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.