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.
Caregiving for a patient with cancer is a journey unto itself, and one that can have its own ramifications as well.
In March of 2019, my 27-year-old daughter Adrienne was diagnosed with breast cancer. I moved from my home in California to her home in Ontario, Canada and stayed for almost a year. A year of aggressive treatment that included three surgeries, twenty weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation.
Lots of things happened during that year.
My grandson started school. My youngest daughter moved in with her boyfriend. My oldest daughter went back to work after 18 months of maternity leave. But in conversations with my family and friends, since I came home, I’ve come to realize that I’ve lost all of these moments. I know they happened, but it feels like they happened in someone else’s family.
The things I do remember as if they happened in 2019 actually happened the year before. I think I’ve seen people I love much more recently than I actually have. When my sister-in-law says she misses me I think “It hasn’t been that long” and then I am gently reminded by my husband that I haven’t seen her for over two years.
Cancer is an all-consuming beast that occupies every waking moment of every single day. From the moment I got that phone call my focus narrowed dangerously to one thing and one thing only…wanting my child to live.
My entire being was occupied doing all I could to make that happen. At times, I was a drill sergeant making sure she did the exercises after surgery so she wouldn’t lose the full use of her arm. At times, I was a masseuse rubbing her body parts that were losing feeling from chemo side effects. At times, I was the chief cook and bottle washer, the driver, the laundress and the keeper of the schedules for appointments and medications. And as the weeks turned into months and into a year, my world got very, very small.
I am trying to accept that while I spent all this time thinking I was the lifeboat saving my daughter from drowning, in reality sometimes the person flailing around in the water was me.I didn’t have cancer, but the child I carried, the child I snuggled to my breast, the child that filled me so often with pride, did. They say that motherhood is like having a piece of your heart forever walk around outside your body. Both my heart and that little piece that is hers got broken by a relentless invader over which neither of us had any control.
I look like I’m fine. From the outside, you would never know that depending on the hour of the day a small decision that normally would not cause me any problem can turn me into a spinning top careening around the room. There are sixteen alarms set on my phone to remind me to do things that normally I would remember without the prompt, and I know I need them when the jingle starts and I look at the screen wondering what on earth I set it for.
It’s like there’s a time continuum of my life and cancer clipped out that year and moved it just a bit off to the left. And when it moved that clip, it took me with it. I’m still struggling with feeling like I’m on the other side of an invisible wall, so deeply was I embroiled with supporting my child as she dealt with each treatment challenge that steals a part of your soul.
The active treatment part of my daughter’s cancer is over, but I’ve learned the difficult lesson that cancer is a never-ending story and I’m still working on how I’m going to fit that in with the rest of my world and step back into the now.
I’ll keep you posted.