My name is Vanessa Racine, and I would have loved to have read the book “How to Live with Cancer” at age 23, and again at 28. I would have loved to have bought the instructional manual “Cancer for Dummies” that teaches us, step by step, how to handle things.
As told to Frédéric Lebeuf
How can you make it through each day with this disease? How can you avoid fearing the future? How can you not feel like you always have a pit in your stomach? But, most of all, how do you live with the enemy? The book on this does not exist.
And after two complete remissions, I’m writing my own story. I’ve given it all I have. This is my recipe for getting through it. We all have a survival instinct. But we have no innate sense on how to fight an unknown illness.
A Second Bout
When I hit 28, my cancer came back in force. I told myself I could beat it just like I beat the first one at age 23, but I sometimes lost faith. I had less energy to fight this new battle. But I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to remain strong.
Sometimes I bowed to it. When you suffer from an illness, it’s important to surround yourself with family and positive people. They were my guardian angels, as I call them. I could never have got through it without my mother’s hand and my father’s shoulder.
I weighed 130 pounds when it began, and fell to 65 pounds. I couldn’t lift my head from my pillow, nor could I get up on my own. I couldn’t wash myself or go to the bathroom on my own. I spent all day in bed.
The doctors thought I suffered from anorexia. I saw the doubtful looks in the eyes of my friends. My body wouldn’t cooperate no matter how much food I gave it. I lost so much weight that I lost my self-confidence.
Thin, lacking in energy, I couldn’t keep up a conversation for even 5 minutes. My head was in a constant fog.
I lost three-quarters of my hair. I went out and bought a wig to salvage a bit of femininity. I cried the first time I put one on, at a specialized salon. My dad came along and also had tears in his eyes. This emotional moment became funny for us. He’d comment on each of my new looks.
A Heavy Heart
In menopause for three years, my greatest shock was that I perhaps could never become a mother. I hoped that would not be the case. I lost my two most serious boyfriends because of my two trials. Sometimes, someone loves you so much that they don’t know how to react to the situation. They don’t want to see you suffer. They have to be mentally prepared to accompany you.