No Guidebook for Cancer (Part III)

My name is Vanessa Racine, and I would have loved to have read the book “How to Live with Cancer at Age 23.” I would have loved to have read the book “Cancer for Dummies” that teaches us, step by step, how to live through this.

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.

Photo: Frédéric Lebeuf

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.

People have pity on you, but that’s not what a cancer patient wants to see. We want our time, and a listening ear. We want to live normally. I learned to overcome my trials by myself and with my family. Very few people can understand the situation. It’s not their reality. It’s yours. I can count my real friends on the fingers of one hand, since you lose a lot of friends along the way.

One gray night, at age 30, I had the impression that my heart was going to stop beating. It was tired of the fight. My body no longer had any strength. I called my mother and told her I was on my way out. Yet I did not want to die alone.

As a professional nurse, my mother could distinguish the love of her child from her professional skills. She saved my life that night. My heart had to stop for it to get going better again. My body has since gradually found its bearings, like a machine restarting.

Better Days

I had to go through a second bout with cancer to realize that I had to put my priorities in order and set aside some time for myself. I would have liked to have known all that beforehand, to have in my toolbox.

Massages, meditation, yoga… I decided to take care of myself. Physical health remains essential, but I consider mental health ten times more important. It’s primordial to be psychologically supported. There’s no shame in going to see a psychologist.

So many organizations accompanied me through the dark times. In turn, I wanted to have an impact on those who need help. For many years I’ve given back, both as a volunteer and an employee. It’s really important for me to use my talents and skills. Keeping a job that interested me through my fight has helped me stay balanced and motivated. I have the active mind of a 28 year old, but the body of a 150 year old.

I had no choice but to push onward. I had to get through these dark times. I had a bunch of projects I wanted to complete. I can’t stop living right now. I’m not afraid of dying or of suffering. That’s always an option when you have cancer, but it shouldn’t be your first

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