I’m… Laughing? What?

There were a lot of things I anticipated when I moved in with Adrienne to support her through treatment when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 at the ripe old age of 27.  I expected sadness, anger, frustration, and some protective numbness.  What I didn’t foresee, though, in my wildest dreams, was how hard we would laugh… at CANCER stuff.

It’s like when you’re in a movie theatre and some really intense scene comes on and something in it tickles your funny bone and while the rest of the audience is sitting quietly reeling at the images you start to giggle.  And heaven help you if you’re with someone who shares your sense of humour because DANGER WILL ROBINSON.

Unfortunately, and fortunately at the same time, Adrienne and her family all seem to have the same dark, twisted sense of humour.  For example…

I feel like this wig makes me look younger…

The hair loss was a very touchy subject, and Adrienne was so excited when she got a human hair wig and was able to get it styled a-la her.  The week after she got it she felt well enough so we drove the hour and a half up north to see her sister and family.  She was wearing the wig when we arrived and there we many oohs and aahs about how great it looked, but after a little while it got hot and itchy so she took it off.  Her older sister plucked it off the head form and put it on her 16-month old daughter’s head. Adrienne took this picture and posted on social media with the caption…

I feel like this wig makes me look younger…

At one oncologist check-in before treatment, Adrienne was asked about neuropathy and we were both very happy that she was able to report that she was experiencing a little bit of numbness and tingling but for the most part things were going well.  The nurse casually dropped the bomb as she was rolling the blood pressure machine out of the room that side effects from the chemo she was on can show up months after treatment finishes.  We both sat there, dumbstruck, and when I say dumbstruck I mean both of our mouths were literally hanging open.  We turned to each other and I said to her “Adrienne, I’m f**king done” and she said “Yeah me, too, let’s go home” and then we both burst into hysterical laughter.  As if she could go home.  It was treatment day.  As if I was actually done.  She’s my girl and I was going to be there until the end (which I now know of course never happens).  The nurse peeked around the corner at us worriedly and that just made us laugh some more.  It took about five minutes before we were able to get a grip on ourselves and move on.

Close to the end of me living with her I found out that I cut butter wrong.  I had refilled the empty butter dish but had committed the travesty of just lopping a chunk off of the end.  Adrienne proceeded to explain to me exactly how it was supposed to be done with the full rational.  I just stood there, staring at her, and after a brief pause after she finished her lesson I said “I’m only here for one more month, Adrienne”.  We both stood there and howled with laughter.

And I know we’re not alone.

A friend of mine and her colleague were going through chemo at the same time.  They were in the staff room heating lunch and my friend saw her colleague put a plastic dish with her lunch in it to heat in the microwave and said “What are you doing, don’t you know it’s not good for you to eat food heated in plastic?” and the response was “What’s the worst that can happen to me, I get cancer?”  The two of them cracked up while the rest of the people in the lunch room could not do MORE not to make eye contact.  They were so uncomfortable because….

You can’t LAUGH at cancer.

But oh yes, you can.

There’s an old saying that life is 51% comedy and 49% tragedy, and it is in that tiny space in between that we find laughter.  Being diagnosed with cancer at 27 was a tragedy in my child’s life, and so in mine, so perhaps that ratio flipped a bit.  But inside that tragedy we found the ability to make fun, to darkly laugh at questions like where you put in your dating profile that you had breast cancer but you still have both your breasts. If we had lost our ability to laugh in the face of her diagnosis I don’t know if we would have been able to make it, to handle all the poking and prodding and loss of control.

That’s what she said.


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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