Julie Charbonneau

Private trainer, boxing coach and mom of a child with cancer

“We often talk about beauty, mental burden; the pressure to be perfect, well styled; the need to keep your house clean and have a good job. We need to see ourselves differently. That’s the message I want to convey.”

As a boxing coach for the last few years, Julie Charbonneau is used to standing up to blows. Nevertheless, when her son Jessy, then aged five, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the athletic mom was knocked out—a shock from which you cannot emerge unscathed. With its support and services, Leucan lessened the hardship for her family.

Julie Charbonneau recalls with emotion the moment when her son Jessy realized he had lost his hair. She found him sitting on his bed, crying. For the first time since starting chemotherapy, he was taking the time to look at himself in the mirror. “I’m bald and ugly!” Words that broke his mother’s heart.

When Leucan approached her to join the Audacieuses, she took her time before giving her answer. She had mixed feelings about reopening old wounds. “It’s a huge shock when the diagnosis falls. It’s like the whole world stops and you know in that moment that your life will never be the same, that your child will never be the same. Something burst your bubble, and yet others continue to live as though nothing happened. I was discouraged and angry initially. It hurt so much.”

Because Leucan was by her family’s side from the first hospital day, she overlooked her reluctance and finally agreed to join the initiative. “Leucan played such a significant role. We received financial assistance. We met and chatted with families faced with the same hardship. Jessy took part in great activities and had fun like any other boy his age would. Now, I want to give back.”

“I’m worried I will find you ugly.”

Jessy worries her mom will be sad with a shaved head. “I’m worried I will find you ugly, that people will find you ugly, and that it’ll make you sad,” he told her. Julie was quick to reassure him. “It’s my choice and I’m excited to do it! I will most likely cry while I get shaved as the emotions tied to everything we’ve been through resurface. But I will smile at the same time. I want this to be a positive event to raise money.”

This event rallying women from all walks of life is consistent with the message she keeps hammering home to the women she trains. “Stop putting this pressure on yourself to conform to beauty standards. I advocate for body diversity and self-acceptance. I always refused to encourage weight loss in my practice. You should exercise to stay healthy, to be proud of yourself, to increase your energy level, and to feel good in your own skin.”

Like a classic badly shod cobbler, the coach does not always follow her own advice, as her disproportionate attachment to her hair will attest. “I have a very unhealthy relationship with my hair; it’s a bit obsessive, really. I stretch it out, I wash it every day, I only use the best products. I tidy it up whenever I catch my reflection in a mirror. I’m really scared at the idea of losing it but at the same time, I’m ready. I always rise to the challenge and never let fear stop me. I know I’ll be proud once it’s done. You have to put your money where your mouth is, right?”

Julie Charbonneau is also banking on strength in numbers. “The impact will be all the greater. I will not have done it alone! I think it will be a beautiful moment between a group of women, each reacting in her own way. It’s inspiring. We often talk about beauty, mental burden; the pressure to be perfect, well styled; the need to keep your house clean and have a good job. We need to see ourselves differently. That’s the message I want to convey.”

With a Hint of Humour

While completing a college degree in special education, this energetic mom is working with high school students in adjustment. “They will react to my new look for sure. To mark the occasion, I plan on coming to school with a Halloween wig. Or a unicorn headband. I want to make them laugh. I will bring a hint a humour to the whole thing, and I think it will help me, too. Ups and downs are to be expected.”

Her heart goes out to teenage girls who have to cope with changes to their physical appearance due to cancer. “When you’re a teenager, one pimple is the end of the world! Those girls are fighting for their lives; they shouldn’t have to worry about how they look on top of that. I think they are beautiful and strong.”

On the big day, she would love to have Jessy by her side. Currently in remission, he’s in top shape. “I hope he’ll agree to it. More than anything, I want this to be a happy event.”