Janice McCarthy lost her courageous battle with Leukemia on April 26, 2019. She is forever missed and remembered as a friend, cousin, daughter, sister, auntie, great-auntie, Godmother, Grandma, husband and to me, Mom. Mom was diagnosed at the age of 63 in December of 2017 after having some blood work done following a doctor’s visit. The news was a shock to Mom, to our family, and her amazing friends. She was immediately admitted to the BMT (Bone Marrow Transplant) unit at Royal University Hospital and started chemotherapy as an inpatient. She was able to come to terms with the fight she had ahead of her and spent nearly 6 weeks in the hospital before being declared in remission in mid-January of 2018. For the next few months, Mom continued to have rounds of maintenance chemo with the intention of keeping her in remission. Although the chemo was doing its job, it was at the same time damaging Moms heart and initially she wasn’t a candidate for a bone marrow transplant as a result. Mom was put on heart medication and continued rounds of chemo.
At this point, a match for a transplant had been located and procured as long as her heart got strong enough. Mom and our family were so grateful for the generosity of the stem cell donor. Not only did that person donate the initial stem cells but also later that year additional blood for donor lymphocyte infusions. The medication worked as her test results showed her heart function had strengthened high enough to be considered a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. Mom went back to the BMT unit in early June of 2018 for inpatient chemo and full body radiation to prepare her for her transplant. On June 22nd 2018, she received her bone marrow transplant and recovered there spending just over 4 weeks until she was discharged. Her visits to the hospital continued multiple times a week to receive blood products and to continue monitoring her cell counts. Although they were improving, her white blood counts plateaued and in late September 2018 was confronted with the news that the leukemia was back. Although the news was bad, there was still hope that with continued chemo the new cells could still take over. She continued to have rounds of chemo which put her back into remission. This continued until March of 2019.
On March 29th, 2019 her Doctor had the difficult task of explaining to Mom that the cancer was too advanced and there was nothing left they could try. Mom stayed at home as long as she could and soaked up as much love from her family and friends as she could before facing the inevitable. On April 24th she was admitted to the palliative care unit at St. Pauls Hospital and on April 26th she left us peacefully, with her family by her side.
Mom was many things to those close to her. She had a wonderful career working as an Educational Assistant for the Saskatoon Public School Board. Many of the years were spent in the hearing impaired pre-school classroom at Lawson Heights School. Mom loved working with the kids; she truly enjoyed her work and was passionate about shaping the lives of so many. In addition to the joy she received from her work, she also made several lasting friendships with her colleagues. She really enjoyed making friends and always took such a genuine interest in other people’s lives. Mom knew everything about everyone. She always knew what everyone one of her friends or anyone in our family was up to. She never forgot anyone’s birthday and loved catching up with friends over coffee or on the phone. Mom had a way of building a special relationship with everyone that she knew that made you feel a unique connection with her. Mom also spent countless hours of her time over the years as a volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House in Saskatoon.
Mom prided herself on keeping a meticulous house. I was always annoyed at the strict schedule of when the house chores had to be done. But as I’ve grown up I’ve come to really appreciate how much dedication it takes to keep such a well-kept home. She loved to host dinners and big gatherings. She could host a dinner for 30 people and still have time to visit with everyone that came. And she’d be the last one to bed, always making sure her kitchen was spotless before she went to bed. Mom was a great cook and loved to bake as there was always tasty treats in the house. Over the years I’ve really enjoyed the chats I’ve had with Mom over cooking questions and sharing my triumphs and fails of new recipes I’ve tried.
Mom and Dad celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on March 3 of 2019; a truly impressive milestone and one that was very special for my brother, Andrew and I, to get to share with them. When I think about Mom I consider her to be a role model for both Andrew and my marriages. But it’s hard to talk about Mom and not include Dad as well because they have been such a unified partnership for the duration of their marriage. What I saw was two best friends who loved each other and who loved spending time with each other. The lives they lead in the time I’ve been alive has always pointed in the same direction, sharing similar interests and friendships. I’m so proud of the relationship my parents had, and it’s one that has inspired my brother’s and my marriages and will continue to be the standard that we strive for.
Mom has been an incredible mother to Andrew and I. She always supported us in our interests and endeavors. She was so proud of our accomplishments as we grew up, started our careers, got married and had kids of our own. Her approach was simple, but means the world to me. She always supported our interests and she never let us down. When we got married, Mom took in both Tannis and Lindsay as one of the crazy loud family whether they liked it or not. As proud as Mom was of us, when we started giving her grandkids she was just over the moon. She couldn’t get enough of Cadence, Hadley, Jaxon and Benjamin and she loved to spoil them. She firmly took the approach that she already parented young kids once and she now got to be the fun Grandma and not worry about the rules. Things like a strict bed time or only one story before bed were swiftly ignored when she watched the kids. Also, my boys seem to think there’s such a thing as two deserts because that’s what is allowed at Grandmas. Although the time Mom got with her grandkids was too short, she got a lifetime of joy out of the time she did get to spend with them.
Mom cared about others, a very selfless approach to life in general. Mom was the type of person who didn’t care how much work it was, as long as people enjoyed themselves. Seeing others happy, made her happy. Mom led a happy life, in fact she loved life. In the 5 years before her diagnosis, her and Dad enjoyed several trips to new and exciting places around the world. I think one of the reasons why Mom loved life so much was that she actively chose to be positive and look on the bright side of things. It’s such a hard thing to do but she truly amazed me by how consistently she did this, even during the last 18 months of her life. The courage, strength and pure determination she demonstrated during her entire battle with Leukemia is something I’m very proud of Mom for. I know how hard some of the days and weeks were for her. But she put her angry feelings aside and she looked fear right in the face and pushed on and fought another day and another and many more days until there was no more point in fighting.
Mom spoke so highly of every member of her care team during her months spent in and out of the hospital. Not only did she have amazing caregivers but she was blessed to have such a great support system in her friends and family. Although she didn’t always have the energy to respond, she read every message of encouragement or positivity sent and felt very lucky to have so many wonderful people in her corner. Mom will be forever missed, but myself and many others will carry wonderful memories of her for the rest of our lives.