surviving the impact of cancer

I was first touched by the impact of cancer in 1969 when my mother was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney. One of her kidneys was removed and we waited to see what would happen. We were hopeful, as she was a strong woman and always filled with optimism.


That’s me and my mom at Clear Lake, Manitoba, in 1958. She loved being by the water as much as I do.

Unfortunately, the cancer spread to her other kidney, and quickly to the rest of her vital organs. We lost her in January of 1970. I was 13 years old and my life would never be the same. That is the devastating effect of cancer. It touches so many lives. Not just of the person diagnosed and suffering, but of virtually everyone who is close to that person–whether a family member, friend, or work colleague.


That is my cousin Jeanette on the right with her granddaughter at our wedding in 1995.

The other person closest to me that I have lost through cancer was my cousin, neighbour and best friend Jeanette. Her cancer journey was quite different than my mother’s in that it began with a tiny lump in her lung that was removed. Five years passed and we thought she had won the battle, only to be knocked down with the knowledge that the cancer had metastasized into her bones. She suffered with the deadly pain of bone cancer, and died within a year of the re-diagnosis. Another devastating loss–to me personally, and to everyone who knew her.


That is Sharon Brandow on the right being acknowledged for her great speech at our Toastmasters meeting.

My third most impactful insight into the world of cancer has been via Sharon Brandow, a friend, neighbour and Toastmaster colleague who shared her cancer journey with our club via an immensely powerful speech. In the speech, Sharon tells us about her surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments and how they impacted her body and her life. Sharon closes her speech with the words, “We will win the battle with cancer. I have no doubt. And I fully expect to see it in my lifetime.”

Thank you, Sharon, for those powerful words of encouragement, and Happy World Cancer Day to you and all the cancer survivors of the world. You have given us hope that cancer will be beaten.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

52 Responses

  1. Linda says:

    It must have been devastating for you to lose your Mum at such a young age. Cancer is a horrible disease that has touched the lives of so many people. The pain and suffering is unmeasurable. We are making progress with finding a cure but we have a long way to go.

  2. Jeri says:

    To lose a mother at 13 is heartbreaking and must have impacted your life in so many ways. Unfortunately, cancer has recently reared its ugly head in my life as well. It creeps into so many lives, but research makes more strides all the time.

    • Indeed, Jeri. We must feel optimistic about the progress they have made in fighting cancer. Definitely better and more effective than it was back in the 1960’s when my mother fought her battle. I hope the cancer in your life is not your own. Here’s to a bright new day!

  3. Nancie says:

    My grandfather died of mouth cancer. I was a young teenager, but I remember visiting him in the hospital. I remember him being in a lot of pain. I do hope that this is a disease eradicated during our lifetime.

    • Thx so much for joining the conversation, Nancie. I can only imagine how horrible mouth cancer must be. I am sorry for what your grandfather and your family went thru. I still have the vision of my mother’s eyes rolling into the back of her head from the anguish and hallucinations she experienced while being treated with morphine. Horrible!

  4. Erica says:

    Cancer is really so horrible. And sorry that you had to go through that with your mom. That must have been so difficult, especially since you were so young. I agree with what you say about cancer touching everyone who loves a person who has it. I’ve never had cancer, but I certainly feel like I’ve fought it before, dealing with cancer with my mother. I’m glad we are finding more and more effective treatments. Hopefully there will continue to be progress in our lifetime.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Erica. I’m sorry to hear your mother has battled cancer. I hope she is now OK. Indeed, it is wonderful that so much progress has been made in the 47 years since my own mother lost her battle with cancer. But let’s hope we reach that finish line when cancer becomes a thing of the past.

