There are moments in your life that mean a big change is coming. Graduation day, getting married, having a child. On March 15, 2019 I received a phone call that altered the course of my life in ways that I couldn’t possibly have imagined. On the other end was my 27-year-old daughter and I sat dazed and confused as she tearfully said “Mom…it’s cancer.”
The first thought I had was, “But you’re too young.” That is the course of my denial in a nutshell. When she first told me she was investigating the lump she had found in the shower I never once acknowledged that it might be cancer. I did online research about all the other things it could be because there was no way it was worst-case scenario. I have never been more unprepared for news in my life.
My world allowed me to pack up and move my life thousands of miles from home into her one-bedroom apartment where I stayed for almost a year. I am more grateful than I can express that our relationship allowed us to dance around each other, both literally and figuratively, because I needed to be there like I need water to survive. There were times when the anger and anxiety were so huge that there was barely room for either of us to breathe. There were times when we laughed so hard our sides ached (and I’ll admit I might have peed myself a little). There were times when we had to retreat to our corners because the fear had manifested into an ugly beast that gnashed its teeth and engulfed us with its foul breath. There were times of peace when the universe allowed her to not feel so much pain, so much sorrow, so much betrayal. When thoughts of the unwanted guest whose name starts with “C” and rhymes with dancer would recede just enough that it was just me and my girl.
I thought I knew what was coming for her because I’d watched enough medical shows on TV to have a clear idea. One thing that I learned from holding her hand through all the surgeries, the treatments, the various things to take or do to help with the side effects of the surgeries and the treatments, and the added things you have to do to manage the side effects of THOSE (I’m sure you get the picture) was that my knowledge was woefully lacking. There were many general pieces of information out there that apply to all women diagnosed with breast cancer, but when I went to look for resources specifically for people like me, mothers of young women going through the experience, there wasn’t a lot for me to find. And believe me, I’m a magical unicorn when it comes to Googling.
One of my biggest “aha” moments about how much of an outlier my daughter, and therefore I was, happened in the radiation waiting room. It was winter, so both of us were wearing hats to keep warm, and when it was she, not I, who got up to go in for treatment the puppy-dog-head-tilt moments happened every time. I could see the other patients and their family members struggle to reconcile what they were seeing, the innocence bubble burst. They would make eye contact with me and most of the time I would just have to look away. I had a hard enough time dealing with my own shock and sorrow. I simply didn’t have room for theirs.
I am relieved and overjoyed to be able to say that the treatments, which are sometimes as devastating as the diagnosis, worked and my daughter is, as of today’s date, in full remission. So for now I am living in “The After”. “The Before” is when you live in a world where your child did not have cancer. When you did not have to think about what it might be like if the battle were lost. When you were innocent of what it’s like to actually experience this terrible disease. In “The After” it is sharing a significantly dark sense of humour with your child talking about exactly where you write in a dating profile that you’re a breast cancer survivor and that you still have both your boobs.
You see, while I am still full of thoughts about this experience and grieving the fact that I can’t eat chocolate because of its association with chemotherapy, in “The After” one thing has become perfectly clear. There is no end date to cancer. There is just The End…
The End dot dot dot.
Part of my ability to walk the difficult path of holding my daughter’s hand as she went through the experience was my choice to write about it in real time. I have taken those thoughts and compiled them into a book called “Mom…It’s Cancer” in the hope that the words I wrote can be like my hand reaching back to help others get past the rougher parts of the road as they walk behind me. Although I will always be holding my daughter’s hand, I have one to spare. Please take it.
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.