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My Family Carried Me Through My Cancer Diagnosis

02/17/2017 08:36 EST | Updated 02/17/2017 10:13 EST

Each year, Family Day is an opportunity to reflect on how fortunate I am for the blessing of my family and their unconditional love and support. This was never more apparent than when I was treated for cancer.

My diagnosis of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) required treatment away from my hometown of Calgary. Typically, in Canada, treatment for my disease is in Ontario, but the year I required treatment, that facility was closed. I would receive my treatment at Yale University in New Haven Connecticut over a 10-week period.

The burden of this was tremendous. My sons were only five and nine the spring I needed to leave. I was a single parent raising them alone. Who would live with them while I was gone? Who would take them to school and their activities? Who would make sure they felt safe and loved while I was away? And who would take care of me? Cancer is scary. I knew that beyond needing physical help as treatment progressed, I would need emotional support as well.

I am fortunate to be blessed beyond measure with an amazing family. My family would not be considered traditional in its structure by most people. I was adopted at birth and raised by two very loving and supportive parents with adopted siblings. Their marriage ended after many years, and they both went on to wed new partners and have second long marriages giving me new step-parents and step-siblings. As an adult, I connected with my birth parents and birth half-siblings. Throw in the families of my boys, and that is a huge family tree.

Relationships that involve adopted and birth families, along with ex-partners, can be difficult to navigate at the best of times. I was asking my birth families, adopted families and step-families to come together for me to provide care and support where it was needed. I was asking them to put aside their own fears and discomfort to help my boys and me. I was asking them to travel out-of-province and out-of-country to do this for me. I was asking them to put their own busy lives on hold. I asked so much of all of them, and they responded with more love and grace than I ever could have imagined.

"Every day, 43 Albertans hear the words 'you have cancer.'"

Together we created schedules. Schedules for the children's care, for my care and for travel visits. My family carried the load of me being a mom when I was not able to, and for a mom, that is simply everything.

The notion that cancer touches everyone is true. The burden on the family is as great as the burden on the individual. But, the notion that out of hardship comes unexpected blessings is also true. Any cancer patient I have ever talked to expresses, in one way or another, the gifts that come from the diagnosis. It changes both the person and the family.

For my family, I believe one of the gifts was realizing that there is room for everyone and that love is limitless. New relationships were forged. My adopted mom and birth mom consider each other friends. My birth half-sister feels comfortable stopping in to visit with my adopted dad and his wife. My parents always ask about the others and always send well wishes to one another. This is grace in action.

My legacy is to pass this on to my children -- to model the example that my parents have all set. I choose to treat my ex-partners and their family members with respect and kindness. They are loved by me and always will be for they are the families of my sons, and that alone makes them deserving.

family photo album

(Photo: Daniel Ingold/Getty)

Every day, 43 Albertans hear the words "you have cancer." After all I've experienced, I am compelled to give back to help other families, no matter their make up, that have had to face this awful disease. In 2016, I signed up for OneWalk to Conquer Cancer benefiting the Alberta Cancer Foundation, an event that brings together communities of participants, survivors and their supporters for one common goal: to conquer cancer. OneWalk is a one-day, 25-kilometre journey through the streets and communities of Calgary and an inspiring festival experience.

Funds raised through OneWalk support breakthrough cancer research, clinical trials, enhanced care and the discovery of new cancer therapies at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Cross Cancer Institute and 15 other centres across Alberta.

The 2017 OneWalk is on June 24 and I hope you'll be there with me. I am walking for a future where cancer is not a death sentence. I am walking for my family and for my kids. I am walking because I can't walk away.

This Family Day, and for every one in the future, I will always count my blessings. With a family as big and as wonderful as mine, that just might take me all day!

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