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Looking after my mother

May 2012

When the owner of the small residence where my mother lives called me to tell me they had found a lump in her breast, I immediately felt guilty.

My mother had never had a mammogram and in her agitated periods (she has dementia) she wouldn’t hear of it. She had eaten badly for years and never looked after herself. But she has been living at the residence for five years and I could have taken her for testing during that time, now that she is calmer and easier to deal with. I had let it slide, secure in the knowledge that her medical needs would be looked after by the doctor who visits the home.

The lesson? Placing your parent in a facility, no matter how good and caring and well-meaning the caregivers are, does not mean you stop protecting her by ensuring preventive medical testing.

We took her to the Breast Centre at the Jewish General Hospital and this was what made this experience a good news story. From the moment we walked in for her biopsy and eventual diagnosis of a malignant tumour that had been growing for 10-13 years, I felt looked after. Carole Seguin, the nurse who runs the centre and sets up follow-up appointments, is the most caring and considerate medical professional I have met. Everyone involved in my mother’s testing and diagnosis treated us with kindness and understanding.

When we returned to meet with oncologist Dr. Harvey Sigman and his student (this is a teaching hospital) to decide on the next step for my mother, I knew we were in good hands. Fortunately, he told us my mother would not have to undergo surgery, not because of her age (“old” is not part of his decision-making process) but because of other factors, including her dementia and the fact she is not showing symptoms of the cancer having spread.

The JGH Breast Centre and the oncology department are full of caring and devoted staff and volunteers. The atmosphere is light but professional. You can make yourself a tea or instant coffee and read one of many magazines while waiting to see your doctor, which for us took over an hour of my mother asking, “Why am I here?” and telling me, “Don’t leave me here.” 

I can’t imagine what it must be like to receive a cancer diagnosis. But from what I saw and experienced at the JGH, we are lucky to have a medical unit filled with caring professionals when we are in times of great need.



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