If you had told me a year ago that I would be one of the millions of women fighting breast cancer, I would have said, “you have the wrong person…sorry, my plate of “stuff” is full to overflowing. I do not have time for cancer”. I know it seems cliché to say, “I never thought it would be me”….but it is so very true!
My name is Shannon, and I am a breast cancer survivor, and here is my (long) story!
We struggled for 6+ years with infertility before we adopted our first baby girl. We had gone through the pregnancy with her birthmother; she took her back from us when she was a month old. I didn’t think my heart would ever mend, and I was sure I was the only person on the planet who knew devastating pain. When we met our son’s birth mother a few months later, we were ecstatic throughout the pregnancy to be given a second chance at parenthood. Our hearts were again ripped out when he too was taken from our arms, never to be seen again. Both of “our” first children still bear the names we gave them, and they each still hold a piece of our hearts. Fast forward three years later and we were miraculously a family of 4, having adopted our 2 beautiful daughters, both from birth, one in 2001 and one in 2003. Life was again on track, and things were great!!!
In November 2007, we made a decision that would forever change our lives once again. We were approached by a birth mother who wanted us to consider adopting her baby, due to be born in May 2008. Although we were “done” having kids, and the whole emotional roller coaster of it, we decided to say YES! With zero preparation for a new baby, thinking we had plenty of time until it arrived in Spring, we were suddenly thrown into chaos and confusion, when the baby decided to arrived just 4 weeks later. At 24 weeks, weighing a whopping 1 pound….ourlittle miracle entered the world.
The past 7 years have consisted of countless surgeries, 2-6 month hospital staysfrequently, many near death calls, daily therapy, thousands of miles on the good ‘olmini van, much advocating, hard work, many tears, much guilt, and……joy to overflowing! She had a massive brain bleed at birth and now is dependent on a shunt running from her brain to her heart. She is also deaf, but has learned to speak and communicate after she had surgery to get a Cochlear Implant a few years ago. We were told at birth that she would never walk, talk, see, eat or live on her own. We are often asked, “WHY did you adopt her? You could’ve just walked away when you knew all of the hardships she would face”. This question is asked by people who miss the joy and lessons from the things that life brings our way! She was OURS from the moment we saw her the night of her birth when we rushed to the hospital to be by her birth mothers side after what was expected to be a miscarriage. This little girl has not stopped fighting one single day of her life! SHE is one of my biggest inspirations! Little did I know 7 years ago what she would be teaching me; to be strong, to fight, to stay positive and to never say never!
Last Fall I was very, very worn out from the constant work with our daughter, but knew that every second of it was worth it because she was now prepared to enter grade 1 in a regular class with a full time aid. I was no longer going to be her speech therapist, physio therapist, auditory therapist, teacher, doctor, social worker, coach, social skills mentor, nurse and psychologist….I was going to get to be her MOM! Although I knew I would still be her full-time advocate, NOW I was going to get to be the mom who volunteered at school and was waiting for the kids when they got off the bus! I was going to be able to make up for lost time with my older 2 children who got very small slivers of the “mom’s time pie” since little sister came along! I was going to kick some guilt in the butt and empower myself. I was going to exercise, do coffee dates, organize my house, and date my husband (oh ya, I forgot I had one of those) on his days off when the kids were in school.
One week before school started we got the shocking news, completely out of left field, that my husbands job was gone! He had worked there for 18 years, and loved his job and the flexibility it gave us in him helping me with our daughters appointments and kids schedules. It was a devastating blow! Once again we were crushed, wondering what we were going to do. Within a week of trying to wrap our heads around this, I agreed to go to a doctors appointment that was set up by a friend of mine. Being a typical mom, I never took myself to the doctor, but had been complaining of pain in my shoulder and breast, so she insisted I get it checked out. The wise doctor obviously sensed the stress I was facing, and knowing that my grandmother had had a double mastectomy, decided to send me for a mammogram. At the time I think she was doing it more to ease my mind, and thought it would be nothing.