  5. Sharon Brandow says:

    Cancer sucks. I am sorry, Doreen, that you lost your mother and your cousin to cancer. Statistics tell us that one in four Canadians will die of cancer. That is shocking to me.
    I am so grateful that I had Dory to be with me and take care of me through the state-of-the-art, and still barbaric, treatments. Many go through treatment alone.
    I am in an online cancer chat group with others who have gone through treatment. Fear of recurrence is the most common thread. This is another manifestation of the unwelcome stranger in the house that Dory wrote of above. The fear can be crippling. I do not share that fear. I have much for which to be grateful. Right up there is our local Toastmasters club. It has helped me find my voice, and it is so much fun listening to other members tell the most wonderful stories. Thank you, Doreen, for making that possible.

    • Your comment brought tears to my eyes–for many reasons, Sharon. I think that finding a group (whether it is a support group, a gathering of like-minded people, whatever) really does help us when we deal with healing and adversity. I am so grateful that you and Dory found your way to our Toastmasters club and that you have joined our wonderful ‘family.’ We make each other stronger.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…surviving the impact of cancerMy Profile

  6. Cancer touches everyone’s life sometime, Doreen, and I’m so sorry that it touched yours at such an early age. It’s wonderful when we hear someone being so positive that cancer can be beat. Many types of cancers have been beat, or are not as devastating as they once were. I don’t know that we will see complete cures in our lifetime, but we may. It’s so important to keep that hope alive. I wish the best for your friend.

  7. Dory Walker says:

    Doreen – thanks for sharing that wonderful photo of you and your mom – I can see where you get your delightful, infectious smile. I thought I’d share some thoughts on my experience of being a primary caregiver while Sharon goes through this experience. I think most people can imagine the plentiful tasks of assisting someone who often can’t do the things they used to do. It can be lonely and overwhelming at times but it was always exactly what I want to be doing. What I didn’t know at the beginning of this was that I would sometimes feel like our home has been invaded by a stealthy stranger who refuses to leave. A stranger who played tricks of disrupting our belongings, routine, feelings, health, mental health and sense of who we are when we were not looking ….and then hides! Just when we get back in balance about some things, the stranger returns and places other unanticipated changes in our way. Changes that we didn’t see coming. I’ve learned that ending treatment did not mean the stranger moved away. There are pieces of evidence to suggest that the pesky devil is still around. Sharon will be different for the rest of her life because of the visit of this dreaded sneaky visitor – so will I. I don’t mean that we will be different in a horrible, negative way….just we are and will be DIFFERENT because of this cancer. That’s been my most unanticipated realization. I hope this makes some sense. To all of you, I send warm thoughts. Dory

    • Dory, as I sit here drinking a rather large glass of wine because of some of the challenges in my own caregiver role, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your insightful comment. Your observation that things (permanently) change behind the scenes even when the obvious challenge(s) are no longer there/evident is profound.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…surviving the impact of cancerMy Profile

      • Profound and so true. All the cancer literature talks about the ‘new normal’, the life you lead after you’ve gone through treatments of one kind or another. What they don’t tell you is that the ‘new normal’ often sucks. While you’re undergoing treatment, the medicine and the doctors/technicians are fighting your battle with you When they’re finished with their part, the rest is up to you–‘the rest’ is where the real battle begins.
        HEATHER WRIGHT recently posted…Accountability Group – Meet Your 2017 Writing GoalsMy Profile

  8. Sushmita says:

    I understand Doreen, I have experienced the loss of my beloved uncle to cancer.
    I was a Child back then but still, he was a kind man with a heart sweet as sugar and one of my favorites.
    Thank you dear for sharing your friend’s words to Inspire.
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  9. I don’t think I ever heard the full story about your mother. I am so sorry. My father was a doctor who fought and researched cures for cancer for his patients. He saved many lives, but sadly his own diagnosis of lung cancer was terminal. My husband had MDS – a precursor to Leukemia. He died due to complications including the MDS. My mother and grandmother and sister all had breast cancer and were survivors. My cousin was not – it metastasized to her brain. My grandfather died of stomach cancer years ago. Today there are many medical ways to fight this invasive disease but it still takes so many lives. I am so sorry for your losses and happy for those you know who fought and won. XO

  10. Doreen — Just last month I lost a friend of over 45 years to cancer. She was also a business colleague and I wrote the weekly blog for her website for four years until she became too ill to continue. It was a painful two-year journey for her and her family and friends. I’m still sad at her passing.

