Meet Michelle, Uncovered

Michelle (she/her) — Trinidadian, West Indian
Diagnosed at 40 years old — Stage 2, DCIS, HER 2- breast cancer 
I am a mother. I am a believer. I am a survivor.

After my doctor told me of my diagnosis, the nurse handed me a folder with information about support groups, cancer and types of surgeries. As appreciative as I was for the information, it still felt like I had to figure out a lot of things on my own. One of the things I did was join support groups, and for a while I found a lot of people didn’t look like me at all, but once I found a group where there were other women like me going through this same experience, I was so relieved.

I want people to know there are so many of us out there. It’s unfortunate that we really have to search to find others that look like us, but I encourage you to join groups. Even if you don’t want to talk about your diagnosis, you never know who you’re going to meet just by joining the groups. I met so many incredible women joining them. It’s the reason why I’m here, as I heard of this opportunity through someone I met at a support group.

Sometimes you don’t need to do anything, just sit

I also want others to know that you don’t have to fill up your time doing things. Sometimes you don’t need to do anything, just sit. It does wonders. It has been important for me to go through the emotions of being sad and grieving, but just also being with myself to fully feel all of it. My real recovery didn’t start until after my active treatment was done when I was able to feel my feelings. 

I also was juggling being a mom and taking care of my son, which usually means putting him first and focusing on his needs. Now that I’ve had a bit of time to reflect and take care of myself, I feel like I can just process it all. Everyone deserves to have that time. Especially as moms or women, we carry this extra burden of having to take care of everybody when really we just need to focus on ourselves sometimes. Just make it a priority to take care of yourself. Now, I know, whatever happens, I need to take care of myself first and everything else will fall into place.

Having cancer during the pandemic made it even more isolating than I suspect it usually is, but I would have loved for my experience to be somehow more personalized, with a dedicated person to help you navigate through all of the things that you’re going through. If I had questions or if I needed to talk to someone, it was hard to access someone. I know with healthcare there’s so many things going on that I think at times they get desensitized and forget we’re human, we’re people going through these scary things. I remember the first time I looked at my scar after having my surgery and it was devastating, just the shock of seeing everything that happened to me being marked on my body. 

“It felt like I was alone trying to figure out how to
make myself heal, and it was scary”

By the end of my radiation, all of my skin under the arm and breast peeled off and looked like I was a victim of a really bad burn. It was horrible. No one was able to tell me this was a possibility of what was going to happen. I was told to use a generic cream that everyone uses, however, it didn’t work for my skin or skin type and I feel there should have been more options provided. It would have been nice for someone to be more aware of what I specifically was going through and provide more specific treatments or options for my skin type. It felt like I was alone trying to figure out how to make myself heal, and it was scary.

My dad, brother and son have been a huge support on this journey. During my radiation my dad would drive me to the hospital and my brother would pick up my son from school. It was special because after the treatments, I would be pretty tired, so I would go rest and my dad would take care of my son, and we did this for 6 weeks. I was so appreciative of it so I could just try to recover. It was also nice to see the bond between my dad and my son during that time. This is why I brought a photo of the four of us with me to the photoshoot for this project. I wouldn’t have been able to get through this without the three of them. That photo was taken in summer 2020, so I had the lump in that photo, but I didn’t know. We were at the cottage and it’s amazing, I was fine. I was smiling, but all along I had cancer.

Sometimes it was hard to navigate between what my medical team had told me versus things my family culturally was trying to recommend to help the process. There’s a fine line of respecting the culture and what they do as opposed to what the doctor is prescribing. Now, because I’m pretty open about my experience overall, it has pushed my family to talk about what has happened. It’s really opened dialogue with my family, so it’s been good in that sense.

Being a part of this resource has been such an amazing opportunity, I’ve never seen anything like it before. Just being there at the photoshoot was just a full-circle moment for me, bringing everything to this moment. Here’s what has happened to me and now look at me. It’s just an amazing thing and I’m glad to be a part of it. — Michelle

Uncovered: A Breast Recognition Project is a resource that focuses on the breast cancer experiences of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. Through powerful imagery and genuine storytelling, it shines a light on the physical and emotional scars of breast cancer, cultural barriers and health equity. Uncovered was created in collaboration with Michelle Audoin and developed in response to the significant underrepresentation of, and lack of support for, BI&POC in the breast cancer community. Through the amplification of this collection of stories and experiences, our hope is to help educate all people, including healthcare providers, on the realities and
needs of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour with breast cancer, so they are
better equipped to support all the people they care for.
Learn more about the resource and meet others in the project here.

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