What school did/do you attend?
Jenny is a graduate of Trent University (B.A) and the California Institute of Integral Studies (MA)
Are you working?
What is/are your career goal(s)?
She choses to focus her professional life on supporting those with cancer by working in community based agencies in the social service field.
Your Cancer experience
Who did you support with cancer?
How did you find out about the cancer? What event(s) led to the diagnosis?
My mom was initially diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 34 years old and what followed was 17 years of slow moving, metastatic cancer which moved to her lymph nodes and eventually her bones.
What year was it? How old were you?
I was in grade 4 or 5 when she was first diagnosed and had a mastectomy.
What kind of cancer was he/she first diagnosed with?
What were your first thoughts when you found out about the diagnosis?
I thought my mom was going to die. I was young and it was the 70’s and cancer was still “the big C”. No one really talked about it and I just thought it meant she was going to die. Later I realized that she very well could (and did) live a long, healthy life.
How did your family react?
I have two academic parents (one who is a psychologist) and talking about mom’s diagnosis, the treatments, etc. was always an open discussion/dialogue. I feel really lucky actually because cancer just became a part of our life, our family and, in that way, it reduced a lot of the “unknown” and scary elements for me.
How did your friends react? Did your friends begin treating you different?
I was so young. I remember when she was first diagnosed that nobody really seemed to want to ask about it or address it with me.not even teachers really. As I got older I definitely noticed that there was this special “look” that was reserved for me but for the most part I didn’t feel like I was treated too differently because my mom had cancer.
How did you support him/her with cancer?
Near the end, when I was 20, there was a summer (just before she died) when I was living alone with my mom (my parents were friends but separated and my sister was out of the country in graduate school), she started to become quite incapacitated. We had to use walkie talkies in the house so I could help her turn over, go to the bathroom, etc. the bone cancer was quite progressed and painful at this point. It was hard because I was helping my mom with things that I could tell were really hard for her to have her daughter help her with (bathing, going to the bathroom, etc.) but at the same time we were both so appreciative to have each other during that time. It was really hard. When her pain was great she would often get very hopeless. She hated the thought of dying in the hospital so at one point when she was in just loads of pain and was really dehydrated I had to call an ambulance and it was really hard not to feel like I was betraying her somehow. It all worked out.but it was hard!
What resources would you have liked to avail of personally since his/her diagnosis?
It would have been great to have a network of support while my mom was alive and we were going through the various stages. Even somewhere where I could have easily found information on resources available to me.
Do you know what the treatment consisted/consists of?
Describe the medical side (chemo, radiation, in-patient, out-patient)
Chemo in a pill form with terrible side effects.
In which Hospital(s) was he/she treated?
Sunnybrook Hospital inToronto, ON.
What was the outcome?
Mom had a good 17 years. After her lymph nodes were taken out she had swelling in the arm but really was able to live a good life until the very end.
How is life different for you now that you have had a cancer experience?
Living with cancer most of my childhood and early adulthood significantly impacted who I am today. It was a lesson in communication, moving through emotions, sharing, embracing fears, throwing ideas of control out the window, etc. This experience also facilitated a very unique and wonderful relationship between my mother and me which, although I would love to say had nothing to do with her cancer, I think realistically was impacted by mom’s diagnosis. We were friends. We shared our fears together. I had to work through my fears of losing my mom very early on (the blessing of her long life since initial diagnosis) and was freed up in some ways to really start living with my mom while I/we could. It also really molded my desire to be in the helping professions and I have since worked in various settings around cancer support.
What is/was the toughest part of having a cancer experience?
The toughest part was the fear. Fear can be so immobilizing. But at the same time it was very mobilizing too.
What is/was the best part about having a cancer challenge?
It opened up a whole new way for my mom and me, for our family in fact, to relate, to learn from each other, to support each other and to communicate. It was also a huge education and I learned many things/skills, etc. which I might otherwise not have learned, or at least not have learned so early on.
What really motivated you to keep going while he/she was sick?
Her desire to not be seen as someone people felt sorry for. Her proactive stance and her beautiful way of articulating her experience. Her genuine ability to talk honestly and directly about cancer. What motivated me was my mother and our relationship.
What lessons or messages have you taken away from your experience?
Many. I’ve learned to respect that cancer impacts the whole family and that each person has their own relationship to the experience and there is no “right” or “wrong”. I’ve learned that support, sharing and knowledge are all very important aspects of any journey such as this one. I’ve learned that I am lucky to have had the mother I had and to have learned so much from her.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?
I met Geoff Eaton through my professional job at a cancer hospital – trying to get the word out about this wonderful resource. I just connected with Geoff as a person and with the whole idea of Young Adult Cancer and wanted to participate and help in any way I could beyond my professional capacity. I think this is a wonderful resource that will be great for many individuals who are going through their experiences.