Thanks, Cancer

We’ve all heard it at various times when we are having a negative life experience, or on the news during interviews of people who have lost everything to a tornado or flood. It’s one of those mic drop statements that shuts down the conversation, a few words that are supposed to reframe the tragedy and show us that there is still light despite the darkness of what we are being asked to manage.

“At least you have your health.”

But…what if you don’t?

People who have their health have bodies that work according to design and no conscious effort is required to live in them. If they hit a bump, they have coping strategies that work for them and they assume that they will work for everyone. But cancer is not a bump. Cancer is a cliff edge you get catapulted off of and many coping strategies that might have worked for other circumstances before just…don’t. Once you have had cancer there isn’t enough kale or exercise or positive attitude in the world that can unring that bell, that can erase the physical and psychological devastation that too often goes hand-in-hand with losing control of your life and submitting your body to the life-saving treatments required to survive.

Adrienne can sit in a room with people her age and hear them talk about plans and dreams and feel like she’s on an alien planet. She doesn’t “look sick” and since she’s NED-T the cancer isn’t directly impacting her day-to-day, and because she doesn’t carry a sign that says “I had cancer” many times no one but her knows what happened. But if conversation turns to moving somewhere where housing is more affordable, she knows she would have to talk to her oncology team to see if she can do that safely, if the care she might need would be accessible to her in the new location. If talk turns to having children, she has a whole trunk full of challenges surrounding that. If someone excitedly brings up a road trip she knows that she would have to plan one of those very carefully so that her left arm weakness and lymphedema could be managed. Checking a calendar to see if she’s free for adventure means seeing which week she doesn’t have an appointment with the oncologist, or the cardiologist, or the dermatologist, or the radiologist. She also knows that her mental health is going to be fragile on certain cancerversaries so she definitely has to be careful of planning anything around those dates. And on top of all that is the constant anxiety that comes with every ache, every itch, every test result that has to be waited for.

Adrienne told me recently that she just wishes she could make decisions about her life that aren’t informed by any sort of illness or significant medical history. There is an invisible ball and chain she drags behind her every single second of every single day and the weight of it sometimes becomes too great and resentment floods into her being. At those times she feels the helpless anger of repeatedly and uncontrollably being forced into situations that are just unfair, “like objectively unfair”, and there’s nothing she can do about it. In these moments of frustration it takes all she has not to remind people that what they assume is normal is what other people, including her, yearn for.

Before my innocence bubble was burst by Adrienne’s cancer diagnosis, I took so many things for granted about her future, those typical “mother’s wishes” like meeting the right person to share her life with, having children and adventures (not necessarily in that order), sneaking me ice cream when I’m in an old folks home because she knows I love it (not the old folks home, the ice cream). I was a member of an exclusive club whose members have an unearned special advantage and do not carry the burden or liability of living with a life-altering disease. I lived in the oblivion of “Healthy Privilege” for me and mine.

Not anymore. Thanks, cancer.


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.

Read more from Debbie on her experience as a caregiver to her daughter, here.

You may also be interested in

Cancer is Crap: A Cancer Primer
The Long-Term Side Effects of Breast Cancer and Its Treatment
Cancer is Crap: 23% Stat Clarified!
50 Carroll Street Toronto, Ontario Canada M4M 3G3
Phone: 416 220 0700
Registered Charity #: 892176116RR0001

Join Our Movement

Follow Us

Donate Now

You can make a positive impact in the lives of people impacted by breast cancer