Since I have been involved with cancer, the first thing I said to my wife and children was that I was pleased it was me! I knew I could cope with whatever it threw at me. Both mentally and physically I was strong. When it is happening to other people you feel so helpless. Mrs L was incredible, going through years of not knowing what was coming next. Not sure how I would’ve coped with that! But I certainly don’t know how I would’ve coped if it was one of my children! So I would like to thank the incredible Debbie Legault (@debbie_legault) who shares her experience below.
“When my daughter Adrienne first looped me in about the lump she had found in her breast in early 2019 she was at the biopsy stage. Everyone she encountered along the path, either doing the tests, or reading the results, up to and including the person scheduling the biopsy, reassured her that she was much too young for it to be cancer and listed all the other possibilities. I think somewhere in her scientific brain she must have realized that when it progressed to that kind of test that she needed to be concerned. Which is why she decided to tell me about it. She was very right. On March 15, 2019 I picked up the phone to hear my 27-year-old daughter tearfully say “Mom…Mom it’s cancer”.
Motherhood is like having a piece of your heart walking around outside your body. That piece of mine was thousands of miles away. I got on the first flight I could and stayed with her until after she had recovered from the initial surgery on March 29th. Then I went home for a few weeks before chemo started, to wrap up loose ends before flying back to support her through the months of treatment that were to follow. When I was there, once again a world away, Adrienne called to tell me that she had to go in for a second surgery because of questionable margins. I said to her “I know you don’t want to be doing this” and she tearfully replied “Mom, I don’t want to be doing any of this”.
My heart stopped. I am not sure how I pulled myself together to continue that conversation since the screams inside my head were so loud that this couldn’t be happening to my baby. But I did, as I did for many other like moments in the months that followed, because she needed me to be who I had always been to her. The one whose voice she would hear in her head telling her she could do hard things. Of all the emotions I have felt since the diagnosis the helplessness is the worst. I wanted so very badly to make it all go away.
It wasn’t possible to save her from the monster within. We couldn’t guarantee her fertility after treatment, or that the fog in her brain would permanently clear. I sat there week after week watching the IV drip into her veins. Knowing how it would make her feel a few hours later. Wishing with all my being that it was me in that chair. All I could do was maintain my outward calm, and hope that in the end all the suffering would be worth it. And it was. My daughter’s cancer was fully responsive and her current status is No Evidence of Disease or NED.
On that day in March, I went from living in ‘The Before” to living in “The After”. “The Before” is a time when my child did not have cancer. When I was innocent of what it’s like to watch someone die or experience this terrible disease. In “The After” it is taking a deep breath and centering myself when the phone rings after her latest screening appointment. It’s grieving for her when it becomes clear that the side effects from treatment are going to be with her for the rest of her life. It’s holding her just a little longer so I can breathe her in when she comes for a visit, bit by bit easing the anguish and feeling such joy because she is still here.
But in ‘The After’ one thing has become perfectly clear. There is no end date to cancer. There is just The End… The End dot dot dot. Because no one can give us a guarantee that NED today means NED tomorrow. Part of my ability to walk the difficult path of holding my daughter’s hand as she continues to move through the experience is my choice to write about it. It is always my hope that my words can be like my hand reaching out to help other mothers like me, get past the rougher parts of the road. Although I will always be holding Adrienne’s hand, I have one to spare. Please take it.”
I would like to thank Debbie for sharing her incredibly moving experience with us. Incredibly this is the first piece that I have on the site, talking about a mother daughter relationship during cancer! We know this will help so many people. As always if you would like to share your own views and experiences please leave me a note in the comments section below.