Cancer isn’t a scary word in Cheryl Mauthe’s home.
To Mauthe and her family, chemotherapy, blood work, and a gamut of other medical appointments are as common and consistent as piano lessons and soccer practices are in other homes.
Cancer has wholly dictated what her family can do.
Mauthe’s seven-year-old son, Colin Clark, has been battling leukemia for nearly two years and lives a life that will hinge on blood transfusions and chemo for at least another year and a half.
Though the last while has doled out a hefty amount of turmoil for "Super Colin" — a name given to him by his peers at École Harrison — January proved to be one of the easiest months for the single mother, Colin and Mauthe’s six-year-old daughter Emily. Mauthe was set to start work and Colin’s health remained steady. A "normal" life was in sight.
January’s post-Christmas lull, however, proved to be the eye of the storm.
While at CancerCare Manitoba in Winnipeg, Mauthe received a call from a nurse regarding the results of a recent breast ultrasound. The nurse on the other end of the line said she couldn’t say anything over the phone and told Mauthe, 32, to speak to the doctor as soon as she returned to Brandon.
A burst of tears followed the doctor’s declaration on Feb. 5.
Aside from a mastectomy at the end of the month, Mauthe doesn’t know what comes next. It’ll be after she and her friends have a "bye-bye boobie" party and goes under the knife at the end of the month before she knows the extent of the treatment she’ll have to endure.
But the slings and arrows of the family’s cancer-controlled life haven’t gone unnoticed and a casual acquaintance of Mauthe’s, Sherri Facey, has set up a fund to help them out, following a lengthy blog post written by Mauthe out of a dire need for catharsis.
"Thankful, shocked, overwhelmed," Mauthe said in response to the gesture. "You kind of feel like you’ve used up all your good with Colin ... you hate to keep leaning on people for support, but it’s overwhelming when they’re there and willing to help you."
Last year, Colin was the focal point of a blood drive by Canadian Blood Services called "Colin’s Crusaders" that drew hundreds to give blood.
For more than a year, Mauthe has been living on stress-leave wages followed by long-term disability payments — which equates to roughly three-quarters of her regular salary.
Facey, who worked indirectly with Mauthe at the Brandon Regional Health Centre, set up the account on Thursday with Westoba Credit Union under the name "Super Colin and Mom."
"I’m just hoping people will feel the need to donate to try and help her through this because I think it’s going to be tough for her," Facey said.
Mauthe, who saw her 55-year-old father die of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in December 2012, is drawing from Colin’s courage as the two go to battle together, where previously, the seven year old may have felt alone, his mother suspects.
"It’s much harder than you let everyone know," she said, her voice broke as she fought tears. "You’re the parent, you do what you need to do, you do your best to not make it scary."
When Mauthe told her kids about her cancer, the word proved to echo familiarly within the walls of her home.
"You get over it when you see it so often," she said.
"When I told Colin I had (cancer), he said ‘now you’ll see what I have to go through.’"
While Mauthe prepares herself to lose part of her body and Colin battles the killer cells that stubbornly pump through his body, she is less focused on herself and more on her children.
"I can’t really accept that I have breast cancer just because it makes it more real," she said. "I need to deal with this and get it over with as fast as I can so I can get better for my son."
"Colin wants to take care of me now," she said with a hesitated laugh.