When contacted, Sophie Sauvaget, art therapist and author of the blog Pet ogress, tells us how important it is for her to testify. To free the floor around this still too taboo subject, especially in France. “Speak so as not to be ashamed,” she assures us.
A month before her 30th birthday, the young mother, now almost 33, had recourse to a prophylactic or preventive double mastectomy. A removal of the chest offered to women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations who are not yet sick, believed to reduce the risk of getting breast cancer later on. Sophie tells us: when she knew she was concerned, she didn’t hesitate for a second.
During a long discussion, the young woman tells us her story, painful, her operation, essential for her, and her present, full of opportunities that she would never have thought possible several years ago. A moving story that she hopes can help those in a similar situation. Exchange.
“I wanted a solution”
“My mother learned that she was ill at 32, she left ten years later,” Sophie tells us by phone. “She knew I do not know how many months of medical wandering. At the time the breast cancers rarely affected young people and the doctors did not consider this hypothesis right away. And then the diagnosis fell. After her first cancer, she had several recurrences, before dying at 42 years old. “
Around her, other women of her family disappear from this same disease. Including her aunt, who leaves her a precious key. “She did some tests and found out that she carried the BRCA2 mutation”, as one in 500 women. BRCA2 and BRCA1 (acronyms for “BReast CAncer”, “breast cancer” in French) are mutations of two genes that predispose to breast cancer and ovaries. BRCA1 is located on chromosome 17, BRCA2 on chromosome 13. When one is a carrier of this mutation, there is 40 to 85% chance that a woman will report cancer treatment, 25 to 65% ovarian cancer. In men, the mutation is linked to prostate cancer.
At the time, Sophie was 16 years old and did not feel “ready” to be tested. Moreover, hospitals recommend not to go there before your twenties, she explains, in order to be “sufficiently prepared psychologically.” The click came ten years later, when she fell pregnant with her eldest daughter. “There was a sense of urgency in me. I had the idea of the exam in mind for years and knowing that I was going to be a mom, I wanted to have that answer to ensure my daughter would grow up. in beautiful conditions. With a mother who is already there and in good health. “
Even before taking the saliva sample and the blood test which would reveal a positive result to her a few months later, her decision was made: she would have to have a preventive double mastectomy. “I wanted a real solution. I saw my mother for ten years having moments in remissions, then relapses. So I didn’t just want to be followed, I wanted a solution”, she insists. It remained to be seen when.
In France, a lack of information and a tough taboo
She contacted the Institut Curie, where she found “benevolent” support which reassured her. For a year and a half after the conclusions of the examination, she performs MRI, mammographies and regular breast ultrasounds, to monitor what may be. In the meantime, she has a second daughter. And when she is eight months old, in 2018, she takes action.
“The whole procedure was clear, I was explained everything. The staff was very attentive, took the time to answer questions. It allowed me to make a choice, not to suffer. I took every decision in collaboration with my surgeon “. And in particular, that of an immediate reconstruction by means of breast prostheses placed under the muscles, which will allow him, among other things, to carry his daughters more quickly.
Beyond the hospital environment, it also finds concrete answers and beneficial support from the association. Geneticancer, of which she subsequently became an ambassador.
The young woman believes, however, that in France, everyone is not in the same boat: “I do not find that here, we have enough access to the necessary information around the breast cancer, its risks and its solutions. Me, as I come from a family where there was a lot of cancer and death, I was alerted. But many families are puffed up by this gene and do not necessarily know it. “She cites the example of the United States, where women document their daily life before and after the ablation under the hashtag #previvor on Instagram.
“They display it as an identity, it becomes part of it. And we, in France, women are ashamed, there is something taboo,” she laments.
Sophie is operated on in October, a special period. “This is the month in which several women in my family died, including my mother. The symbolism of rebirth was important to me.” The intervention went well, she returned home after three days for a week of hospitalization at home. She comes out even better than after her first childbirth (which was obstetric violence, she tells us). A state that she attributes precisely to the fact that she was able to inform herself upstream, to know what was going to happen.
“I also allow myself to make this connection with childbirth because in both cases, it is about interventions that touch what is most intimate in a woman, like her body and to her femininity. ” A body that she claims to cherish today.
Mourning for your old body to accept the new
“We, the women carrying this mutation and who know it, have a certain chance: we can prepare for the operation and what it involves”, she continues. “Those who discover it when they have cancer are in a vital emergency. And when we are in a vital emergency, well-being goes by the wayside. There are other priorities.”
To experience this upheaval as best as possible, Sophie “mourned” her breasts, performed some comforting rituals and planned trips before and after D-Day. “It was necessary to accept my new breasts. Otherwise, I would have continued to live in regret for the old one. Two weeks before the operation, we went to Budapest with my partner as a couple to visit the baths. And then, I booked tickets for a trip with my grandmother after my convalescence, to have something to hold on to during difficult times. I also did a treatment in a swimming pool, which invites you to free yourself. of all her suffering, and it was absolutely magical. It’s part of the things you can do for yourself, which helps to reconnect with your body. “
To women who have had a similar experience, she also advises “to have your picture taken by a caring, talented person. It can help a lot for self-image. ”Speaking of advice, she is asked if she recommends preventive double mastectomy for those who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.
“I cannot advise women to use it, because it is an extremely personal decision and it is important to underline it”, she answers us. “What I recommend instead is the follow-up.” And to get closer to people who have gone through the same thing. “Sometimes, it’s difficult to express yourself when you’re surrounded by sick women, you don’t feel legitimate, there is a big impostor syndrome”.
“It’s like I won lives in a video game”
Today, Sophie “is doing well”. She estimates that this path to feeling in harmony with herself has taken her about a year. A year of “small steps” which allowed him not to rush things. She lists a few: to look at yourself frankly in the mirror, to dare to touch your chest, not to go directly from the post-operative bra with a plunging neckline, the loving gaze of her partner …
“I also drew a lot of my body, with phoenix wings when leaving the hospital for example (the famous rebirth, editor’s note), made portraits, wrote.” The summer that followed, she put on a swimsuit, not without difficulty. “I was like ‘I didn’t go through all this to not live anymore’. But it was a bit difficult, so I bought myself a covering model. The following year, she opts for a more plunging neckline, proud of her progress.
“I thought I would die at 40, it’s like I had won lives in a video game,” she laughs, rejoicing in the professional and personal projects she has been able to carry out thanks to the prospect of l ‘surgery. Start a family, start a business, buy a house … “Next year, I’ll assume and I’ll take out the pink sequined swimsuit!” She says. We wish him.