I will never forget the day of my mammogram when the technician told me that they’d done all they could do there, and I would be referred to The Cross Cancer Institute for further testing and biopsies. WHAT? But it was supposed to be nothing!! The Cross?? But, that’s where people who have cancer go. I do not have cancer….the doctor even said it probably wasn’t cancer. They must have me mixed up with someone else, or, their machines were malfunctioning that day!!
Then we got the diagnosis. The doctor came in with the file upside down and I could tell by the look on her face that it was not good news. It had been several weeks of test, biopsies, and ultrasounds. It seemed to take forever. She said she regretted to tell us that she was very sorry, but it was in fact Carcinoma. I was like, OH GOOD….it’scarcinoma, whatever that it, at least it’s not cancer. I knew full well I was trying to fool my brain, but I just wanted so badly to try to find a way to rationalize or change the diagnosis. She was a beautiful, gentle, caring doctor and gave me and my husband well over and hour to talk to her, talk alone, cry and sit in shock. It is something I can never explain. Just utter shock. Shock mixed with disbelief, anger, anxiety and fear. But, also and anxiousness to get on with it….ok, lets book a date, lets get on with the show and get this cancer out of me! Then the need to be patient and wait and wait…thinking the cancer is quadrupling in size with every passing moment. How to tell the children? How to “do life” with no income, and cancer and a child with special needs, and 2 pre-teens who need some normalcy in their lives.
One day at a time. One decision at a time. Viewing things in a positive light and trying to find the good. That was the goal, and it was a good goal. BUT…it was not easy. Thinking months, years, decades ahead easily crept in. Making decisions for 5 steps ahead was easy to get caught up in. Viewing thing negatively and finding only the bad was much easier to do much of the time. So, I surrounded myself by good friends who could hold me accountable to stay in the moment, pray for me, be positive when I was not and love me unconditionally. That was a beautiful thing. You really find out who your support people are and who your village is through a crisis such as this.
We tried to turn the job loss into a blessing in disguise because at least he was able to stay home with me and take care of everything, and me! It got to the crunch after 8 months where he really needed to find something though, and after searching for that entire time, and as a last resort, he finally had to take a job away from home. He is now working out of Calgary (3 hours away) and is rarely home. The wage is less than pathetic, but it is where he has to be to start back in his field of work. We get discouraged and it is very hard for me to be parenting alone when I am still recovering, but we are thankful! Things could be worse!
I can’t really say, “looking back” because we are still in the thick of it….but I know that this journey has a purpose if we let it. I know that each of us has struggled, but grown. I HATE that my kids and my family have to be going through this, but I embrace it for what it is and seek to know how we can learn through it so that we can help someone else.
I am tired. SO tired! I am have battled shingles because of the stress. But, life doesn’t stop, and the calls from school to rush our daughter to the hospital, the advocating, the vehicles issues, the laundry, the homework, the meals, don’t stop. I delegate, I take help, I use my village, and I am getting better at saying no. I know in my head that it is true what people say, “take care of yourself”. But, it doesn’t get from my head to reality. I am now trying to help out with bills, and the only job we could figure would work for me is to do a day home. At the moment I have a 1 year old, and he is a very good baby. Again people say I am crazy, but we need the little extra income that it provides, and I do find him therapeutic in many ways (he is an exceptionally good baby).
I can’t exactly put into words how much I have longed for a break….a vacation! A family vacation for what all my kids have gone through, a couples vacation to help restore our traumatized marriage relationship, or a me vacation. I’ve thought of it all!! It is always in the back of my mind, wishing, but knowing it will never be a reality. When I learned about Send Me On Vacation just literally today, I thought (think) it is too good to be true….this could not really happen for me!!! To even have the opportunity to apply and tell my story is amazing in itself. I want to share my story like so many others have shared their story with me! Everyone has their own story and each one can give a glimmer of hope to someone else, even if in the smallest way.
Most sincerely, and with immense gratitude for what you do!