February 20, 2014 - 8:50 AM
KAMLOOPS — A 37-year-old woman with cancer knows she'll be leaving her young children behind — she accepts that now — and she's going to do her best to ensure her two girls never forget their mom.
Madison, 5, and Sierra, 3, are the light of Kendra Wiberg's life. She speaks of them with awe, admiration, love and sadness.
“Madison is the craziest little kid you'll ever meet, really sporty, solid, 112 per cent charges at things, she lives life so hard. Sierra is a gentle soul, dainty little clown, a cuddle bug. They are completely opposite in everything they do,” she says of her little girls.
Wiberg is undergoing palliative chemotherapy for a rare appendix cancer that is so far progressed she likely doesn't have very long to live. She says while her kids know she is sick and will eventually die, they don't understand how long they will have their mother at their side.
“They are so good, they get used to things so quickly,” she says with a hint of sadness. “I've dealt with it. Obviously I don't want to die, but it's not because I'm scared of death, it's because I grieve for what my children are losing.”
Madison is very aware of what is going on, though she doesn't understand timelines, and Sierra understands mom is sick but doesn't yet understand death.
“She knows I'm going to die, she understands it completely,” Wiberg says, “The thing with kids that age is a week is forever away. When Madison asks about the dying I just tell her it's a long time away and if it gets to the stage where I have to go to the hospital that's when we'll have to have the hard conversations.”
The conversations will be even harder because Madison understands so much already. When she went for surgery in January husband Larry tried to explain to Madison why her mom was going to the hospital and quickly found out just how apt the young girl is.
“He told her the doctors were going to get the owies out of mommy's tummy and she asked how. He answered with magic and Madison said 'are you sure they just don't cut it out?'”
'THE ONLY THING I WANT TO DO IS TO CREATE MEMORIES WITH THEM'
The family has tried to keep everything as normal as possible for the girls, Madison continues to go to Kindergarten, Sierra goes to preschool a few days a week and Larry went back to work at Rocky Mountaineer.
“We're trying to maintain our life and focus on here and now, instead of focusing on what's to come,” she says of the decision to keep a regular work and school schedule. “We're trying to keep it really light, enjoy what we have now.”
Unlike others Wiberg says she hasn't created a bucket list of things to do.
“It's not really tangible because of how I'm feeling,” she says of the list. “The only thing I want to do is to create memories with them.... Hopefully do lots of camping this summer.”
Realizing that at 5 and 3 years old her girls likely won't remember her when she's gone, Wiberg is investing as much time as possible in putting together what she calls legacy boxes for the girls and searching for ways to create more memories.
Among those memories will be a trip to Disneyland (hopefully this spring), funded through a Go Fund Me page that surpassed the goal of $19,000 as well as a fundraiser in Revelstoke that is helping to pay for her sister's family to join them. The additional funds raised will help cover other costs the family will endure as well.
“I'm so grateful, it's above and beyond which is so perfect, it will help cover the little things like a heater in pool so I can start swimming to keep my strength up,”Wiberg says. “There will also be alternative therapy and travel.”
She says the legacy boxes will have a lot of different things for the girls, things to make them feel special and also understand who their mom was.
“I've written letter to the girls going back to my childhood and about who I am.... I invited friends to write letters about me so the girls can read about me through the eyes of my friends,” she says. “I've also thought of hand prints in shadow boxes, little necklaces (thumbprint in heart), photography and videography... and I bought a bunch of stuff to make birthday cards for every year and starting when they're probably about 10 Larry will give them a Pandoras bracelet, and will give them a charm every year.”
Having the time to do both this and take care of herself has come by way of many donations including lawn maintenance, house cleaning and many prepared meals.
'THE IMPRESSION I GET IS IF I HAVE A YEAR THAT'S PRETTY GOOD'
This is not the first time Wiberg has faced cancer, when she was 23 she had a rare ovarian cancer. She had emergency surgery and then chemotherapy and was considered 100 per cent cured. None of the current cancer, which was diagnosed in October, is related to her previous cancer.
In September 2013 they realized she had tumours in her abdomen and biopsies couldn't clearly show if any of the tumours were cancerous. Doctors finally did gynecological surgery, which resulted in a complete hysterectomy, the removal of the remaining ovary and her appendix.
A few weeks later they found out she had a rare appendix cancer and likely a primary kidney cancer. She had another surgery in early January that was supposed to be curative, but there was too much progression and after removing her colon and part of her small intestine deemed the cancer too advanced to complete the surgery.
She just completed her second round of palliative chemotherapy and will meet with her doctor next week to discuss how the therapy is working and further schedules.
“I could deteriorate quite quickly,” she notes. “For now we're just going to do chemo and hope to get a couple in and then start alternative therapies."
She says she hasn't yet been given a timeline because they don't know if she'll respond to this chemo at all.
“It's not a 'we're hoping you'll be okay'. It's terminal. The impression I get is if I have a year that's pretty good,” she says. “I don't think we have months and months or years, and a year where I'll be feeling great.”
“I feel blessed with knowing my time is finite and I have that time to prepare.”
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