Once Again into the Waiting

January 25, 2024

Because Adrienne was diagnosed with cancer at 27, her two siblings became eligible for a breast screening program that offers them diagnostic tests right away instead of waiting until they hit forty. There was no BRCA or other markers to indicate a genetic disposition, but the geneticist told us that they could only test for the ones they knew about and that new ones were being discovered regularly so I’m very grateful that this early screening program exists.

Two days ago, in the kitchen of the house I share with my 36-year-old daughter and her family, she was filling in the January activities on the calendar talking about upcoming appointments and how she is a bit frustrated about having to take two half-days off teaching work when they’re just going back.  When I casually asked what her appointments are for she said…

“Yeah, there was something suspicious on my screening tests so they’re bringing me back in for a different kind of mammogram and an ultrasound. It’s going to be nothing, but even if it’s something they found it when it was this big (hold your index finger and thumb together about corn kernel’s width apart to complete the visual). I’m not worried about it.”

I’m sitting here staring at the screen, my ears ringing, slightly nauseated, my vision getting weird. I’m VERY worried about it.

She is right. If it is something, it has been found very early. But Adrienne’s was found early, too. When she heard the words, “It’s cancer,” it was still in situ and eligible for a lumpectomy. Between that diagnosis and the time they took her in for pre-chemo surgery three weeks later, the aggressive cancer she was dealing with had grown in size by 18% and spread to her lymph nodes. She still was able to have a lumpectomy because of the tumor’s location, but there was a second surgery done due to questionable margins and then a lymph node dissection following chemo that left her with lymphedema. Then six weeks of radiation after that for which she still needs to manage the skin changes it created.

I just… the first thought that comes to mind is that I can’t do it again. I can’t watch another of my children go through the hair loss and brain fog and nausea and weakness and surgeries and burnt skin. I can’t feel the helplessness of not being able to take it away. I can’t feel like I’m behind a clear wall not able to connect to my loved ones on the other side. I know I wasn’t the one with cancer. I get that. But being Adrienne’s mom and watching what she went through was very, very hard.

I remember thinking, when Adrienne was feeling good between treatments, that I wished I could go home, just for a few days. The difference is that now I am home, sharing my daughter’s house, so if the worst-case scenario comes to pass, I will be able to crawl into my own bed at the end of the day. I will be able to feel my husband’s arms wrap around me when I need to weep. I have been here before and know what I need to make it through the next day… and the next.

I’ve written before that cancer changes people, and it also changes the people that care for them. It has certainly changed me. I’m trying very hard not to feel what I’m feeling, not to be terrified that another one of my children will go through it. However, that lovely bubble of innocence was burst for me on March 15th, 2019, and it’s impossible for me to stay on the side of the fence that lets me, even for a few minutes, live in denial that it can’t be cancer. I need to look that at that possibility straight on, no rose-coloured glasses in sight. Because it could very well be something, regardless of size.

I just… well, I will. That’s the way things have always been and will always be as long as I am able. Because just like with Adrienne, I love her sister the most the end I win. And I’m sitting here wishing with every fiber of my being that now that I’ve said it out loud it won’t happen. That we won’t be two of eight. We already contributed to that particular statistic.

It won’t… right?


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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