So, there is nothing that can compare to the gut-punch like being told that your child has something so serious that they could die...nothing! Back in October of 2016, as Hayleigh, Keith, Rick and myself sat in a hospital cubicle awaiting results from the OBGYN on call in Emerg., I think we all had some inkling of what was about to happen. While the doctor explained that they could not definitively say that the "c" word was involved, there was a concern and an urgency to deal with what we were facing. The doctor ran words and phrases such as " total hysterectomy", "radiation", "inability to have children", "your appendix looks to be involved", and my mind went somewhere, anywhere but where I was. This was not happening to my child, my baby! This was some kind of cosmic joke! It had to be, and in proper Momma Bear fashion, I went over all the things I could do to stop this nonsense! In my head, it was total nonsense...again, this could not be happening to my child. My knowledge of anatomy and physiology and cancer told me a lot of different things. While I didn't finish the nursing course I had started post high school, I still retained a lot of knowledge and what I knew scared me! I wanted to run, I wanted to grab my baby girl and take her to a place where I could protect her and stop this insanity. But, the pragmatic part of me knew we were in this for the long-haul and there would be no running - there would be surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, etc. My sweet baby girl was going to have to go through this horrific ordeal - and while we would all be there, it was happening to her, not us. Watching your child deal with this kind of news with such grace, and yet be so concerned for how it was impacting the rest of us, was painful. The lack of control I, as her mother, felt is indescribable - I have always had control over so many things, but that was taken right out of my hands. This was her fight and all we could do was become caregivers, as she tried to out-maneuver this adversary. Compound this with getting the news that your other child - my oldest daughter (I only have two) who had also gone through her own life-threatening medical incident that resulted in the birth of our grandson (1 pound 9 ounces and 28 weeks gestation, compounded with a multitude of medical issues - cardiac, neurological, you name it) was also diagnosed with her own form of cancer (thyroid) in the following summer. To say the least, this leaves a parent feeling extremely numb! Scared doesn't quite describe it, and quite frankly, I don't know what does. Stephanie told me that at some point after her sister passed, I died too. I suppose it's not quite died, but rather escaped to a protective place where I can hide and avoid anything else that might happen. Just know, that I raised two pretty spectacular human beings - They are both my heros always and forever!
Thinking back on this whole process, I am not really sure where this cancer thing started. For me, I guess the first time I heard the word “cancer” was when I was 15 or 16 years old and was told that my beautiful Auntie Anne was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but to be sure, back in the day, it definitely meant a “death sentence”. That beautiful angel passed away in August 1978. I was 17 years old. What stood out for me was, while walking across the Cemetery with my grandmother, she looked up at me with tears rolling down her face, she told me “No mother should ever have to bury her child”. We had never had the opportunity to have deep conversations like this in the past, and given that we were alone on this particular walk, the conversation stuck with me. I just never quite knew why. I guess, in the grand scheme of things, she was preparing me for something that I really could not imagine. Fast-forward to December 16th, 2017, and I was living that very reality. I agree with my grandmother NO MOTHER SHOULD EVER HAVE TO BURY HER CHILD.
Cancer has become a large part of our lives in the Connell household. In 1992, at age 37, my husband, Richard was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer. He was told at that time that he “picked the right one” as it was being successfully treated, and life expectancy was good. It was a stressful time for our family, but we were blessed to have the support of our families and friends. Without them, this would not have been a smooth journey. After a round of radiation at the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver, and one year of remission, Rick went in for a chest x-ray and lab work and was told he had something suspicious showing up on his x-ray. A biopsy of a lymph node confirmed the return of his cancer, and he began chemotherapy. As I was working to support our household, Hayleigh, who was off on summer break, offered to be her dad’s Chemo Champion for each round. The two of them would read, watch TV and keep each other and the nurses on the ward entertained. Hayleigh learned how to change bags of normal saline for her dad, and she learned a lot about the chemotherapy process. She was 9 years old.
Over the years, many of our elderly family members were diagnosed with some form of cancer or another. A paternal grandmother and mother were both diagnosed with breast cancer, father with brain cancer, maternal grandfather with prostate cancer and paternal grandfather with, I believe, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. We never ever dreamt that it would affect our girls.