Patricia Bridgman, pillar of strength

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Mom & Deb at OprahIn 1994, Deborah Bridgman was a 29-year-old mother of two young girls, Shannon, who was 7 years old at the time, and Ariel, who was 3, and recently separated from her husband when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother, Patricia Bridgman, was with her when she received the shocking news. Patricia was with her again in 1998 when Debbie had a recurrence, in 2007 when she had a metastasis in the brachial plexus (left side above the collarbone), in 2013 when she was diagnosed with a metastasis in her left pectoral muscle and in 2015 when cancer returned yet again in the brachial plexus. “We always got the news – good or bad – together,” says Debbie.

Patricia was there, by Debbie’s side, not only at the initial diagnosis and every single one of the four times that Debbie learned the cancer had returned, but also at every appointment, every blood test, every PET scan, every surgery and every treatment.
“My Mom has been my rock. She has given me so much strength. And when her strength would falter, she would lean on me. She has been supportive of me all my life, and even more so from the moment I was diagnosed with cancer 22 years ago,” Deborah recalls.

Patricia was no stranger to tragedy; her own mother passed away when Patricia was just 8 days old. Raised by her father and later by stepmothers who were not always kind to her, Patricia vowed to do better. “My mom is an amazing person,” says Debbie. “She overcame a lot in her life.’

Nineteen-ninety-four proved to be a very difficult year for Patricia as shortly after Debbie was diagnosed, she received the news that her sister, aged 52 at the time, and her father both had lung cancer. While her father lived for many years after his diagnosis, Patricia’s sister died that same year.

Drawing on her inner resilience, Patricia coped with it all, balancing her own full time job and responsibilities towards her husband, Debbie’s father, Robert, with her new role as caregiver not just to Debbie, but also to her young grandchildren. She chauffeured them to and from daycare, school and after-school activities, offered a shoulder to cry on throughout Debbie’s battles with her ex-husband and reassured her when she felt overwhelmed. “My mom and I are very organized, “notes Debbie. “She helped keep everything on track and she’s always had a great relationship with my daughters that continues to this day.”

Shortly after her first diagnosis, Debbie joined a patient support group at Hope & Cope, a cancer support organization affiliated with the Jewish General Hospital. Feeling out of place as a 30 year-old in a group with older women who were at a different stage of life, Debbie joined a support group that dealt with the specific, complex issues of coping with cancer as a young adult. This marked both the strengthening of Hope & Cope’s commitment to young adult programming and Debbie’s transformation into an extraordinary volunteer, role model and guide to young adult cancer patients. In short order, Debbie became a peer mentor, counselling patients over the phone, an advocate and a fundraiser. She is particularly proud of her role in organizing several editions of Denim & Diamonds, a dynamic event that raised awareness and funds for Hope & Cope’s young adult cancer programs. She was invited to sit on Hope & Cope’s Board, was interviewed many times on the radio, in print and on television, is a member of young adult task forces and has given presentations at national and international conferences. Through it all, Patricia was there, beaming proudly, championing and supporting her daughter’s efforts to make a difference.

Both Patricia and Debbie always come to medical appointments and treatments fashionably dressed, with their lipstick on and their hair nicely coiffed, believing that “if you look good, you feel good.” Patricia never complained about her lot in life, preferring to expend her energy on taking care of the needs of her family and on enjoying the good times, like shopping with her daughter and granddaughters. Nevertheless, when she was diagnosed for the 4th time in 2013, Debbie felt sad for her parents. “They were older, in retirement, at a time when they shouldn’t have these extra worries.”

Patricia retired from her full-time job 8 years ago, looking forward to pursuing her own interests and passions. Unfortunately, two years later, she became a caregiver to her husband after he suffered a heart attack. He also has basal cell carcinoma. “My mom manages all his doctors’ appointments, his medications and everything else,” notes Deborah. “I am so proud of my Mom. She has been my pillar of strength.”

 

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