IIn 2005 when Jane Fletcher arrived at a Wellspring centre looking for help, her mother, Mary Lou, had already been living with cancer for fifteen years.
Jane had just received a disturbing call from her father—Mary Lou, he told her, had thought about it and decided she was not going to go through another round of treatment.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in her mid-sixties, Mary Lou had already completed three rounds of intense treatment: radiation, chemotherapy and a drug regimen. Every time she went off the drugs, Jane explains, the cancer would return and the treatment would begin anew.
“Mom told her doctor that she’d had enough,” Jane remembers. “She didn’t want to do it anymore. The drugs she was on were so powerful her body just couldn’t deal with it.”
Adding to the stress of this incredibly difficult decision was the fact that Jane and her parents lived far apart: Jane in Toronto and her parents in Florida. When she heard the news, Jane just couldn’t understand why her mother would decide to refuse treatment.
“I was just furious. I thought, how could you do this to us? You’re my mother and we need you. I never actually said these things to her, but I stewed for a day and a half.”
Desperate for information that could help her mother, Jane visited Wellspring Downtown Toronto at the old Coach House location.
She remembers that first visit with vivid clarity. “The woman at the front desk took one look at me and asked, ‘Do you want to talk to someone?’ I was very close to tears at that point.”
The front-desk volunteer brought Jane to a peer-support room and listened patiently to her story. “It was then that she told me something that changed my life,” Jane recalls. “She said that this wasn’t my journey, it was my mother’s journey. And I had to support her in whatever decision she made”
The volunteer then told Jane her own story: she had been diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer and didn’t have long to live.
“She was there to help people sort through the emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis,” Jane says.
“She told me, ‘As someone with cancer, this is what I need and this is probably what your mom needs.’”
This advice completely changed Jane’s perspective.
“I snapped my head back and thought, Whoa, was I ever off course. I totally had it wrong,” she says. “I had to realize that my job was to be my mom’s daughter and to love and support her with all my heart and soul. And if her decision was to stop treatment then we had to support it.”
Jane shared the knowledge she gained from Wellspring with her family: her brother and sister, and her father. Helping her mother in her cancer journey wasn’t always easy, but Jane felt better equipped to deal with the emotional challenges and support her mother and father in the way that they both needed.
“It was very difficult, but because of the knowledge I gained from Wellspring I was able to be a good daughter and reassure my mom that we would be around to take care of my dad once she left us,” Jane says.
After all this time, Jane cannot remember the name of the volunteer who helped her, or even what she looked like. But Jane remembers the sound of her voice, and the powerful effect the meeting had on her life.
“I can’t explain the impact that meeting had on me. So my way of saying thank-you is to try and support Wellspring with a donation every year. And I will continue to do so, because Wellspring offered exactly what I needed and was unable to find elsewhere.”