“We will never again be “the same as before” our breast cancer”

In an alpine pasture on the heights of Les Houches (Haute-Savoie), twelve breast cancer survivors hug each other under a string of Tibetan prayer flags. They cry over their fears and frustrations, and encourage each other, too, for the life that ultimately awaits them. In this way, on this Friday in September, they close a week of “restorative course” provided by Everyone has their own Everest!an association created in 1994 by mountaineer Christine Janin.

At the start of the stay, Sunday, Geneviève B., 58 years old, Emma L., 37 years old, Nadjia H., 54 years old, Florence V., 49 years old, or Elise G., 46 years old, were a self-employed worker, a nurse, a consultant, a secretary , a teacher ; a mother and a companion, whom the illness had left alone in the face of recovery. Friday, facing the Mont-Blanc massif, they become one.

On arrival during the ascent of the Chailloux summit, in Chamonix (Haute-Savoie), September 15, 2023.
The women who came for the “refresher stay” of the association To each their own Everest!  pose upon arrival at the summit of Chailloux, in Chamonix, September 15, 2023.

The structure has welcomed more than 1,900 women in remission from breast cancer since 2011, with the aim of giving back “confidence, joy of living and zest for life”. This is what Elise G. came to seek from the association. A French teacher in a college in Isère, she will soon return to her position after a year and a half of sick leave.

By all accounts, the period that begins with the end of heavy treatments is the most difficult, because it gives time, finally, to realize what we have been through. The body is degraded, tired and amputated, sometimes; the spirit, tested. “Our loved ones expect us to be the same as before the illness, but we will never again be “the same as before””assures Elise G.

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“Nothing left on the stone”

In the association’s house in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, where the residents are housed in a summer camp atmosphere, we get to know who we have become. The first French woman to climb Everest in 1990, Christine Janin developed a support method based on the parallel between mountaineering and illness – cancer being the mountain to climb, and especially to come back down.

The entire program of the stay follows from this: climbing and hiking, to prove to yourself that you are capable; ziplining, to let go; a leap into the void, to leave behind your fear of the unknown. Discussion groups, interviews with a psychologist and oncologist, and meditation complete the care.

During breakfast in the premises of the association A each son Everest!, in Chamonix, September 15, 2023.
Throughout the stay, each participant takes care of another with little touches.  His identity must remain secret until the end of the stay.  In Chamonix, September 15, 2023.
Geneviève, participant in the stay.  In Chamonix, September 15, 2023.

In the background, always, we work on the acceptance of our new image. Geneviève B. no longer likes her hair. Before, she wore them under her shoulders; now they are short and gray. Under encouragement, Geneviève B. took part in the photo session organized on Wednesday, and received compliments on her elegance and the character that her haircut gives her.

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