December 8, 2023
When Adrienne moved to be closer to us knowing that she wanted help near at hand when the baby came, there were things from her old apartment that didn’t fit into her new one and so she stored them in our garage. She and her little family moved into a bigger place in recent months and so she came over to go through her things a couple of weeks ago to see what she wanted to take home. And in the bottom of the steamer trunk, along with extra pillows and other linens, was a carefully folded blanket.
Her yellow, cheerful, made-by-hand-with-love-by-her-aunt chemo blanket.
I have pictures of her…bald, puffy-faced, passed out from the IV Benedryl…with that blanket tucked around her in the reclined chair. I took one when she was sleeping with a funny sleep mask on that I sent to my brother because I thought she looked so funny. He texted back that he didn’t find it amusing, and I replied that this this was my child in that chair and if I couldn’t find some humour somewhere I wouldn’t survive watching the poison dripping into her veins every week.
There was also a pair of reading socks that went into the chemo bag every week. One day she was looking for something warm to wear with her boots when the weather turned chill and when she pulled them out of the drawer they dropped her to her knees and she called me, sobbing breathlessly. I sat down in a chair and stayed with her in that moment until she could breathe again, screaming to the universe, “Enough already!”
Then there was the time when we were having a fire in the back yard and I walked out, marshmallows in hand, to see her wearing a beanie. It stopped me in my tracks and I went back inside for a moment until I could get my emotions under control. Until I could calm the nausea and silence the ringing in my ears. Until I could look at her and not have her see the pain behind my eyes.
When we were moving her, the last thing in the back of her closet was the wigs on wig-stands, and I couldn’t touch them, so her sister did. Adrienne looked at me and said, “I can’t get rid of them because I know how much it meant to me to be able to hide my diagnosis from the public and my cancer could come back.” My heart skipped a beat. I mean, I KNOW that, but hearing it said aloud is simply a different kind of animal.
So why can’t she get rid of them? Why can’t we use the fire pit and ritually burn all these souvenirs of misery? I don’t know what her reasons are, but I’m clear about mine. As silly as it sounds, I think it will jinx her. I think the moment that we let go enough to donate the wigs, to burn the beanies and blanket and socks, her cancer will come out of hiding like that’s what it was waiting on all along.
There is absolutely nothing we can do about her cancer recurring, just as there was nothing we could have done to stop it from happening the first time. Yes, there are studies that show how certain lifestyle factors can influence things, but for the most part if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. The sad part for someone like Adrienne is that with how young she was when she was diagnosed and treated, her likelihood of recurrence is pretty high. Alternatively, if not recurrence, she may end up with a secondary cancer related to how they treated the first one.
So we live life like cartoon characters with an anvil hanging by a thread over our heads, and breast cancer has the scissors. Standing there… holding all these souvenirs.
This is survivorship.
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.