The Results Are In…

April 18, 2024

Let me start by saying… IT’S NOT CANCER!

For those of you who have been following my blogs you’ll be aware that Adrienne’s older sister had a suspicious MRI that led to more tests and scans before it was finally decided that the area of concern in her breasts was cysts, not cancer. The continuing questions had to do with where the spot was located (behind the areola) which is a difficult location to check out apparently. Who knew?

Once I had a good cry and both Adrienne and I let out the breaths we’d been holding for almost a month, I started to think about how diligent the medical community is about surveillance with my daughters because of Adrienne being diagnosed with breast cancer at 27. The suspicious spot could very well have been something, and I calmed myself by thinking that if it were something, due to the screening having caught it very early, my daughter’s outcome would likely have been a good one. When I talked to Adrienne about that, she made a comment that made my head spin a bit.

Mine was caught early, too, Mom, but I went from Stage 1 to Stage 2 in 

the three weeks between my diagnosis and my first surgery. 

Having it caught early does not mean things are going to be okay.

Cue gut punch.

I desperately needed something to grab onto to help me manage the panic caused by the drop-kick into the anxiety abyss the suspicious spot brought on and there it was, all shiny and comforting… screening would save her sister’s life. Reflecting on it now, while it is true that the high-risk screening would have caught her sister’s cancer at an early stage that could have been the only similarity to my family’s experience with Adrienne’s cancer story. Just because a screening tool picks up a spot does not mean that the cancer will respond to the treatment. Just because the cancer in the breast is found early does not mean that it hasn’t already metastasized to another part of the body. Just because we were lucky the first time doesn’t mean we would have been lucky again. I closed the curtain on the fact that early detection in young people doesn’t necessarily save them because I needed to. The thought that another one of my children would go through the nightmare of treatment not knowing if it would work… that we would have to spend months trying to help her manage the side effects and the psychological trauma… that I would once again be destroyed by the helplessness… was more than I could acknowledge. 

Self-protective mechanisms are a curious thing.

During the entire twenty weeks that we were in the oncology ward for initial treatment there was no one who looked like Adrienne. For six months after Adrienne finished chemo she was back to the same ward for targeted therapy for her HER2-positive cancer every three weeks and during those later visits there were two more young women sitting in the treatment chairs. That’s three young women in a small hospital being treated for breast cancer in the space of a year. So when recent news stories started noting that more young people are being diagnosed with cancer I wish I could say I was surprised but I wasn’t. Not only because I had seen it for myself, but because I was teetering on the edge of the abyss trying to keep my balance knowing that Adrienne’s sister could be one of them, that my family could represent two of eight. 

Adrienne ignored the lump when she first felt it in November of 2018 until feeling it getting bigger in February of 2019 sent her to the doctor to see about it. She, along with everyone else in her life, thought young women don’t get breast cancer. It’s very important that everyone knows that they do, and perhaps the news stories will help change the socially acknowledged face of this disease. And perhaps with that change will come the recognition that while screening may save lives, the fact that breast cancer in the young can be so aggressive and fast-growing means even if they were all screened, the twelve months between traditional tests may be eleven months too many.  

I don’t know what the answer is but the increase in breast cancer diagnoses in young women brings to mind a story. There is a village where the residents keep finding babies floating in the river and pulling them out until one day someone says, “Hey, maybe we should go upstream and find out how the babies are getting in the water to begin with”. 

Hey, world. Maybe we should find out why so many young women are getting cancer.

Just sayin’…


chocolate

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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