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An Unexpected Trip to the Big Village

Fred Pellerin et sa fille, Marie-Fée, se tiennent debout, souriants, alors que Fred enlace Marie-Fée et que celle-ci tient une ampoule allumée dans sa main.

We were told, “Go home and open up your Christmas presents.” And then, “We’ll see you back here first thing tomorrow morning.” It was December 24, 2019. And just like that, Sainte-Justine was part of my life.

The “horrifying” results of a scan performed in Trois-Rivières the day before left us no choice but to cut short our holiday celebrations and make a beeline for Sainte-Justine.

The word “cancer” was already buzzing around in my head, even before the specialists confirmed it.

Somehow, I knew what they were going to say.

For a year, I had been feeling run down, with these awful pains in my back that nobody could explain. “The tests aren’t showing anything out of the ordinary,” I kept hearing. My flu-like symptoms were chalked up to adolescent growing pains.

But I could feel it deep down: there was something else going on. Something much more serious. But what? What could a 14-year-old who knows nothing about what it is to be sick even imagine it might be?

Anything but cancer, naturally.

I was a long way from an answer, literally and figuratively. Living in my little village of Saint-Élie-de-Caxton, if there was one thing I thought only old people had to deal with, it was definitely cancer. For me, Sainte-Justine was little more than an abstract concept. It was the picture of a child on a fundraising collection box at the local butcher’s shop, where people would sometimes drop their spare change.

But the concept quickly became very real indeed.

“Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage 3,” I was told. And in a flash, the thing that seemed a million miles away had me in its clutches. I was going to be one of the faces on the collection box. I was them. They were me.

The fear of dying darkened the doorstep of my mind like an unexpected houseguest. Was I ready to accept that future for myself? Not for a moment. But no matter how much I struggled with the thought, in the end I had to give in and find the courage, the fortitude, to move forward.
Marie-Fée Pellerin Tree of Lights ambassador

The little village inside my head suddenly reached out to the village beyond.

The big village and all the incredible expertise teeming within it.

Of the two care pathways available to me, I opted for the one that was more intense. Along the way, I agreed to have my eggs frozen in case the treatment left me infertile. Because at Sainte-Justine, they are also committed to taking care of your future.

It took six cycles of chemotherapy to stabilize the cancer in my lymph nodes. Six cycles, 14 radiation therapy sessions and countless hours spent at Sainte-Justine, which gradually became my refuge, my fortress.

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A village and the people who make it what it is

Their names are Andréanne, Josette, Yvan, Delphine and Sophie. I owe my life to their knowledge and expertise but also to their kindness and compassion, the comfort they gave me and their readiness to listen.

At the heart of the village that is Sainte-Justine, there are stories. Stories that lift us up, stories that bind us together.

I remember the time my father played his guitar for an otherwise inconsolable two-year-old girl who had been crying for hours on end.

Then there are the fast friendships I made with people like lovely Alexe amid her battle with leukemia. After weeks of hanging on to each other for dear life, day and night, she suddenly stopped answering my text messages. Forever. The fact that I had just gone into remission made her loss even more senseless and overwhelming.

Yes, there is life after Sainte-Justine. With time, you steel up your courage outside of those fortress walls. Your anger begins to subside. As does your fear. You surprise yourself the first time you don’t call the clinic in a state of utter panic when a virus hits. And something called resilience begins to take root inside you. As does the need to give back.

My health is good these days. I’m a student at Collège Brébeuf, one of Sainte-Justine’s stateliest neighbours, and I hope to someday become a doctor.

Right now, though, the thing I’m most excited about is the idea of seeing the Tree of Lights glow all the way to the top. And that will be thanks to the support you give to hundreds of families who are searching for hope, like mine was.
Marie-Fée Pellerin Tree of Lights ambassador

The one place you don’t want to be during the holiday season, or any time of year for that matter, is the hospital.

But on December 24, 2019, that’s precisely where I ended up. My unexpected trip to Sainte-Justine is the reason I’m still here today.

It’s two hours there and back between Sainte-Justine and Saint-Élie-de-Caxton. But the life, the sorrow, the lost innocence, the dread and the suffering — those are all things that can’t be measured in time.

Thank you for lighting the way for all the families who will be heading down that same path in the coming year.

Thank you for every light you make shine on the Sainte-Justine Tree of Lights.

Marie-Fée Pellerin
Sainte-Justine patient and proud ambassador of the 16th annual Tree of Lights campaign

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*The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and should not be considered to be those of the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation.

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