Mother, grandmother, librarian, military spouse, 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. 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.
As a caregiver for a patient with cancer, it can be an isolating experience. However, being around other caregivers can be a painful reminder of the sacrifices made along the cancer journey.
In your twenties, the risk of getting breast cancer is one in 1,732. That’s a pretty small number considering that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes. That number is also a clear representation of what an outlier my daughter was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at twenty-seven. And since my daughter was an outlier, I was, too.
When I would look around waiting rooms and treatment rooms there was no one like me, the person holding the keys and purses and water bottles while their child was poked and prodded. The people my age were the ones sitting in the treatment chairs with IV tubes hanging from various places in their bodies, while their adult children sat beside them in companion chairs. Or they were the ones in the companion chairs waiting patiently as their aged parents received chemotherapy.
I firmly believe that peer support is one of the best ways out there to help manage difficult situations. It’s one of the reasons so many programs exist that allow people who are experiencing the same challenges to meet and look for ideas to help with similar issues that arise, and these programs have a good history of working.
There are many such groups out there for cancer patients and survivors that they can tap into when they hit a place in the never-ending story of cancer that puts them to the ground. What I didn’t find, after a lot of looking, was a group for people like me. Mothers of women who are much too young to have breast cancer.
I know we are out there. Even though the risk is minuscule there is still the risk, so there must be one in 1,732 of mothers in the world beyond my own front door who are like me, supporting their daughters through such a devastating, life-changing diagnosis. After a lot of thoughts, I’ve come up with a theory about why we seem to be in the shadows.
I know when I looked around the room and didn’t see anyone like me I was sad at times because I would have liked to have a friend, someone who could fully understand what it was like for me to watch my daughter endure so much pain and misery. Someone who would get it, I mean really get it, when I said I would do anything if I could switch places with her. But the truth of the matter is, I didn’t want to find anyone else like me.
I didn’t want to meet the eyes of another mother whose being was full of so much helpless anger at seeing her child’s life interrupted, or potentially ended before that life had even really begun. I didn’t want to think of another mother holding their child’s hand as they were thrust into an alternate universe where their lives were now full of appointments and treatments and surgeries and the soul-sucking day-to-day that comes with waiting for results. I didn’t want to meet the eyes of a mother whose daughter was not as lucky as mine, whose child’s cancer did not have a full response to chemotherapy and they were back for more in the hope that this time…maybe this time it would work.
I knew too well what a fragile line I walked between putting one foot in front of the other and collapsing on the floor. A lot of the time I held it together with a paper clip and some duct tape.I didn’t want to know that another mother was going through the same thing as me, because I wouldn’t have wished my experience on my worst enemy. There’s a saying out there that misery loves company, but in my case, I wanted to be very much alone.
And in my little world, I was.
In the summer, my daughter was going in every three weeks for hormonal-based therapy treatments to continue the fight against her Triple Positive breast cancer and was asked by the nurses if she would be willing to talk to another 1 in 1,732 because the young woman was having a very hard time. My heart broke when she told me. I guess I’m not alone after all. I so wish I were.