Cancer Life: The Process of “Letting Go”

Autumn is my favourite time of year.  I love the changes in colour, those wondrous days when it’s still warm enough to play outside, watching squirrels crazily collecting acorns to stash away for their winter rest, and the first frost that means that the demon ragweed that has been plaguing me with sneezing and itchy eyes will end its evil reign.  

It is said that falling leaves offer us a lesson in letting go, and I know that part of my healing from supporting my child through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment needs me to do that.

I need to let go of thinking about watching her in the rear-view mirror of the car when she walked out of the salon with a shaved head.  I need to let go of watching the darkness come over her as side effects came on a few hours after the red devil was sent into her port.  I need to let go of wishing that she would avoid lymphedema becoming a part of her life forever and admire the new sleeve she’s purchased instead.  I need to let go of waiting for her to catch her breath after she tearfully calls me when a memory sends her to the floor. And I’m trying… so hard.

But this is how I feel about that process…

Graphic by Debbie with tree image via Google

I have done all the research about techniques that help with letting go.  Yet just as I repeat a mantra, take a walk in the woods, watch something that makes me laugh or deep breathe to put up blinders around my worry like a horse being led through a fire, a spark will ignite the path in front of me and my world is once again ablaze. 

I think it would be a lot easier to let go if I weren’t constantly bombarded with the newest research study or a news story or a favourite television show that’s all about cancer.  In “The Before,” when you haven’t been touched by cancer, you still see those things, but you don’t have the emotional investment in them that you do once a loved one is diagnosed that makes it almost impossible to ignore. Every time I hear of a promising treatment for breast cancer, I pore over it with acute attention to detail.  ER+?… Check. PR+?… Check. HER2+?… Check.  If only one of those is missing, I rejoice for other young women at the same time as having my hopes dashed because “not my child.”  When I see a story about a young person whose life was taken by cancer, I feel such sorrow for the family and for the future lost.  All the birthdays, the celebrations, the accomplishments wiped away by this dread disease because I had to be prepared for that to be my life. And television gets breast cancer so wrong that I often want to throw something at the screen as I yell obscenities into the air.  I get it, that actors don’t want to shave their eyebrows or have their faces puffed up by steroids or the snot running out of their noses unchecked because of the hair loss that happens EVERYWHERE.  Where’s the storyline where a year after treatment a cancer survivor who has tried to pick up life where they left off crumples to the bed in exhaustion because even if chemotherapy saves your life, it is a gift that keeps on giving? And don’t even get me started on the financial impact.

Let it go… let it go” (You’re welcome for the ear worm).

It makes me understand why people will choose to live in a cabin in the woods or a remote retreat somewhere.  There’s a reason that the Zen guru in cartoons who lives on top of a mountain actually lives there.  I can imagine people finding total peace in a place where they can completely shut off incoming messages and only listen to what comes from within. Where self-talk and shifts in perception have a chance to take firm hold before the tornado comes to blow them away.  Where they don’t have cell service so they can’t pick up the phone to hear their child ask if they have a minute…

And that’s where my understanding ends.  I wouldn’t give up that last one for anything.  

So, I’ll keep writing my worries on a piece of paper and throwing them into the fire.  I’ll keep trying to focus on what I can control.  I’ll keep trying to reframe negative thoughts into something I can breathe through.  In the end I’ll just keep raking leaves all the while knowing that an errant wind can take me back to square one at any time.

Cancer life.


Mother…Grandmother…Librarian…Military Spouse…Caregiver…Family Life Educator…take your pick! Debbie Legault was born in British Columbia, Canada to a former RCAF airman father and a Scottish War Bride mother and has lived in other Canadian provinces, Germany and California.  She has been married for 36 years to a Canadian Air Force Veteran and credits him with filling her life with adventure.  When Debbie Legault’s children look at family photos they often comment on how many different hairstyles she has had and that pretty much is her story, that her life has taken as many turns and led her down as many paths as her hair has changed!  Her latest role is as the author of Mom…It’s Cancer, the story of supporting her 27-year-old daughter as they experienced breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Read more from Debbie on her experience as a caregiver to her daughter, here.

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