The start of a new year can bring feelings of hope, excitement and change.
But as Jennifer Montgomery-Lay reflects upon the past year, she can’t help think how both lucky and unlucky she is, and that things have not changed.
At the beginning of 2017, the Maple Ridge mother of two was unsure if her family would even ring in 2018 together. They did depite the brain cancer that is attacking the body of her 20-year-old daughter Logan.
There is no clean slate for this family.
Logan Lay was diagnosed June 3, 2005, when she was eight years old. She went through seven years of solid treatment. She did three different cycles of chemotherapy and had full brain and spine radiation, as well as multiple surgeries.
“We were able to sort of stop the tumour from growing after the last round of what we called mega-therapy because she got all the treatments at once: chemo, radiation,” said her mother.
By the beginning of 2011, she finished her treatment.
“At that time, they had told us, we had read a lot of studies and it was, ‘she may get five years but lets be hopeful, there’s some people that this works for and maybe she will get a long time,’” said Montgomery-Lay.
During this time, Montgomery-Lay started a blog and wrote about what it was like going through treatment with Logan.
“I was writing in a sense to inspire people by being, like, ‘look at how easy this is and we’re okay,’” said Montgomery-Lay.
She was trying to put on a brave face when she started to realize that people going through this need a space to know it’s okay to not be okay.
“With the whole new world of social media, we’re putting forth this sort of presentation of who we want people to think we are and it’s always like, we are starting to talk now about people getting so depressed because everybody’s life looks so great,” she said.
“Initially when I started writing, I was very much doing that and I had to take a break from it because it was actually backfiring on me and I was feeling more and more isolated,” said Logan’s mother.
When Logan finished treatment, the family thought they were going to get their lives back in order and move away from the cancer. They wanted stability and for things to go back to normal. But that never happened.
Logan started suffering side effects from the treatment She started having seizures and was diagnosed with a cognitive disorder similar to someone with early onset dementia. Logan struggled a lot with learning because there was inflammation to her brain from having so much treatment.
Her parents had to help her navigate through life. Get her through school, make sure she graduated, get her enrolled in college, get her a job.
It was during this time that Montgomery-Lay started writing again. When Logan was first diagnosed, the family had decided to throw caution to the wind and started to live a bucket list.
Over 12 years, they have travelled to 20 different countries. Logan’s doctors and friends from the hospital thought they were crazy.
Montgomery-Lay was hoping her new blog, called Life All Over the Map, would be about transitioning out of childhood cancer and into stories of their travels.
“It was just sort of about getting Logan’s life back on track and trying to find myself back in all of this and how traveling was an avenue for us to heal,” she explained.
In 2016, Logan was studying early childhood education with the hopes of eventually working with children who have been through long-term cancer treatment through the Canadian Cancer Society.
But during the summer, she started feeling sick again and was re-diagnosed in the fall of that year.
Logan started chemotherapy again for the fourth time and has been doing chemo now since October of 2016. She has finished eight cycles.
“Now we’re in a limbo stage, where we’re not really sure what the next steps are because she’s literally had over 300 doses of chemo in her life,” said her mother.
“Systematically, it’s just really hard on her organs and she’s struggling. We’re not really sure if she’s responding and, unfortunately, the tumour where it is located in her brain is causing her autonomic [nervous] system to fail,” she said.
The autonomic nervous system regulates certain body processes, such as blood pressure and the rate of breathing and works automatically without a person’s conscious effort.
So, Montgomery-Lay’s blog ended up morphing into a place where she could get her thoughts and feelings out as a mom.
The blog is an unapologetic, real-life glimpse into the family’s struggle. Montgomery-Lay does not sugar-coat the difficulties they are going through. She tells it like it is, swearing when she has to, using what some may consider inappropriate humour.
“It comes across as an update on Logan’s health condition, but it’s more about really a space for caregivers and people who are going through life-threatening illnesses to connect and for me to be able to say this is what it is like to be a mom and this is what it’s like to balance a husband and a job and give up a job and have other kids and all sorts of things,” she said, joking in a high-pitched voice, “and not fall apart or become an alcoholic.”
For a while, when people asked her how she was coping with the situation, she would joke, “I drink wine.”
That’s not the whole truth, she added, “but part of the truth.”
Logan’s mother definitely has her critics. People who say she has created this blog for her own recognition.
Her response to them is she would much rather be living a normal life with her daughter healthy.
“I would much rather be home decorator Jenni or travelling Jenni. This is really not a good look for me, have you seen the bags,” she asks.
But, writing the blog makes her feel stronger. It is a cathartic release that helps her find some sort of meaning about why is this happening to Logan, why her family has had to walk this path and how she fits into the equation.
On the one side, Montgomery-Lay says there is a lot of goodness, much love and many blessings. But on the flip side, there is so much darkness, sadness, hurt and struggle.
“We don’t see those moments when Logan is police chief for the day or we post a picture that we’ve made it to a beach in Mexico. But you haven’t seen that we barely made it through because she was vomiting in a wheelchair,” said Montgomery-Lay.
“What’s happening is that it’s almost that we are afraid to tell the truth. And we are certainly afraid, as human beings, to say, ‘I’m vulnerable, I’m scared, I don’t know what to do, I’m feeling trapped.’”
Logan has since stopped chemo treatments and is regaining some strength and stamina, although she is still weak. Her family is helping her manage her symptoms as they arise. She is trying to put on weight by increasing her intake through a feeding tube in her nose. And she is trying to build up strength by doing an exercise program the physio team put together for her at Children’s Hospital.
The family, which includes father Jared and son Brody, 13, has been referred to Canuck Place hospice for Logan, but they aren’t ready for that.
Logan is waiting to have an MRI done at the end of January to make sure the tumour is not growing.
A Go Fund Me page has been set up for the family and has raised $65,723 of a $100,000 goal by 326 people in one month.
A wine raffle fundraiser alone raised $7,550 for the family.
Plans are in the work for more fundraisers for the Lay family by Cheryl Zandbergen with the local group Moms Gone Wild.
The first one takes place Jan. 15, called Pour and Pose, a 45-minute yoga session lead by an instructor from Yoga at Pitt interspersed with sips of wine, and craft beer. All money except for the cost of the drinks will be donated to the Lay family. Tickets are $30 each and include the yoga class, mat rental and chosen beverage. There are two sessions, one at 6 p.m. and another at 8 p.m. at Silver Valley Brewing Company, Unit 104 11952 224 St. in Maple Ridge. To register go to momsgonewild.ca.
The second fundraiser will take place Feb. 17 at The Maple Ridge Equi-Sports Centre Ranch Pub and Grill, 21973 – 132 Ave. in Maple Ridge. Tickets sales will be announced on the Moms Gone Wild Facebook page as well as at momsgonewild.ca.
Montgomery-Lay is grateful for everyone’s support.
“What you’ve given us is far more than freedom from a financial burden,” Montgomery-Lay wrote in her latest post.
“You’ve shown us you are with us. We know we aren’t alone and that you all are committed to helping us get through this difficult time.”