Living a life to its potential — Inspired from a life taken too soon
My name is Ginette Beaudreault. I was born in Montreal, the fourth child of a family of five boys and two girls. None of my brothers and sisters have ever had any serious health problems.
Years ago, I had a physically and emotionally demanding career as a business and personnel manager. At 40 years old with two grown children, I only had myself to take care of. I was passionate about my work and focused all my time and energy on achieving success.
But then, I became ill. I first realized something was wrong when I started losing my balance. I felt physically weak, had little energy and couldn’t speak normally; I sounded intoxicated. I thought it was all due to my lifestyle choices: I was getting too little sleep, drinking too much coffee, and not eating well. I was so consumed by my job that I would forget to eat, relying on coffee to keep me going. I was also smoking way too much.
So I decided to change my lifestyle. I made sure to eat at least two meals a day, I cut down on my coffee, and I reduced my hours at work. I was sure these positive changes would make the problems go away, but my health kept getting worse. About eight months after I first noticed the symptoms, I went to the nearest walk-in clinic, where the doctor immediately referred me to the Cité de la santé hospital. I was hospitalized for three weeks. After numerous tests, they reached a diagnosis by elimination. On March 2nd, 2002, they told me it was Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. I had never heard of it. I searched the internet, found the ALS Society of Quebec website, and found out what that diagnosis really meant.
Reality hit me like a ton of bricks. I was sitting down, but I felt the floor drop beneath my feet. Time stood still; I felt as if everything had been flipped upside down. I couldn’t believe that my life had come to this. It was so unfair.
For the next few days, I took to my bed, getting up only to take a shower and then going immediately back to sleep. After about four or five days of lamenting my fate, I got out of bed. Today, I told myself, I would quit my navel gazing and focus on what was happening in the outside world. I opened the morning paper and a headline caught my eye: “Mother Dies in Car Crash.” The story said that the 41-year old woman, a mother of two children aged five and six, had been killed on impact. I could not get those two lines out of my head. I started asking myself what I would have done if, before my diagnosis, I had been given the choice of dying without any warning in a car accident or of getting a disease like ALS. After a great deal of thought, I realized I’d definitely prefer to have the illness, as then I would have time for all the things I still wanted to do. That day, I realized that I had actually been given a bonus. When compared to that young woman who had died so suddenly, I was very fortunate. My children were already all grown up, I had four super grandkids and many more years ahead of me. I had to make the most of it. I decided then and there to fully appreciate the precious bonus that I had been given. Despite that resolution, however, I still maintain that nobody deserves to die this way.
My close friends have been wonderful in helping me cope with my illness. Their constant support has made me realize that friendship is the most precious blessing of all. I now live in Sainte-Julie, on the south shore of Montreal. I’ve learned not to be afraid of asking the local CLSC for assistance with my specific needs. I’m equipped with everything I need for my daily routine, so that I can enjoy a normal life and be involved with organizations such as the ALS Society of Quebec, who have been a tremendous support to me throughout my journey.
It has now been ten years since my diagnosis, and as I enter into my 50s, I can state that there is definitely life after diagnosis. I lead an active life, including spending most weekends with the one I love. It’s been three years since I stopped working, but I still keep busy, as friends and family often ask me to make photo montages and videos. My two kids, whom I adore, have given me nine grandchildren (five boys and four girls), who are my pride and joy. Over the years, I’ve learned to pick my battles wisely: there’s no point in sweating the small stuff. Instead, I choose to simplify my daily life to make everything easier, and to keep making adjustments as I go along. For example, one day I could no longer hold my cigarette in my right hand: It sure didn’t take me long to become left-handed! I am living with an illness, but the illness is not running my life.
It’s true that people treat you differently when you live with a handicap: some people feel so awkward that they ignore you, others treat you like a child. But the important thing to keep in mind is: Never forget who you are!
In closing, I’d like to take a moment to recognize the importance of caring for our caregivers. A caregiver not only takes care of the person with the illness, but also takes care of the whole situation, including the kids, the house, the groceries, the car, the doctor’s appointments, and so on, while also going through their own emotional upheaval. You can make things easier on your caregiver by seeking help from other sources, such as the CLSC, friends and other people you know, even if they don’t do the job as well as your caregiver would. When there is a family gathering or a get-together with friends, I try to lean on different people to meet my needs. In fact, people appreciate it: they often want to be helpful but don’t know what to do… It’s up to us to show them!
Another good way to support both the caregiver as well as the person living with the illness is to get involved with the ALS Society. When you participate in their activities and events, you create links with other people living with the illness, their caregivers, and the personnel: you meet people who understand what you’re going through. We’re all in the same boat, so let’s work together as best we can.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story.