Life Lessons I Learned From My Daughter

My daughter’s cancer diagnosis was devastating, but it was also the start of a journey that was a privilege to share with her.

Life Lessons I learned from my daughter during her battle with cancerPhoto: Courtesy Kay McManus
A joyful portrait of Colleen (second from left) with her siblings and parents.

How Our Inspiring Daughter Faced Adversity With a Grateful Heart

Thoughts such as, “why her and not me?” ran through my mind after learning, in May 2017, that our youngest daughter, Colleen, had three cancerous tumours in her right breast. Devastating news—yes. But also the start of a journey that was a privilege to embark on with her. I learned a great deal about cancer and treatments, but more importantly, I witnessed an incredible strength of character, fortitude, wisdom and positivity that Colleen displayed while meeting the challenges of cancer.

Colleen’s treatment regime began with chemotherapy, followed by mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries and radiation. Hopes were raised when it appeared her cancer was in remission, but, unfortunately, a routine checkup in January 2019 indicated the cancer had metastasized. Treatments resumed with Colleen maintaining an active and rewarding life until March 2020, when her cancer became more aggressive and she was under palliative care at home, passing away peacefully on May 3, 2020. While undergoing treatments, Colleen would write email updates to family and friends as she chronicled her cancer journey. Within these writings were personal, insightful reflections on life and living—how she faced adversity with a grateful heart and a positive attitude. The following few excerpts from her email letters have been a source of inspiration to many and a window into Colleen’s approach to life.

Colleen’s Words of Wisdom

“We don’t often think of cancer as a gift, yet it is. The gift is in the experience of it all. It’s the opening up of eyes to just how precious life is; the realization of just how short life can be; the warming embrace of family, friends and strangers; the time given to slow life down and reflect; seeing the good in humanity; being thankful for great healthcare and being thankful in general. Cancer is scary for sure, but as with all things, there is still a silver lining to it, too—believe that it’s there and you will find it…

Life tends to fly by as we constantly look and plan ahead so that we sometimes miss out on the here and now; we lose sight of the importance of today and all that there is to be thankful for in the present moment. Remember to ‘live the moment’…

Life isn’t perfect, we aren’t perfect, yet in life there are moments that are perfect; moments where you can’t imagine being anywhere else, and moments where you realize just how thankful and blessed you really are. Those are the moments we need to cherish, to remember, to hang on to so that in times of worry, stress, frustration, fear, chaos and uncertainty, we have something to help get us through. A reminder that life has ups and downs, that life has good days and bad days, and that, although life doesn’t always go as planned, there are perfect special moments within it that make it all worthwhile…

Some things in life are out of our control, and that’s okay. A big part of life is learning to live in the chaos that it is. To know and understand that things won’t always go as we had planned or hoped for and that life is full of surprises, both good ones and not-so-good ones.”

Colleen lived her cancer journey with grace and dignity, inspiring many with her positive attitude, twinkling eyes and infectious smile. When it was suggested that her writings should be put into a book, Colleen started preparations to do so and the 229-page paperback or e-book Live the Moment—My Cancer Journey by Colleen McManus-Mullin is available here. Colleen’s writings and reflections are a wonderful legacy for her two young sons and to all who may benefit from her wise words of wisdom and cancer journey!

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Originally Published in Our Canada