergone breast implants. I recognized that this decision might be different for others, but it was right for me. My focus shifted towards maintaining patience with myself, especially regarding household duties, as my energy levels were not the same.

It was during this time that I discovered the Fondation du cancer du sein du Québec and, subsequently, Look Good Feel Better (LGFB). LGFB’s workshops provided me with valuable information, particularly regarding skincare, cosmetics, and wigs. Even though I already had a skincare routine, I learned about the unique needs of my sensitive skin during treatment. The workshops also introduced me to techniques like using stencils for eyebrows and disposable applicators for makeup, which were essential in helping me feel more like myself.

However, the most significant aspect of LGFB was the sense of community it offered. Connecting with other women facing similar challenges provided a support system I didn’t know I needed. It was a space where we could freely share our experiences, laugh, and cry together, all while feeling truly understood. This experience transformed my perspective on life. I now cherish every moment and savor the joy of connecting with others. I understand the importance of empathy and compassion, as we never truly know the battles others may be fighting. I encourage everyone to consider attending a Look Good Feel Better workshop. It’s a resource that offers guidance, tools, and, most importantly, a sense of belonging during a challenging journey. As I continue my path to recovery, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my life may never fully return to its pre-cancer “”normal.”” I’m learning to be patient with myself and focusing on self-care through meditation, yoga, and exploring new interests like horseback riding, salsa dancing, and learning Spanish. Ultimately, I hope to use my experience to support and guide others who receive a cancer diagnosis. Building a network of understanding and compassionate individuals is vital during such a journey, and I’m eager to be there for others as they navigate their own path to recovery.

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