    • Thx so much for joining the conversation, Jeannette. I think that’s the worst thing about cancer. It can put the victim thru such a long and hard journey to the end. At least with a heart attack, you’re here today, gone tomorrow! My father died from heart failure and it was so fast and painless–for everybody concerned. Fingers crossed I go that way!
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…surviving the impact of cancerMy Profile

  11. I’m so sorry to hear of your losses. My world is also full of family who succumbed to one form of cancer or another (in the last couple of weeks, my wonderful voice teacher and my husband’s uncle). I’m on hold for a few years before I can say I’m a breast cancer survivor, and yes, my life has changed–and there are days when I’m definitely less than thrilled with the “new normal” that all the cancer literature talks about. I would love to see a time when cancer is not a part of everyone’s life. In the meantime, I will tell all women to get a mammogram. It’s the only way to find breast cancer that is guaranteed to work–and the WHO agrees with me. The lump my mammogram found couldn’t be felt by me or my surgeon–and we knew where to look. If I had waited until it was large enough to be found by me, my outcome would likely have been quite different. Thanks for talking about this today.

    • Thx so much for joining the conversation, Heather. Glad to hear you are winning the battle. I will try and book another mammogram. Haven’t had one in a few years now. Thx for the reminder! Interesting how nearly everyone who has experienced cancer and is commenting here has had breast cancer. I wish some men would join the conversation, but they seem so less inclined to share personal matters.

  12. Mary Ann porter says:

    As a breast cancer survivor, I too share the hope that cancer will be beaten. I thank God for getting me through some very difficult times. And I thank the friends and family who were there to support me. Without that, the battle would have been very painful.
    I am saddened every time I hear of a loved one lost to cancer. A very dear friend died this week after fighting for almost two years. We can only keep hoping that a cure will be found – soon.

  13. Thanks for sharing this post Doreen. I too have lost people to cancer, and in fact I myself had a mastectomy 11 yrs ago, so I feel blessed that I have survived. But grief on any kind is so hard to deal with and it does not get any easier for the next time. X

    • Hi Kathy and thanks for your comment. Somehow, I think we do get hardened to death when we face it multiple times. I was the youngest child in the family, and almost the youngest cousin in a very large extended family, so I grew up going to funerals and dealing with death of numerous relatives. Like Margaret said, though, I think we never get over the loss of our mothers, as that is a bond like no other.

  14. Hi Doreen… I am so sorry to read that you lost your Mom at such an early and impressionable age, when you needed a Mom to help you through the teen years. I hope your Dad was able to fill that gap in many ways and that you had other females in your life as you were growing up. I have also been impacted by cancer in my family, including my grandfathers, aunts, uncles, and my Dad, who died of metastatic prostate cancer in 1984, at the relatively young age of 66. Even though I was an adult, it was still a great loss and I have been diligent to get all the cancer screenings I can since there is so much cancer in my family.

    • Hi Debbie and thanks very much for your comment. Yes, I was fortunate that my godmother (and favourite aunt) was in my life and stepped into the mothering role whenever I needed motherly love or guidance of the female persuasion. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without her.

  15. Margaret Anne Fehr says:

    Our mothers died in the same year, 1970. I was 21 when she passed but even still there are many times that I feel ‘motherless’. It is a profound loss that really can never be ‘gotten over.’ In those days there were no support systems like survivor groups, cancer fundraisers and the like. Families coped as best they could behind closed doors and for children, it was bewildering, How to reconcile parental loss at a young and tender age is daunting to say the least. My mom had cancer for 10 years, in and out of hospital, radiation being her main treatment so I guess I grew up with cancer.
    Fortunately, cancer survivors have more support resources to draw on these days which is so important. I often wonder what life would have been like back then to have that kind of support, but somehow we endure and pray for the day cancer is just a word.

