By Janelle Lamontagne
Sometimes it’s the littlest things that affect us the most. My craniotomy had been scheduled and suddenly, I was thrown into a whirlwind of HR appointments and sick leave planning. Before I knew it, it was my last day of work and I was preparing to turn in my badge. That was a defining moment for me. It was my first concrete loss since my brain cancer diagnosis. The dam burst and I had a meltdown of epic proportions.
It seemed ridiculous at the time, but now I realize how significant that instance was to me. It wasn’t turning in my badge that was the problem, it was everything the badge represented. Six years of university. My career as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). The stability of my life. My ten-year plan. They could all be taken from me in a moment and without them, who was I?
Growing up, I was the smart girl. I was never overly athletic or artistic, but the one thing I always took pride in was my intelligence. My identity as Janelle, the smart girl, carried me through high school and university until I morphed into Janelle, the SLP.
Then, I was diagnosed with brain cancer. Oh, how ironic that the one thing I had always counted on — my intelligence — was under attack. And what was even more ironic was the fact that the tumour was directly in the area of the speech and language centre of my brain. My brain cancer, my Grade 3 Anaplastic Astrocytoma, felt like a direct assault on my identity.
I was 29-years-old and in the midst of an existential crisis. I had never realized how one-dimensional my life was. Who was I? What was my purpose?
That was the big one for me. What was my purpose? I needed to find a purpose again before depression and despair swallowed me whole.
I couldn’t work because of my treatments and, being immunocompromised, I couldn’t volunteer with the public. So, I decided to reach out to the local humane society and applied to foster puppies. I had already fostered and adopted my dog, Beau, from them, so I was familiar with the process. This was the best decision I ever could have made. I ended up fostering six puppies, three at a time, and I can honestly say that those puppies, along with Beau, saved me. Fostering gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Fostering gave me something to focus on other than myself. Fostering gave me Mac, the pup I just couldn’t give back. Fostering gave me a sense of purpose.
I wish I could say that, two and a half years post diagnosis, I am secure again in my identity. Unfortunately, I don’t think I ever will be. Cancer made me so much more cognizant of how malleable my sense of self actually is, and I am okay with that. As long as I can find a purpose in each day, I know that I can get through whatever life throws my way.