COVID-19 doesn’t dampen Saint-Lazare teacher’s spirit
PHOTO COURTESY DOMINIQUE FORTIER
Saint-Lazare teacher Dominque Fortier tackled breast cancer like every other challenge in her life – head on with a positive attitude.
It will take more than a pandemic to keep Dominique Fortier down – this positive and determined woman has already taken on fighting breast cancer and has emerged victorious with a renewed sense of appreciation for every day.
“I was getting ready for my new class in August of 2017,” said the Grade 2 teacher at Saint-Lazare’s Forest Hill Elementary School, “and I got the official diagnosis on August 23.” Having lost her father to bone cancer at the young age of 66, Fortier said she was very conscious of the importance of early diagnosis and treatment.
No Plan B
Fortier found the lump through self-examination and, following a biopsy, was initially told it would require a lumpectomy, a comparatively simple surgery that extracts the cancerous tissue leaving the breast intact. In the interim, she began the chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Despite months of telling the intern that she felt the lump was growing, her concerns were dismissed.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought this would happen to me,” she recounted. “I told my kids, I don’t think the cancer will kill me but the chemo might.” Following extensive treatment including scans and MRIs and delays from the hospital, Fortier was finally told the tumour was too close to the ribs for the surgical team to perform a lumpectomy.
“I didn’t have a ‘Plan B’,” said Fortier. “I only had ‘Plan A,’ a lumpectomy.” When the doctor told her they’d have to do a mastectomy, she was ‘flabbergasted.’ With her right breast removed, Fortier was discharged the same day and recuperated at the home of a relative in Montreal. She described having to change her bandages daily with an understated, “C’est un gros affair.”
Fortier only resumed teaching this past August, having to delay her return to the classroom when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “Physically and emotionally, I was not ready to go back to work.”
PHOTO COURTESY DOMINIQUE FORTIER
Even during chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and eventually losing her hair, Dominique kept on smiling.
The COVID-19 outbreak has not left a dent in Fortier’s spirit and though friends joked she picked a terrible time to return to work, she simply said it was time.
“I’m a positive person; I can’t go back in time. It is what it is.” Fortier credits her doctors, support from her friends and family and, most of all, a sense of humour for getting her through the whole ordeal. She recounted only wearing a wig twice – once for her mother at Christmas and the other time to renew her driver’s license. “There was no way I would renew my picture looking like Charlie Brown or Caillou.”
She also expressed her gratitude to the hospital volunteers who helped make all the chemotherapy visits more bearable with small gift items, like a blanket and bandanas. Many elementary school students also make supportive cards to be distributed to cancer patients. “I got a card from a student at Evergreen School (in Saint-Lazare). I said, ‘Mon dieu, what are the chances?’” She still carries the card with her today.
It’s a ‘privilege’
After 33 years of teaching, Fortier remains passionate about her job and is unfazed about wearing a mask and visor at work.
“I love it, I’m happy to be there,” she said. “It’s a privilege to get out of my bed and go to work.” Though she could retire in two years, she’s thinking of staying on. “I’ve always been a positive person but I see life through different eyes now.”
Fortier also asked to give a shout-out for the support she received from the West Island Cancer Wellness Centre (wicwc.com) and the Info-cancer Hotline (1-800-363-0063).