Battling through breast cancer can be a hurdle all on its own, but the COVID-19 pandemic made treatment much more difficult by isolating women from their friends and families.
Two Saskatoon women dealt with that traumatic experience, but luckily had each other to lean on.
Jennifer Fehr and Marcia Lemon were both diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 2020. They both had their surgery dates cancelled due to the pandemic, and both had their surgeries rescheduled for the same date.
“It was such a relief, because after our surgeries were initially cancelled there was no timeline when they would be rescheduled. So when it was finally rescheduled for March 26, it was such a relief knowing that the cancer wouldn’t continue to grow in our bodies for this undetermined amount of time because of the pandemic,” said Lemon.
Fehr noted they had to go through their surgeries alone.
“Something happened that would foreshadow the rest of our treatment, and that was that our husbands were not allowed to come into the hospital with us. So we had to go into this major surgery alone, and then we were told for our safety it would be best if we went home almost immediately after surgery,” said Fehr.
She added their husbands had to become the primary caregiver, and learn how to give post-op care.
Fehr said the feeling of being alone continued even after she got home, saying nobody was supposed to come and see her. She didn’t feel like she was getting the same kind of follow-up that you would see pre-pandemic, and she was scared.
“Ten days after our surgery a mutual acquaintance reached to both of us and said, ‘You know, I think I know someone who has had the same surgery that you had on the same day that you had, would you like to be connected?’”
They both agreed, and Fehr said it was huge relief to have someone who understood.
Lemon said their experience was especially isolating because they were still young.
“When I started talking with Jen, all of a sudden it was like, oh my goodness this is another young woman who has children at home, who’s in the peak of her life, just like me,” said Lemon.
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As the treatment continued, and Fehr and Lemon’s health started to deteriorate, they said they tried to stay strong for their families.
“We internalized as much of our trauma as we could to make it look like we weren’t suffering, because our children and our husbands had no where else that they could go,” said Lemon.
“It got to a point where you’re so sick that you can’t hide it, and you don’t look the same, and you can’t do the things that you would normally do,” said Fehr.
She added that they felt they added a burden to their husbands, and didn’t want to further burden them by talking about how scared they were.
“It just didn’t feel like something we could do, even though [our husbands] wouldn’t agree. But we had each other to be completely uncensored and honest about what we were going through.”
Both women also shared a surgical team, so they scheduled appointments on the same day so the two could continue to support each other through their treatment.
“Our husbands had a really hard time not being there for us, and they would both sit in the parking lots during our treatment just in case something happened. They needed to be there. You forget how wonderful those little small things are until you’re told you can’t have those comforts. So I really treasured the times Jen was able to come and sit with me, and it just made me a lot less alone,” said Lemon.
As they were going through recovery, the duo felt much of the information they were given during their treatment didn’t apply as much to young women, and they developed a website and no-profit to help get more information out there.
“We did a lot of work on our own, and research, and then we compiled on a website, because we thought this might be helpful to other young women, and we called it My Cancer Breastie,” said Fehr.
She added the non-profit by the same name helps people better understand what a breast cancer diagnosis means.
Fehr and Lemon have been building initiatives to try and help educate high school students on breast cancer to help fund recliner access for women going through treatment who have to sleep upright, and said an event is forthcoming, open to families, to help raise funds for the Cancer Foundation of Saskatchewan.
“We are hosting our very first annual Besties for Breasties Family Fun day,” said Fehr.
She said a number of family-friendly events will happen throughout the Kinsmen Park on Sept. 3, and some shows will take place during the evening across the street at the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan Festival site.
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