Hometown: St. John’s, Newfoundland
Lillies for Lillie
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Sales/Marketing Manager: Weather Shore Windows
Your Cancer experience
Who did you support with cancer?
I supported my mother and best friend, Lillie Delaney.
How did you find out about the cancer? What event(s) led to the diagnosis?
One summer afternoon the doctor’s office called for my mother – they said she had blood work completed that week and they wanted to talk to her. My mother was at work when the doctors office called and when she got home from work, I let her know they had called about her blood work. My mother had just gone for her routine annual blood work as she always did. I will never forget her face, as she knew something was wrong, she had only gotten blood work done the previous afternoon. Upon calling back the doctor’s office and a visit with our family doctor, my mother was informed she had cancer. She had absolutely no symptoms and the doctor said that she would be the last person he would suspect to have cancer it just came through on a routine check-up.
What year was it? How old were you?
I found out about mom’s cancer in May of 2000, I was 21 years old.
What kind of cancer was he/she first diagnosed with?
Mom was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloegenous Leukemia (CML).
What were your first thoughts when you found out about the diagnosis?
My first thoughts when I found out about Mom’s diagnosis was ultimately Why and How? Cancer was not even in my family and how could it happen to my mother. My next thoughts were ultimately, is she going to live? Although I did not tell my mother that, it was scary as I had no idea about cancer and Leukemia was even more foreign to me.
How did your family react?
I have a very small family but we stuck together. The hardest part was the fact that my brother (Frank) was living in Edmonton, Alberta. It is not the easiest thing to be told over the phone and it was pretty tough on him as he wasn’t home. He wanted to come home but Mom insisted that he stay where he was as she said life will be normal. As well, we had a large group of family friends and they really stuck by us and were always there to lend a helping hand.
How did your friends react? Did your friends begin treating you different?
My friends were completely shocked. Mom was always considered the cool mom and all my friends loved her – she wasn’t just one of the moms she was more like a friend to them. My friends did not treat me any different but they did give extra special attention to my mother. For example, that fall I had a work term that required me to travel – I did not want to go but Mom insisted as she was so proud to see me out working and traveling for work at that! I went but with hesitation. That being said, my friends really stepped in during my brief absences. I would receive a phone call from my friend Lori while on the road and the call display would be from my home. Lori would be over to my house watching television and having a cup of tea with my mother. That meant a lot to my mother and a lot to me I have the best friends in the world – when Mom ended up in ICU, I made one frantic phone call and I went back into ICU. I will never forget walking out of the ICU unit and into the waiting area about 30 minutes after that phone call. This was a Friday night and my friends were all in their early to mid-twenties they had active lifestyles but even with that said there was about 10 of them stood up in a line across the wall ready and waiting to support me it really was a powerful moment.
How did you support him/her with cancer?
I supported my mother by being strong and most importantly honest. I was strong as my mother was a worrier and for the first time in my life, I could help the woman who had helped me all her life. I was honest as Mom was a realist as well people would say, Oh Lillie, you will be just fine, don’t worry. When Mom would ask me, I would say Mom, you have leukemia and we need to treat it but its beatable – sure you should be worried but its nothing that we can’t get through. Mom appreciated my honesty and would always come to me for support. She told everybody that I was her rock throughout everything to date this is my biggest accomplishment in life. I also supported Mom by researching anything and everything about CML. Our family had no idea what it was and the unknown can be pretty scary. I did endless amounts of research and I would keep Mom informed on what I found out. I would go with her to her doctor’s appointments with a list of questions that I had researched. While the doctors were not too impressed with me and my questions and they did express that, Mom felt secure and that was all that was important to me.
What resources would you have liked to avail of personally since his/her diagnosis?
I would have liked to find a family support group as nobody in my family had dealt with cancer and we were only doing what felt right. Being able to speak to somebody other than the doctors would have been very useful for all of us.
Do you know what the treatment consisted/consists of?
Describe the medical side (chemo, radiation, in-patient, out-patient)
The doctors recommended that mom not have a bone marrow transplant based on her age and the chances of finding a match. Instead, they prescribed a form of chemo called Interferon. Mom took this drug at home, my father actually would give her a needle daily. While it was form of chemo, it did not cause her to lose her hair or anything of that nature. After a couple of weeks, Mom was back to normal and working a 40 hour work week like she always had. We were told this drug would be just that of a diabetic and with her leukemia being chronic, that she could live a long while.
Describe the non-medical side (how you felt emotionally, physical side-effects, exhaustion for example)
Mentally and emotionally it was a tough summer. My mother tried to be herself and I believe every now it would slip her mind and she would be her old self but most of the time you could tell she was a worried lady. Physically mom would get tired quicker but she still did not let that get her down and operated like everything was normal and certainly did not want to be tended on. Mentally for Mom, she had to go in for regular check ups to see if her white blood cells were reducing – this was always an anxious time as she would always be nervous in the event that they were up or not down as much as she felt they should be. For myself it never left my mind – it was constant and that was mentally draining. That summer mom was diagnosed, I wanted to take a semester off school, I was in the Business faculty and that was actually my summer that I was required to go to school. My mother was all about education and I knew how disappointed she would be if I skipped a semester because of her illness. As well, it was very important for my mother to feel like everything was as it was before she found out about her leukemia. Consistency and normalness was something that comforted her.
