Once Again, The Outlier
May 25, 2023
I shared in my last blog how a miracle arrived in our lives in February, and we are still floating on the fluffy cloud of joy and wonder she brought with her. Adrienne is settling into her role as mother and has already figured out some of the things that will work for her and her little girl. It’s amazing to watch your child transition into the role of parent, when there was always the chance the chemotherapy had ruled that out, and how so many of the things you did that they thought were crazy now make perfect sense to them.
If you see her with her little one, she looks like any other new mother. The outward signs of her cancer experience have disappeared and no longer give anyone a clue as to what she has been through. Her hair has grown back, her face is no longer moon-shaped. On top of everything else, Adrienne still has both her breasts since the cancer was located in place where it was possible to do a breast-saving lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy.
As Adrienne’s life shifts, her community is also changing with new people in new roles joining her village. Part of the Positive/Baby Time study showed that breastfeeding a baby conceived while on a break from hormone therapy can be beneficial to young women who have had cancer, so Adrienne was determined to make that happen for both her and the baby’s sake. Although her left breast is a petrified forest due to six weeks of five-days-a-week full-breast radiation treatment, the right breast is fully-functioning and twice the size of the left one because the milk-production part is going quite well. (Thankfully she is the type of person who can chuckle at the difference because it is quite… obvious). She decided to attend a breast-feeding support group meeting because there isn’t a lot of information out there on doing it with only one breast and she thought they could help. Then she had to answer the question of “why only one?” and you could almost see the thought bubbles rising in the air.
“Women your age don’t get breast cancer… do they?” “You can’t have had breast cancer – you still have both your breasts.” “My cousin’s sister-in-law’s friend’s dog-sitter had cancer and she didn’t look like you do.”
“Wait a minute… you can’t be my peer, because if you are my peer then it could happen to me, too.”
We all know that cancer is not contagious, but what I’ve come to realize is that the fear of cancer is. Most women my daughter’s age don’t consider themselves at risk of developing breast cancer so they live in the same bubble of innocence I did before Adrienne was diagnosed. When she sits in a room with other mothers cradling their babies close to their hearts and shares her story, she shockingly shreds that protective barrier and the fear floods in. I know that fear, and it’s stifling. One of the ways to step back into the security bubble, a way to put it back together, is to dissolve part of the common bond that motherhood has created for them and, in their minds, make Adrienne different. Once again, she is the outlier, and she is so used to that role that it doesn’t even register. I thought I had pretty much completed the list of reasons I hate that cancer invaded my child’s body, but this is one more to add; that even in this happy, miraculous time, cancer has claimed a corner.
While it would normalize her experience, a part of me is more than grateful that there isn’t a support group specifically for young women like Adrienne because it would mean there were too many like her out there. But as I continue to hold this baby and stare at her face as she smiles or sleeps, my greatest wish is that more mothers like me who have watched their too-young daughters go through what mine did receive this gift. Maybe with the results of the Positive/Baby Time study more women who experience breast cancer during their childbearing years will feel safe enough to try and will have the same lucky outcome as my daughter.
I have written about how I struggle with the term “the new normal,” but with advances in treatment and research wouldn’t it be lovely if the new normal meant that, for all of the women out there diagnosed too young, chemotherapy-induced fertility would not be an issue? Wouldn’t it be something if the impact was truly understood and a way found to protect young women going through treatment from this devastating potential side-effect because not all of them have time or the money for fertility preservation? Wouldn’t it be amazing if someday my girl could sit in a room and instead of once again being the odd-person out, she would see someone who looks like her and they could just be?
Wouldn’t it, though?
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.