The Other Side of Shared Cancer Experiences


After my daughter was diagnosed with cancer, I began to share my experiences through writing, and through that I found camaraderie — and heartbreak.

cartoon drawing of blogger and cancer caregiver, Debbie Legault

When I first started blogging about Adrienne’s cancer experience, my hope was that other mothers like me would find someone when they went looking who could relate to their experience. There is a great deal of information out there about caregiving for little ones and older ones but there wasn’t much to find when I was a full-time caregiver for my 27-year-old daughter when she was going through cancer treatment. To support myself, to get out some of the emotions I was trying to manage, I started to write it down and share. Much to my joy, the mothers I was trying to speak to found me and I was able to hear their stories and offer some compassionate words of understanding about what it’s like to feel so helpless.

What I wasn’t anticipating when I made these connections was the heartbreak that would come with some of them.

When Adrienne was diagnosed, I joined a club no one wants to be a member of. If someone you love has cancer and has to make the very difficult choice to punish their bodies to kill the beast, the pain of watching the impact it has is monumental.

Some people have to walk away because the helplessness is too much to bear. I chose to be there for every single minute. And every time I watched the chemotherapy drugs drip into her veins, every time I helped ease her clothes off after radiation because her skin was raw, every time I had to figure out a way to place the pillows just so to support her incisions I would say to myself please…please make this worth it.

Adrienne came out of a year of grueling treatment as a success story. Her treatment worked, and while I know recurrence is a strong possibility, for now her luck is holding. But this is not the case with many of the daughters of the mothers that have touched my life in the last four years. Much to my sorrow, their lives have been taken by this ruthless, merciless disease.

For some, the treatment has failed them. For others, their bodies could not manage the side effects and their hearts gave out, or an infection took hold and could not be curbed.

I do not know these young women, nor do I know their mothers except on the other end of an online conversation. Yet somehow, because we are connected by a common experience, when I hear the news that their world had been turned forever upside down my heart hurts — a lot.

Some will say they can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a child to cancer, but I can. I had to think about what it would be like every day for a year. I had to think how I would manage birthdays, and family celebrations. How I would walk into a store we used to shop in together or watch a movie that had made us laugh or cry. How I would answer the question about how many children I have. How I would ever be able to listen to her voice in the left paw of the Build-a-Bear my girls made for me one Mother’s Day without crumpling to the floor.

Because cancer is such a persistent animal, I know that someday I may have to answer those questions regardless of the current détente between my daughter’s body and the invader. I hope if it happens that some of the mothers I have met along this path I’ve been walking, those who ended up taking a different fork in the road, will hold out their hands to me as I join the club that no parent should ever have to join.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to need it.

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