Yvette asked Lan to play with her at recess in Grade Two. The pair has been best friends ever since. When Lan called Yvette in 2016 to tell her she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, Lan could hardly believe what she heard: Yvette too had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.
When Lan moved to Canada at the age of 8, she knew four words in English: yes, no, telephone and elephant.
So when Yvette asked Lan to play in the schoolyard at recess, “I knew there was a 25 per cent chance she’d say ‘yes’,” Yvette says.
“Or elephant,” Lan jokes.
Despite not initially sharing a spoken language, the pair became best friends.
“We didn’t need words,” Yvette says. “Kids are like that.”
The two remained close into adulthood – coming in and out of each other’s lives during various points and over long-distances, and always picking up where they left off.
In 2016, Lan — now a married mother of three — visited her doctor after noticing a dimpling of the skin and a pain that would not go away. Tests confirmed Lan’s fear: she had breast cancer.
“When many people started to come in and out of the room, looking at my scans, that’s when I got scared. It was a very sinking feeling,” Lan says.
After telling her husband about the diagnosis, Lan called Yvette.
Yvette, now a married mother of two, had news of her own to share.
“I felt a lump in my breast,” Yvette says. “Tests confirmed it was cancer.”
Just four days apart, the two best friends learned they were both facing breast cancer. They’d both be undergoing surgery. And radiation. And chemotherapy.
“I was just sad and worried at first,” Lan said. “And then angry. ‘How could this be happening to both of us? Who will be my strength if she too is going through this? And how will I be strong for her when I want to breakdown?’”
It didn’t take long for that anger to subside, Lan said. The friends quickly realized that they could remain each other’s crucial support through this shared experience.
“We cried together. We talked about our fear of dying. We got each other out of the house to take walks when we felt so ill on the chemo,” she adds. “It was ok to be vulnerable.”
“We can share the complex emotions that you feel during this without having to articulate it in words,” she said. “We had no words when we first met. And we don’t always need words now.”
Yvette and Lan shared their story as a part of Sunnybrook’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month Photo Essay. See the photo gallery here.