“It’s weird, all the same, to make an appointment at the service called “women’s surgery””
Feeling a small ball roll under the skin of his chest, he didn’t worry. There was however enough: in the family, the grandmother collected breast cancer, her mother too. “To have breast cancer, you still have to have breasts,” reassures this Cartesian. Except that the case does not stop there: over the months, he also notices a change in the areola.
In June, the doctor’s response falls like a cleaver. Breast cancer. In men, the case is rare, of course (1% of cases). “And it had to fall on me”, is surprised Gilles Mercadal at the time of confirmation of the diagnosis.
Suffice to say that this tall guy with a virile look has not finished surprising himself. And to be jostled in his masculinity and his whole being. Not only does Mister Movember now know that he has breasts, but he’s also going to integrate a treatment path entirely designed for women, decoration and pink blouses included. “It’s weird, all the same, to make an appointment at the service called ‘women’s surgery'”, he quips.
No time to be sensitive, the patient goes through the stages: removal of the tumor, the mammary gland and the sentinel lymph nodes, as evidenced by his long pectoral scar. Then chemotherapy, radiotherapy… An obstacle course that moves its lines and not just its conception of the genre. “All my benchmarks have exploded,” explains this scientist, more accustomed to reasoning in atoms than to counting white blood cells. “Confronted with death, my whole reading grid changed. It’s a chance”, he repeats paradoxically. A chance because this cancer has put life back in the foreground.
No taxi, friends
A discovery that he wanted to share with those close to him. “Rather than taking a taxi, I asked my friends to accompany me to the chemo sessions: at each session, a different friend,” he says. Just to feel stronger, but also to make them aware of the cause of men’s health. “There is often a question of false beliefs in the head of a man in difficulty in the face of illness, but who refuses to be accompanied. A way, too, of clinging to the joy of living to overcome the anguish of death.
Finally, to give himself every chance, the Landais surrounds himself with “magicians”, his well-being therapists: sophrologists, art therapists, magnetizers… He is also open to spirituality, such as Taoism, psychogenealogy, practices cardiac coherence, discovers the Toltec agreements (1), reads Spinoza again. Moreover, the day of our meeting in his house in Angoumé, he is wearing a sweatshirt printed with “conatus”, a Spinozian concept that can be translated as “exercise of the force to exist”. All is said. “Today, I am no longer the same man at all,” he says. No longer the same father, either, for his daughters Louise and Zoé. “This transformation is the best gift I could give them,” he smiles, stroking the Baguera cat.
63 kilometers by bike to celebrate the end of treatment
This obstacle course ends in April 2022. Gilles Mercadal wanted to celebrate his despedida as he went through the ordeal: collectively and sportingly. By rallying, by bike, the Dax hospital to the Belharra clinic, in Bayonne, the two establishments where he was treated. 63 kilometers. Very moved, the Landais crosses the finish line this Saturday, August 6, surrounded by medical teams, children, relatives, able-bodied or disabled friends, friends from the tennis club for all, and all those who accompanied, supported, carried in this health adventure that he also experienced as a human transformation. A scissor kick in the pink flag to end his fight against illness and care.
“Usually, it is the withdrawal of the catheter placed on the skin which symbolizes the end of the treatment”, smiles his oncologist, Patrick Joyeux. “It’s still better that this final medical gesture is replaced by a sporting event. »
The motley procession set off from the Dax hospital center, where Gilles underwent his 15 chemotherapy sessions to the rhythms of the banda Los Deusky – “musician friends”, says Gilles. The time to present the departmental committee of the League against cancer and its crucial help, in particular to access free support care, to thank the caregivers of the oncology department of the hospital dacquois, before getting into the saddle to spin along the ‘Adour. Along the way, Stéphanie Barneix, co-founder of the Hope Team East association, joined the troop: a symbolic and precious participation. In fact, Gilles Mercadal prepared his challenge with this association, which helps patients get through the disease through sport and to accomplish a sporting challenge.
Sport, a key element
Arrival in Bayonne, at the Belharra clinic, where he was operated on and treated: Gilles Mercadal received 25 radiotherapy sessions here, he explains, paying tribute to the Breast Institute of the Basque Country. On this festive day, nurse Myriam was there, alongside her oncologist surgeon, Dr. Patrick Joyeux. For him too, the moment was special: “We know that, in the management of the disease, sport is important: it improves tolerance to treatments, helps stabilize weight and better understand the future, reduce recurrences”, supports the doctor, so convinced by the effectiveness of Hope Team East that he sits on the board of directors of the association.
In a small corner, alongside the children, Olga. Gilles Mercadal’s mother. She knows “the moments of extreme despair in the solitude of the night”, she has lived them. But she admires the way her son handled his Himalayas. “Gilles was able to find the necessary medical, friendly and associative support; he transformed this journey through illness into a collective adventure. »
This is the message he wants to convey, beyond his personal case. The story, too, that he will tell his students, because the Landais has returned to college. “My SVT classes are going to change: I want them to experience the concepts, look at the trees, go into nature. Because in the expression “teacher of life and earth sciences”, there is the word “life”.
(1) The Toltec agreements are initially four then five pieces of advice, like the Ten Commandments of the Bible, to guide one’s behavior, words, actions, etc. Based on the “Four Toltec Agreements”, the work of Don Miguel Ruiz, Mexican author and shaman, a bestseller in the literature on personal development.