I have lived a fairly blessed life. I was lucky enough to find a life partner who gets me, who has grown with me over the last 34 years as we have lived our very unusual life and raised our three children together.
Adrienne is our middle child. Her older sister Stephanie was very good working materials when it came to parenting. She reasoned through things at a young age and made it very easy for me to gain her trust when it came to things like wearing a coat because it was cold outside or resisting peer pressure when it came to bullying or drinking. Her younger sister Isabelle is an observer, who made the vast majority of her behavioral decisions on what kind of consequences she saw came from breaking the rules. She’s a sleeper child, the kind who surprises you by coming at you with valid arguments when she needs a rule to be bent or her horizons broadened because she has learned what works.
Adrienne is the type of child who learns everything by experience. As an example, I learned she could swim when she jumped off the end of the dock into the river just as I turned my back to put down the towels when we were visiting her Grandmaman…when she was three. In .0008 seconds, I had to understand that I could not transfer my fear to her because she was, indeed, keeping herself above the water. I encouraged her to keep doing it right back to me at the edge of the dock. I pulled her out, told her how impressed I was that she had done so well, and made a deal with her that she would not do that again when I wasn’t looking. Not because she couldn’t swim, but because I needed to be watching her. Oscar worthy acting skills on my part, since my heart was pounding in my chest and all I wanted to do was squeeze the life out of her with relief that she was okay. But I couldn’t tell her she couldn’t swim, now could I. Because she had just proved to me that she could.
Needless to say, she was quite a shock to the system after Stephanie, especially because there are four years between them and my success with Stephanie made me pretty confident that what I was doing worked. And it did. With Stephanie. Not so much with her little sister.
From what I have heard from my older siblings, Adrienne is me as a child. It is a great gift, being given the opportunity to raise yourself. It gives you a toolbox to rummage through when you’re trying to figure out what to do, in many cases because you know exactly what NOT to do, what didn’t work with you, what made you feel very small, what wounded you the most. As you raise a child like Adrienne, you are given the amazing treasure of healing your own wounds, of realizing forgiveness for days past, because you become aware of how deep you have to dig to find the right words or actions, how exhausting it can be, and you know that your life circumstances have given you the luxury of having that kind of time and energy.
All my children all magical beings to me, each with their own strengths, each with their own limitations that they try very hard to acknowledge and work within. But Adrienne always had to fight a little bit harder, to go against some of her own instincts because she knew that following that path would not bring her to a good place. She had to get up every day and not give up, not take the easy road, tell herself that she could do it. She had to acknowledge the limitation of learning everything by experience and trust that in some cases, she had to do what the rules said because the outcome would be of benefit. When I look at her, how much she has accomplished, I am filled with pride, both in her and myself. Adrienne is, simply put, my masterpiece.
In the last few years, Adrienne’s life has settled. She has a job she loves that feeds her mind and her spirit. She is living in a city in which she feels a strong sense of rightness, of belonging. She has wonderful friends, who share her zest for life and love for spontaneity. It gave me such comfort, such joy, to think that most of the battles were behind her, that all the incredibly hard work she had done to get her where she is was finally paying off. That I could put down my paintbrush, that with the occasional touchup my masterpiece would continue to stand as a testament to the trust that she had that I would never lead her astray, that my belief in her was justified, that she could trust her own decisions. She could look at her own life and know that she could believe in herself.
Silly me, thinking that the universe was done with her.
Adrienne began investigating a lump she found in the shower in February 2019. She had to push, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, for the medical professionals to take her concerns seriously. First an exam, then an ultrasound, then a biopsy. Then on March 15th, 2019 I got a phone call that would change my life forever.
My 27-year-old daughter, my masterpiece, whose life was on such a good path, had just been told by her doctor that she had breast cancer. The shock of it was so intense that typing those words over a year later still brings on a physical reaction. There is no family history. There were no risk factors. She is a typical young woman of her age, following the mantra of everything in moderation. There is nothing to look at to cast blame, to find a reason. The universe spun the wheel of chance and it stopped on my 27-year-old daughter getting cancer.
I knew that day that I would be there with her for whatever came after. That is the type of mother I am, and my life situation allowed for me to do that without the rest of my world blowing up. I packed up my life and moved into her one-bedroom apartment, sleeping in the living room for almost a year.
One thing that became clear along the way was how much of an outlier Adrienne is. There are a lot of support services out there for parents of young children and teenagers who have cancer. There are a lot of support services for older women and their families going through breast cancer treatment. There is almost nothing out there for women like Adrienne who are diagnosed in their twenties or early thirties. They share parts of their cancer stories with the others, but there are so many aspects of dealing with breast cancer at her age that make it different. And as her caregiver, as the person doing all I could to minimize the trauma, the pain, the loss, there was almost nothing out there for me, either.
I am the rock, the center of my family’s universe. I always have been. But this experience tested me to the limits and beyond. To help me along the way, many people suggested that I journal about it as a place to express my thoughts and feelings. This book is a compilation of the pages I wrote to help me cope with what is to date the most devastating time of my life. I am sharing this experience with the world in the hope that other mothers like me, with daughters the age mine was at when she was diagnosed, can find common ground, can prepare themselves for what they will go through watching their children fight the battle of their lives. That they will have a few more tools to rummage through when the walls are closing in.
They say that every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I have divided my story into three similar sections, but with a simple change. The truth for me is that once the diagnosis had been made, the story of Adrienne’s cancer will never really be over. There will always be more tests, more vigilance, more fear. More appreciation for every accomplishment she makes. More gratitude for her continuing presence on this earth. More sleepless nights. More holding her longer and closer than she likes to be held, knowing she will just let it be okay.
Being aware of all these things, I have decided that this story should be divided up like this.
The End, dot dot dot.
And if you are reading this because your daughter who is too young has been diagnosed with breast cancer, please know that my heart goes out to you.