In 2007, Elaine Aubé of Edmonton, Alberta received a disturbing call from Paige, her youngest daughter.
“Mom, I have lumps in my breast,” Paige told her.
Elaine wanted to hug Paige, but Elaine was in a motel in Edmonton and her daughter was halfway across the country in Rogersville, New Brunswick. Elaine told her daughter that she herself had not done a breast self-exam since September, when they were living in Hamilton, Ontario.
“And here it was November, so I did my exam. And lo and behold, I found a lump!” Elaine explained.
Elaine did not want to let her daughter know scared she was. “So I told her to visit her doctor the next day, and that I would as well, and when we found out results we could help each other.”
Elaine then hung up the phone, got dressed, and immediately went to see her doctor.
“It all happened very fast! Bang, bang, bang! Appointments were booked and I had a mammogram and other tests. Then I was told that I had breast cancer. This was followed by biopsies, x-rays of all kinds, one for bone density and others I don’t remember.”
Paige found out she had fibrocystic breast disease, a condition which causes benign breast cysts. Elaine was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in December 2007. Her left breast and eight of her lymph nodes were removed. She had the choice of either a lumpectomy or mastectomy, and decided to have a mastectomy because she was worried about a recurrence. She had surgery in January 2008, and started chemotherapy in February. That month she slipped on the ice and broke her back, but thankfully, her recovery was quick.
On the morning of Good Friday, Elaine was feeling very weak, and after trying but failing to get to the bathroom by herself, she woke her husband and told him that something was wrong. They immediately went to the hospital, where Elaine found out that she had had a stroke. She spent Easter weekend in the hospital with her husband, Lionel, by her side. Fortunately, she did not suffer any long-term side effects from the stroke.
Elaine had to have a PICC line inserted that May because her veins had collapsed. While going through both chemotherapy and radiation, she lost all the hair on her head and eyebrows. Her eyebrows never grew back properly, so she had them tattooed on.
Elaine returned to work in 2009. Her position had been eliminated, but a new position was created for her where she had to learn new duties. The Cross Cancer Institute helped her with braces, physiotherapy and managing her lymphedema. She and her husband took a course on manual lymphatic drainage, and Lionel is now able to perform the massage treatment for her.
Elaine has been on Tamoxifen for several years, and will continue on it until she reaches the ten-year mark. She takes a range of supplements, including vitamin D, calcium and krill oil. She feels lucky that both she and her husband have extended medical coverage that paid the thousands of dollars that post-chemo Neulasta injections cost.
“You should never say that you’re too old for reconstructive breast surgery! A lot of women need to be whole. Reconstructive surgery is covered in Alberta, as is the follow-up. When I first had my breast removed, nothing fit. Shopping was a big problem. Now after the reconstructive surgery, everything is easier and more comfortable.”
Elaine says that her daughters were a great help to her and her husband. Her husband still had to work, so during her cancer journey, daughters Stephanie, Brandi-Jayne, Courtney, Stacie, Paige and Maggie all spent time with their mother in the hospital. Lionel also showed tremendous support for her throughout her journey.
“I am blessed. My family got me through this. If I did not have my wonderful husband and daughters, I am not sure of my frame of mind would have been the same or if I could have gotten through it all.”