Spring2015 INHERSHOESfeature 1

In Her Shoes

When the worst of times brings out the best of friends

by Mary Frances Hill

Just over a year ago, the meeting of Christine Pinette and Jennifer Montgomery-Lay would have seemed unlikely.

Christine, a mom and entrepreneur from Kelowna, might never have met Jennifer, who lives in Maple Ridge, were it not for the one preoccupation they share: both are mothers of daughters diagnosed with brain tumours.

Today, their friendship seems like the most natural thing in the world.

“There’s a freedom to be honest,” Jennifer says of the way their bond has developed since the pair met in late 2013, through friends of friends. “I tell her, ‘With me you can be whatever you want to be. I’m not afraid of you being afraid.’”

Every day at BC Children’s Hospital, in support groups and through social networks, parents are connecting, and sharing experiences and information. And they’re finding that in doing so, they’re active in their own recovery, so they can be better-equipped caregivers for their children.

“The child can be making progress, but when mom is not feeling healthy, that stress is projected onto the child,” says Jennifer.

By the time they met, Jennifer had left her high-pressure job to spend more time with her family and provide fulltime care to her daughter Logan, now 17, who has undergone many treatments in the past nine years to help her cope with the brainstem glioma tumour she lives with today. Four surgeries, numerous rounds of chemotherapy and cranial spinal radiation treatment over a period of five years have helped to subdue its growth.

Meanwhile, Christine was preoccupied with the health of her daughter Gabrielle, 4. The doe-eyed toddler once struggled with daily seizures, the effect of a tumour in the right frontal temporal area wrapped around the middle cerebral artery. The tumour was so full of blood vessels it was deemed inoperable, if not for the skill of Dr. Paul Steinbok, a BC Children’s neurosurgeon, and his team, including radiologist Dr. Manraj Heran who induced a stroke in Gabrielle to successfully remove it. Jennifer stood at Christine’s side during Gabrielle’s surgery and recovery at Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children.

Families dealing with a child’s serious illness go through a social and psychological shakeup of sorts, says Dr. Jocelyne Lessard, a registered psychologist on the Medical Psychology team at BC Children’s Hospital.

“When parents reach out to each other, they reduce their social isolation. Not only do you get to receive emotional support, you get to give it back and reflect on how far you’ve come. It can be a two-way street.”

The health crisis taught Christine life lessons she says she would never have learned otherwise. To wit: never underestimate the need for strong personal boundaries; fight every pang of guilt, and recognize and value your closest friends and family members.

“I started out thinking, ‘Why me? Why is this happening to us?’ but I didn’t stay in that stage long, and that’s because of Jennifer,” says Christine.

“When you have a friendship with someone who’s been in your shoes, you get the truth. It’s not just ‘you’re strong, you’re mama bear.’ You get the ‘it really sucks, it’s incredibly hard.’ You get what you need.”

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