"My primary concern was that I am alive"

By Laura TomassiniMartine PinnelLex Kleren Switch to German for original article

A woman's breast is probably the feature most often listed when talking about femininity. But what happens when a diagnosis of breast cancer requires the removal of breasts on one or even both sides? Reconstruction can be an option, but a woman always remains a woman – with or without breasts.

Danièle Fusenig was scheduled for surgery back in October 2018 for a benign brain tumour. However, while standing in the shower one morning, she noticed one of her nipples pulling inwards. "I had had a mammogram six months before, where nothing out of the ordinary had been detected, and when my gynaecologist palpated my breast, she didn't really feel anything either", Danièle recalls. Now 58, she describes herself as tough and spirited. In 1983, she was one of the first ten women to be sworn into the gendarmerie, where she was a force to be reckoned with when it came to women's rights and equality.

But when the phone rang at lunchtime on that Wednesday three and a half years ago while she was having lunch with colleagues and Danièle's gynaecologist summoned her on the spot, the police officer knew what she was in for. "I had cancer once before when I was 23, it lasted seven years." But Danièle had not expected breast cancer – bowel cancer, perhaps, due to her family history, but breast cancer just six months after the obligatory check-up for women over 50? She didn't expect that. "But when the oncologist showed me the computer image with two thirds of my breast glowing red, I just asked if the whole breast had to be removed and if so, the second one too, please", says Danièle.

A diagnosis like a tsunami

Because of the aggressiveness of her cancer, she was immediately put on sick leave and started chemotherapy. The only time Danièle saw her workplace again was to clear it. She had to have chemo every fortnight for a total of 14 months, and radiation for eight weeks in between, during which her right lung was burnt. "I had to take cortisone for eight weeks in addition to the chemo, which was really heavy. It made me put on 14 kilos, lose my hair and it made me puffy. I looked like a monster." Danièle was able to forget about the brain operation for the time being, because despite good chances of recovery, breast cancer treatment is no trifle, on the contrary.

Last year, Ingrid Krücken was one of the 500 people in Luxembourg who get breast cancer every year. She had already been struggling with health problems in previous years; just four weeks before her cancer diagnosis, her doctor informed her that she had Lyme disease. When she felt a lump in her breast at some point and it started showing discharge after two months, the mother knew something was wrong. "I immediately went for a mammogram and a biopsy was done. Since at first there was just the initial report, which only examined the secretions from the breast, it was mistakenly thought not to be carcinoma (malignant cancer, ed.). However, the full report followed the next day, confirming to be cancer after all." A shock for Ingrid, who at first thought not of herself, but of her family, especially her little daughter. "How do you tell your child that you are sick, especially when she is only eight years old?", Ingrid sums up her thoughts.

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