In which Hospital(s) was he/she treated?
Mom had her routine check ups and appointment at the Health Science Centre.
What was the outcome?
Mom was diagnosed in May of 2000. She has a rough couple of weeks when she started her treatments but things shortly got back to normal. Mom was back working full time in July and I honestly felt she was beating it. On November 3rd, 2000 my mother didn’t feel 100% so my Aunt took her to the hospital, just to see a doctor. Little did she know that once at the hospital she would take her first of 2 seizures (first seizures of her life). It was a rough week as Mom was admitted to ICU. This was strange as she walked into the hospital with a headache. On November 10th (three weeks after my mothers 53rd birthday) as my father, my brother and myself were walking towards the ICU unit that morning, there was a doctor there to greet us. I developed a knot so large in my stomach I will never forget it, it was then I had known Mom had passed. They took us into a room and started to talk and to this day I do not know what the doctor said as I was in complete rage and stormed out the door. It was surreal – how could my Mother be the first one to go out of all my friends? How could she die when I was 22 years old? What was I going to do? My life changed dramatically that day!
How is life different for you now that you have had a cancer experience?
I lost two people on November 10th, 2000 – my mother and my best friend. My mother was the core of our family and really kept things together. My brother went back to Alberta and it was my father and me left in our house. That’s all it felt like – a house – as my mother made it our home. Life after my mother’s passing was empty and at some points seems worthless. Many times I questioned what there was to look forward to in life if you only live to be 53?
What is/was the toughest part of having a cancer experience?
The toughest part of the entire experience was the fact that while I know I helped my mother emotionally, I could not help her physically. Watching the woman who took care of you for 22 years just leave this world right in front of your eyes was probably the toughest thing I had to do. I wanted to change spots with her, I did not want to be the one left behind, it was my time to help her.
What is/was the best part about having a cancer challenge?
The best part of about having a cancer challenge is that I quickly learned that you must live each day to the fullest and to be thankful for every day that you are healthy. I don’t worry about things like I use too and I was/am much more focused on my goals. My grades actually increased 10% after my mothers passing I feel I knew how important it was to her and I made it my priority to do well for her.
What really motivated you to keep going while he/she was sick?
As I mentioned before, I kept going as I knew that made Mom happy. She did not want to feel that anything was different or anything was out of place. Plus, I had to stay positive, it was time for me to be the supporter and take care of Mom as she had of me growing up.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
No. I did not attend a support group as I did not know of any services that existed. I was a very sad person for about 3 years after Mom’s passing and then I realized that I had to do something. In May of 2003 I created the Lillies for Lillie Fund. This was a concept that I created in memory of my mother and as well to raise funds to donate for cancer research and to assist current cancer patients and their families. Creating Lilies For Lillie was my therapy – it allowed me to help others deal with this deadly disease and it allowed me to fulfill my mothers dying wish, to keep her memory alive! Each year, there is an annual Lilies For Lillie concert where local entertainment donate their time to this great cause. My mother was a very musical person and I thought there was no better way to remember her. As well, each year there is a Lilies For Lillie lapel pin created with her name written on it. To date, Lilies For Lillie has raised over $11,000 for various cancer charities such as what was formerly known as the Leukemia Research Fund of Canada and most recently we partnered with the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Centre. The partnership with the Bliss Centre has continued and 100% of our proceeds stay in the province and help cancer patients and their families deal with cancer. This was important to me as I want and need to help other families deal with this disease. While I could not help Mom, helping others in her memory is certainly a tribute to her! In 2006, we are doing it again – we have a new Lilies For Lillie lapel pin, we have an exciting concert planned and some major prizes secured which will be the focus of our 1st ever Lilies For Lillie ticket draw. Combined, we hope to reach a combined total of over $20,000 raised. Information on my efforts and the Lilies For Lillie Fund can be found at www.lflhome.com
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?
I got connected with Young Adult Cancer through a friend of mine who knew I was going through a difficult time. She was a friend of Geoff’s and asked if she could forward me a few of his emails that he had sent out to his list-serve. I started to read the emails and I decided to join the list-serve myself. I was in awe at the fact that this guy (Geoff) was dealing with cancer and was putting his energy into such good use. It was then that I decided that I needed to shake myself out of my current state and that if I could turn even half my negative energy into something positive, some good things could happen. It was then that I came up with the concept for Lilies For Lillie – helping myself, helping others and keeping my mother’s memory alive it was a win-win-win situation!