If and When

October 31, 2023

Adrienne and her little family live in an apartment building filled with mostly seniors. She has occasionally seen the scarf covered head and naked face as she passes people in the elevator and wondered but never asked. Recently, a poster on the community board announced an upcoming cancer support group in the common room and after much thought, Adrienne decided she would attend. 

October 8th marked four years since that last chemo bag dripped into my child’s veins. I remember watching it drip, second by second, counting down to what we were hoping would be the last time Adrienne would ever have to sit in that chair. More surgery and radiation were to come, but those were add-ons to the part of treatment that was supposed to let her walk away. We were lucky and she did, and her life has taken many wonderful turns since that day. Yet when the love of her life, who came into her world in The After, asked her why she would bother attending the group she responded…

I need to connect to that part of myself every once in a while so that I’m prepared when it happens”.

Not if… When.

I have been questioning lately why, after four years, I continue to connect to the breast cancer community, why I allow myself to experience the heartbreak I feel when I see newly diagnosed young women express their shock and their mothers reach out to me looking for support. Social media has given me a window into so many lives that I would never otherwise have glimpsed, and it would be easy for me to simply… Stop. To remove the apps from my phone, to stop writing blogs. I know that the people I have connected with would get it, because they’ve walked the same path as my child, or me. But I can’t because not only do I have a mission to be there for others in my shoes, but also…

I know I’m going to need them if she hears the words again. Not when… If. Because if I acknowledged it as a “when”, I wouldn’t be able to function.

The After can be a very dark place. There is the guilt that goes with being one of the lucky ones whose cancer was still localized when you see so many lovely humans diagnosed de novo with metastatic disease. There are the memories that can take you to your knees when you least expect them to (like losing it during our recent trip to Costco, my first one since I got a part time job there to get me out of the house when she was feeling better between treatments). There is the ever-present, never-ending wondering and worrying about recurrence. And for someone like me, there is the pain of knowing that your child carries all of these things every day of her life.

She doesn’t show it. There are no pink letters painted on her forehead, no visible tattoos, no scars that can’t be hidden. She has always been the one who looked life straight in the eye and said, “Bring it on”, so that part of her was already there when she faced breast cancer at 27. There is no desperation in her approach to life in The After, no constantly thinking that each time may be the last time. And yet…

There are times, when she holds her little girl, that I see it. I feel the waves of joy mixed with the knowledge that now, there is so much more at stake. She knows what I know, what it’s like to watch a part of your heart walk around outside your body for the rest of your life. She understands in a different way the type of love I have for her, why I didn’t hesitate to put my life on hold to be her everything when she needed me.

I hope she also knows that I will be there for her, and her little girl, in the event that “if” turns into “when”. 

I love you the most, the end, I win.


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, Adrienne, 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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