“A grandparent is a little bit parent, a little bit teacher and a little bit best friend.”
My grandparents have always been a huge part of my family’s lives and I am very fortunate to have lived so close to them and be able to spend as much time with them as I have. Throughout my sister’s diagnosis, it affected my grandparents severely. As another addition to my Childhood Cancer Awareness Blog Series, I asked my grandma for her perspective on what it was like when Jill was diagnosed.
My Grandma Sybil’s Perspective:
“Throughout my life I have written countless essays, papers, reports etc. This one will be the most difficult one I have ever attempted to write. Jill’s journey through her cancer ordeals have been well written by her immediate family, therefore I will refer to various segments, and focus on Jill’s earlier life, as well as trying to give some insight into how childhood cancer affects the family, friends, neighbors, an entire community and beyond.
Jill was always a happy child, bubbling with enthusiasm, energy, love and compassion. Along with this charming, adorable personality, she was energetic, athletic, kind and thoughtful. She was always a pleasure to be with. When she came to visit at Grandpa & Grandma’s, she usually entered in with a cartwheel, or back flip. Then say, “Hi Grandma!” Naturally I would respond with an appropriate reply. Like, WOW that is Jill that just came flying through the door. Hugs, and then we would move ahead to what the plan was for today.
Playing outdoors, her first stop was often the maple tree where she would climb the lower branches. This was upsetting to Grandpa, as he was afraid she would fall. She never did! I assured him that she had good balance, was strong, and knew what she was capable of doing safely. (I loved to climb trees when I was young, so did her mother, so we understood her desire)
Fast forward to November 2009, when our world turned upside down. Jill became very ill with severe pain, was rushed to Renfrew Victoria Hospital where she was diagnosed with a large “cyst” on her left ovary. She was transported to CHEO by ambulance. As a grandmother, I was concerned, anxious, worried, but knew I had to stay strong, remain positive and support the family. It is possible the cyst, or tumor could be benign!
We had to have faith, pray and hope for the best. However, the tumor was malignant! Shock, Panic! Fear! Along with a very sick feeling in the pit of your stomach pass over you. You have to give yourself a “shake”, deal with the problem. So you deal with the shock, stay strong, and go to be with Jill and the family. They need you, your support, love, strength, and reassurance that Jill would conquer this setback as well.
Helping the family while Jill was at CHEO, I felt I would serve them best by helping Jenna and Kathleen at home. I was happy to make meals, lunches, drive them to events, keep Kathleen company when Jenna was busy with schoolwork, sports or playing hockey. I could also drive Kathleen to her hockey games and be there to support her. Her parents were always at their games, so I must do my best to cheer her on. It was also important to reassure them that Jill was going to get well. She was strong and would win this battle!
The community, neighbor’s, friends, school staff, as well as extended family members supported the family in various ways, preparing a meal, bringing special treats, or dropping in with a gift, or a surprise for the girls. They were always supportive. Jill went through radiation, returned home for a short period, returned to school, then back to CHEO for chemo.
Jill returned home for Christmas Eve following her chemo treatments. She had been feeling hungry for some home made food, and had requested ham on buns for Christmas Eve supper – one of her favorites. As she was very sensitive to cooking odors, that should be a safe one. Grandma was up to the task, cooked the ham at my home, and brought it to their house. Jill was so very sick from the chemo; she slept through her special supper. We were so happy to have her with us, but felt sad for her. However we knew Jill would be able to enjoy her ham on a bun tomorrow or next day.
Christmas morning. Jill opened her gifts with Jenna & Kathleen’s help. When I arrived, she was still very tired, but said I could open her gift. Jill had been very excited about her chosen gift for me. Her Mom had taken her shopping when she was able to go before treatments. She was so excited and thrilled with her purchase she could barely wait for Christmas because this was “the best gift ever!” I knew how much she wanted to see me open this precious gift, but knew she was much too sick to appreciate, or remember this special time, so I suggested we wait until Boxing Day, and we could exchange our gifts then. I mention this in my writing because this gift has a very special place in my heart and will remain in a very special place in my home. Jill was still thinking of others, and not dwelling on her own illness.
Jill was able to return to school after the March Break. She was so excited that along with being with her classmates again, back at school, and it was springtime. That means track & field is the focus in gym classes. She would be able to train for one of her favorite sports! Was she able to do this? Of course she was! She excelled once again and won Junior Girl Trophy at Renfrew large track meet. Applause for Jill was widespread, as other school members, as well as coaches were aware of Jill’s battle, and were supporting her. Were there tears in my eyes at this presentation? Yes, and I would guess that I wasn’t the only one in the crowd. I will never forget this meet. Jill enjoyed this spring season as she gained strength, she was healthier, and her beautiful hair was growing in again.
Unfortunately, once again at the end of June, Jill’s cancer had returned. This time she had radiation first to shrink the tumor, followed by chemo. We know she was devastated at first. How much can a child bear? However, Jill remained strong, positive, optimistic and never complained. Jill dealt with being ill once again, even though it was terrifying as she had been there before.
Five days following surgery, Jill and Kathleen held a bake sale at the end of their lane, where they raised over $1,000. This effort was to support Childhood Cancer. They were anxious to tell people that this illness is “out there”, and needs to be recognized! This was the beginning of their fundraising and they have continued on. They are both still fundraising for Childhood Cancer. Continue on girls. You are doing great!
I wish to commend the Candlelighters for their work and support to families dealing with Childhood Cancer. They support families in all areas, especially financially and emotionally. I recall how thrilled Jill was to receive a laptop computer for her use while recovering at home. This allowed her to keep in touch with her school friends, keep in touch with happenings, also to message each other, as often she was not able to have visitors in her home, because of risk of infection. Candlelighters also help families by offering them special events such as NHL games (they have a “family box”), which protects families from outside infections. They offer concerts, and more. Candlelighters also help patients remain comfortable while at CHEO. They are an awesome support group. They deserve and need our support.
Reflecting on these years of Jill’s life is very emotional and heart wrenching for me, her grandmother. This should NEVER happen to a child, but it DOES! It is a life changing experience for all who endure it. Your thoughts and prayers are with the child and family. You know how they are suffering; yet remaining positive, supportive, and caring for the child with love, compassion and understanding. I am extremely proud of my family for working through this very difficult time in their lives. Each one is a true survivor and champion.
Jill, we are so proud of all your accomplishments. You have achieved great success in your schoolwork, sports, and all your undertakings. You have climbed every mountain, and conquered every obstacle in your pathway with determination, perseverance, humility, showing the spirit of a true survivor and champion. Jill is a beautiful young lady who is excited and looking forward to her future as she enters University.
WE LOVE YOU JILL!”