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Body And Soul: When Faced With Breast Cancer, Which Will Win?

The abrupt appearance of cancer forces you, whether you want to be or not, into a conversation with your body that, for my part, was mandatory, daily and permanent.

10/04/2017 16:23 EDT
PATRICK KOVARIK via Getty Images

One’s relationship with the body, with one’s own body, is a very intimate, very personal thing. It doesn’t occupy your thoughts 24/7, and that’s a good thing. The abrupt appearance of cancer, and especially the treatment that goes with it, forces you, whether you want to or not, into a conversation with your body that, for my part, was mandatory, daily and permanent.

Between body and soul, which one will win out? That’s how I felt as soon as the disease was announced to me, and at the time there was nothing obvious about the answer.

It’s a sly and cruel disease that is discovered over the course of a banal radiological exam when you are feeling in good shape and which, in a few moments, turns everything upside down. The fragility of life’s course suddenly becomes all too clear, but what about your body in all of this?

A kind of direct combat with my own body began, which required a form of self-denial and rejecting.

You need self-denial, so as not to put too much weight on the psychological distress caused by your hair falling out and the encounter with your own shaved head, of accepting the idea of wearing a wig that must come as close as possible to your natural haircut and color, of not perceiving it as a foreign object that has been placed upon your head, of forcing yourself not to allow the tell-tale signs of the disease to appear on your face (a slightly waxy complexion, the disappearance of your eyelashes and eyebrows) ― signs that you are no longer fully the master of your body and its external appearance.

But there’s laughter to be found in any situation. Right in the middle of a parliamentary debate, the day after my wig was fitted, a colleague of mine came to sit down next to me on the minister’s bench and let me know he thought my “new haircut” looked very good! Thank you, thank you and thank you again. He never knew that this was the best of “compliments” he could have given me, or that it gave me the will to laugh again in the face of this laughable situation.  

Yes, I had managed to make it so that my body could deceive; this comforted me and reinforced in me the idea of being a politician who was sick, rather than the opposite: a sick person who was a politician. And since he wasn’t the only one to compliment my new “look,” what more could I ask for?

Oh, appearance and its role in our society! It is futile and superficial, but during this complex period, I was fully satisfied with responding to the demands of “appearance.”

As we say, after all, appearances are safe. That was the main part; that was what I wanted. The disease wasn’t going to come pollute my work with consequences that were, in appearance, pointless. I was able to continue to intervene during parliamentary assembly, to give interviews on television. My body never betrayed me, for which I am grateful. I, who had perhaps not protected it enough from the rhythm that I had been imposing upon it over the course of those last 10 years of politics, and it, which felt the need to remind me of itself.

To say that it was easy and comfortable would be indecent; there were truly hard days. To say that it is possible to cure it in a moment, with all of those aggressive treatments that spread themselves throughout your body, down to the tips of your fingers and toes, that spare nothing, to cure the physical and psychological violence that comes and lodges itself so very deep inside you, would be false.  

It wasn’t a priority at the time and, what’s more, it wasn’t easy to find the right people to talk about it with ― mostly out of modesty, I think.

So I admire women who show themselves and their breast cancer scars, as some did in an issue of the magazine Rose, not out of provocation but with a sense of realism. Those who are able to speak freely about all of the effects that chemo can have on the functioning of their body, they are helping all women.

Yes, there is a life during and after cancer ― a social life, a professional life, a personal life. It isn’t as easy as before. The physical and moral reconstruction sometimes requires more time than one might wish.

But to bear witness, to express oneself publicly, is to contribute to changing the way society perceives this disease. It is to convince others that “comfort,” medication and accessories ought to be accessible to all. It is to contribute to asserting the patient’s place when it comes to treatment protocol. It is to remind others that it is not only the disease that must be treated but also all of its parasitical effects, so every person can remain the master of their own destiny and be taken into account in all of their humanity.

When a doctor told me it was completely possible to remove the little dot they draw on in indelible ink in the middle of your chest for the purposes of technical precision and radiotherapy, I declined his proposal – it was my own way of not forgetting in order to better build the future.

This article is part of a series of articles being published by HuffPost France in the context of Breast Cancer Awareness Month entitled, “My body, my cancer.” See the other articles in French.