Moments in the Aftermath
January 31, 2023
I was at Adrienne’s house this past week doing one of the things I do best after living in small spaces most of my life – helping her purge and reorganize to maximize her storage options. We were standing in front of her bedroom closet after having loaded up a couple of donation bags when I looked up and saw her directing my attention to something she had in the back corner of the upper closet shelf.
Two perfectly coifed wigs on wig stands.
We just stared at each other for a couple of minutes.
“Do I get rid of these, Mom?”
Once again, we just stared at each other for a couple of minutes. And I was ripped back in time to the night before she went to the salon because she had opted to choose when the loss would happen instead of waiting for cancer treatment to make the decision for her. The night when I held her as she wept, stroking her beautiful hair that had just gotten to the perfect length she had been working towards forever. The first time since my arrival that we actively mourned together the devastation that had been dumped into her young life because of breast cancer.
We have done a pretty good job of putting the experience in the background in the last little while, but in that moment I was right back in the blackness. All the physical responses came back – ringing in my ears, my vision narrowing to her face, struggling to breathe. I stood there speechless, in my weird alternate existence thinking it would somehow jinx things if she didn’t keep them. Then she said the words that we haven’t said out loud in a very long time.
“I mean, the cancer could come back.”
My hands just froze on the keyboard as I wrote that sentence. We are both realists and understand that recurrence rates for her particular type of cancer are high. When she hit that magical two-year mark we took a bit of a breath, but it was a shallow one, and it is only through therapy and a lot of work that the fear of hearing the words again doesn’t regularly paralyze our lives. We are at the stage that we plan into the future, yet it is far from being an unclouded path when we look forward.
But no matter how good we get at not having Adrienne’s breast cancer diagnosis at twenty-seven impact every moment of our lives, that’s always the ultimate trump card. It could come back. When it happened the first time, we were unaware of what she would go through both physically and emotionally as she went through treatment and entered survivorship. We were unaware of how it would impact the rest of her loved ones, in particular me as her primary caregiver throughout.
We were unaware of how it is definitely NOT just hair. But now, we know.
Oh my, we know too well.
In that moment, when she gave voice to the thought, I stepped into the space that I created for myself three and a half years ago so that I could keep my emotions out of conversations when she looked to me for guidance and said this:
“You’re the only person who can decide that, Adrienne. You’re the only one who knows how hard it was when you looked at your bald head in the mirror. You’re the only one who knows how it felt the first time you put on a wig and saw a reflection that looked more like you. If you still need to know that you will be able to do that, then keep them.”
She turned her head to stare at the wig stands for a couple of seconds and I saw the answer on her face when she looked back at me.
“How about this jacket, Mom. Think I’ll ever wear it again?”
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.