Introduce yourself (Name, where you’re from) - Give us a little background What was your life like before Debby’s diagnosis?
My name is Alison Frederick, from Orlando, Florida.
I made the radical decision to take German in high school, even though my family disapproved and insisted I take Spanish. Well, upon first walking into Debby’s class I knew her and I just got each other. Unfortunately, my 4 years in high school were very challenging due to an abusive mother and a long and difficult diagnosis of fibromyalgia/RA. Needless to say, there were days where I was totally defeated and in extreme pain. Debby could see it from a mile away and would pull me aside to give me an opportunity to decompress and feel connected to another person. She soon became a consistent part of my live and even of my family. My dad and sister connected with her as well and soon enough she was joining all of our family get togethers. She became my adopted mother, my confidant, and the one person I always knew was in my corner. Any life decision I needed to make, I’d go to her to talk through it. Any relationship I was ever in, I needed her approval. She was my person and I could always count on her.
Bring us along your journey – when was Debby diagnosed with cancer? What was your initial reaction?
It was 2014 and I was visiting Denver for the first time. Debby knew I was on this short trip and tried to call after she thought I was home. As soon as I picked up her call I knew something was wrong. I could never have imagined how wrong though. I was sitting on the side of the bed looking out the window when she told me she had leukemia. My eyes immediately welled up and I tried to drown out my fear with positivity. I just remember asking her questions and trying to remain hopeful and positive. I was in shock and it took quite a while to process everything. In fact, it wasn’t until I was spending every free evening in the hospital with her that I realized it was real. I was working 8-5 and then had MBA classes 6:30-9:30 4 times a week. Those other evenings were spent at the hospital.
Who did you turn to as your support system?
Initially my friend Jen. We were newer friends at the time (now best friends) but she was an incredible support system. I remember asking her to meet me at my go-to bar for a drink because I had a bad day and she didn’t even hesitate to join me. She didn’t pretend like everything was ok. She was real and acknowledged how difficult this was and continued to support me in whatever way that was – even sitting silently at the bar having a beer.
I also turned to my dad and sister, but they were also struggling with the situation so it was hard for us all to put aside our own feelings and support each other as we should have.
What is something you wished you knew before as a “bonus” daughter watching Debby go through this?
Debby did not respond well to chemo. I wish I understood the possibilities and risks, such as an allergic reaction to a blood transfusion that left her like a burn victim and the psychosis she fell into during another chemo session. Nobody had prepared me for any of that. Prior to this, I didn’t have any real experience with cancer and chemo so I was going in blind. I was also hesitant to do much web research because everything I read was incredibly foreboding and reported a slim chance of survival.
Were there certain side effects that Debby experienced that were worse than others?
Allergic reaction to a blood transfusion that left her entire body like a burn victim. She was bright red and in so much pain.
She also fell into a psychosis at one point. She got paranoid and was stuck in an alternate reality. It was hard to engage in conversation because I didn’t know if I should play along with the storylines or reassure of reality.
What are tips/tricks you have learned along the way to help other daughters/sons with their parent’s journey?
The most important part was listening to Debby and being aware of her wishes and needs. When she decided she couldn’t do another round of chemo she came to me to talk about it. She knew I would support her even though that meant I would lose her. Everyone else tried to advise her against it and told her she was making a mistake to not do chemo again. In the end, she just wanted to be in her own home with her cat. Another round of chemo meant she had to get rid of her cat and couldn’t enjoy the rest of her life as she wanted to.
You have to take time for yourself to process and talk through your own experience. It’s difficult and you can’t deny yourself of your own healing. It’s easy to put your loved one first (and not a bad thing!) but you can’t forget about your wellbeing as well.
Any advice for daughters/sons supporting their parents with their chemo treatments/surgeries?
Don’t pretend everything is okay. Recognize how difficult it is and process the experience real time. It’s ok to cry and be afraid. Just be honest with yourself and others about the experience and listen to your loved ones needs and desires. Do your best to support them how they want to be supported.