    • Thx for your heartfelt comment, Margaret. We have so much in common!

      It must have been so difficult living and growing up with cancer for a 10-year period! How hard, for your mother and the entire family.

      Yes, the great thing now is that there is indeed such a great support system in place for cancer victims and their families. As you say, let’s pray for the day that we no longer need them.

  16. Catarina says:

    Cancer is horrendous. A friend of mine died of it when I was 18 and my siblings and I have never met our grandmothers due to cancer. What annoys me is that medical science is not able to find a cure for it. Have a feeling that the pharmaceutical industy don’t want to because they earn to much money from the treatments they are selling.
    Catarina recently posted…Rising inequality – the main risk facing the worldMy Profile

  17. Esther says:

    Hi Doreen, Although no words of sympathy can ease the loss of those we love, we can still find some comfort knowing others truly care and understand. When grieving, reach out to such caring ones who will help share the burden of the loss. Much love and comfort to you.
    Esther recently posted…Banana Muffins with BlueberriesMy Profile

    • Hi Esther. Thx for your comment, but sorry you missed the true point of my post. It wasn’t about grief. It was about hope, as seen thru the eyes of a cancer survivor who believes cancer can and will be beaten.

      • Esther says:

        I love your message of hope. I too believe that cancer can be beaten. It has already been beaten on many occasions. I’ll send you a link via email if you wish. <3
        Esther recently posted…SauerkrautMy Profile

  18. I truly appreciate you conversing on this horrible disease and sharing your heartfelt memories. Being through the battle myself and surviving, it leaves you with the understanding of what is important in your life. Seize each day with vigour and optimism.

    • Hi Janet and thanks for your comment. I do indeed believe that cancer changes lives. Sometimes in a truly negative way, but as you have said, often we can find strength and a more positive path as a result of the struggle we have undertaken.

  19. Beverly says:

    What a moving post, Doreen! I lost my brother to cancer in 2012.

    • Thanks as always, for sharing your thoughts, Bev. Sorry that cancer has touched your family as well. But like me, I’m sure you are encouraged by the strength of the cancer survivors we have in our Toastmasters club. Hats off to Darcy as well.

  20. I sure hope Sharon is right and we win the battle in her lifetime. I too have lost loved ones to cancer. Like Susan, I can’t imagine what it was like for you to lose your mother at such a young age. Thanks for sharing your stories.
    Donna Janke recently posted…California Pacific Coast: Oxnard to CapitolaMy Profile

    • Thanks for contributing to the conversation, Donna. Perhaps if we all have positive thoughts tomorrow for World Cancer Day, some scientist will break the code and make the discovery! 🙂

  21. Doreen, I’m sad to read about your losses and I know many people who’ve gone through it. I lost my mom to lung cancer in 2008 and my uncle the following spring. There are many other instances–it is a disease that I hate and wish/pray that it could be eradicated once and for all. Having lost dad to ALS, that is the other disease I focus my prayers on. I’ll include Sharon in my prayers.
    RoseMary Griffith recently posted…Dining Delights on the Island of MauiMy Profile

    • Thanks for your comment, Rose. I think it’s that way in nearly every family. There is at least one person who has or did have cancer. And then there is usually some other culprit like heart disease, ALS, Alzheimer’s or others that step in where the coast is clear. Here’s hoping Sharon is right and cancer will soon be a thing of the past.

  22. It is a cliché that everyone has been touched by cancer, but it is true. It was rare once to hear about someone having cancer, now it is hard not to hear about it.
    We can put in so much effort and money into foreign wars, and fail to understand cancer is a war that is spreading.
    We may find treatments here and there, but, more and more people are getting cancer. Sometime, we must understand what our true priorities should be and fight the true enemy which is a bigger threat.
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  23. Losses like these, no matter the relationship, always leaves a hole that is never quite filled. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to lose you mom at such a young age. Sending a big hug.

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