(Pictured above: Shannon Forrester (left) stands by her mother, Eileen, and father, Walter, as they celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with a vow renewal in 2020.)
Health is not something my family and I have ever taken for granted. My mom’s chronic illness began when she was just 30 years old and, since then, she’s had a great deal of complications. None more devastating, though, than being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
My name is Shannon Forrester. Although my mother, Eileen Forrester, was diagnosed with cancer almost 20 years ago, we are still dealing with the aftereffects to this day. In fact, in 2020, just before the pandemic hit, we thought we were going to lose her.
When my mom was first diagnosed, it was 2003, just a month shy of my father’s (her husband’s) retirement.
My father was completely devastated by the diagnosis – he was terrified he was going to lose his wife. And, with all my siblings living in Ontario, I quickly moved into action and became the caregiver for both of my parents, in different ways. I cared for my mom while she underwent multiple surgeries, aggressive radiation therapy, and everything else that comes with the dreaded “C” word. And, I cared for my dad while he was terrified and so uncertain about this entire experience for mom.
Along with being a caregiver, I also took over my mother’s business and livelihood – the Forrester School of Dance – on top of my own day job. Looking back, I realize it was a lot to take on, emotionally and physically. The saving grace, though, was that my mother was able to receive a large majority of her cancer care, here at home, at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre.
I’m not sure what our situation would be if mom was away from home for her cancer care. Would we have shut down the family business? Would I have quit my job to drive her back and forth to Halifax, and stay by her side during surgeries and treatments? Luckily, we didn’t have to make those decisions. And, working with the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation, we want to make sure others don’t either. Will you consider helping to ensure that Cape Bretoners can continue to receive life-saving cancer care, here at home?
The care my mom received at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre was incredible. But, in 2003, technology was not what it is today. Radiation treatments were not targeted and, like I mentioned, they were extremely aggressive. Although, thank God, her tumor was contained, mom ended up with severe and chronic colon and bowel complications, needing multiple surgeries as a result.
These complications almost took my mother’s life, two decades later. While visiting my siblings and their kids (my parent’s grandchildren) in Ontario in 2020, my mom fell ill. She went septic and ended up having an emergency bowel removal and was given an ileostomy. Without the surgery, she had a 30 percent chance of survival. The surgery was also a risk, given her medical history, and post-surgery there were moments where her kidneys were failing, and we held our breath wondering if mom would make it. Being the fighter that she is, mom pulled through and is doing well today – though we take it day-by-day.
Tthe Cancer Care Here at Home Campaign is a $10 million campaign to help ensure the people of Cape Breton do not have to leave our island to receive the cancer care they (we) deserve. Within the campaign is a goal to purchase vital equipment/technology and fund research and innovation so cancer care can continue to advance. Advancements in care will help to eliminate side effects such as those my mom experienced – and is still experiencing today – as well as increase positive outcomes. Will you consider giving to the Cancer Care Here at Home campaign, enhancing the future of cancer care on our island?
Unfortunately, my mother’s story is one of many. Amidst her story, my father also had his own. In 2017, dad was diagnosed with, and treated for, prostate cancer. And, I had my own scare as well.
Right now, we’re all doing well. But, like I said, we take it one day at a time.
Statistics show that one in two Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Unfortunately, these numbers are higher within Cape Breton. The Cape Breton Cancer Centre was originally built to sustain 16,000 patient visits per year, and since then, numbers have almost tripled. Will you join me and my family in supporting the more than 45,000 patient visits to the Cape Breton Cancer Centre annually?
I don’t want anyone to live in fear. But I truly believe in a proactive approach to our health. By supporting the Cancer Care Here at Home Campaign, we’re giving ourselves, our friends, family, and neighbours the best chance at beating this terrifying disease, God forbid we ever have to.
I hope you will join me in supporting this important cause, because our health is not something we can afford to take for granted.
Owner, Operator and Artistic Director at the Forrester Centre & The Krypt
Daughter of Eileen and Walter Forrester (cancer survivors)
Fellow Cape Bretoner