My Story

Cancer, Courage and Quilts by Linda Bourgeois

Carved in my mind forever is the day a doctor told me that my youngest son had leukemia. Josh was 24 years old at the time, barely out of school, enjoying his job and able to stand on his own two feet. I had looked forward to this time in my life as I had plans of my own. My sons were launched and it was time for me. My hobbies, travel with my husband and a slower pace were on my empty nester years list of things to do.

How does a Mom handle a diagnosis like this? Anger and depression sets in but not before an overwhelming sense of fear. I would wake to tears and rage. The faith I thought I had went out the window. How could there possibly be a God? And what kind of a plan did he have in mind that it would include leukemia for my son???? I became a rebellious, angry soldier but NOT one of God. I tried to find comfort in my church but I could not. Part of my past routine was to pray while I went for my daily walks but that had stopped. My opening line in my prayer to God was always “thank you for this day and all the gifts you have given me”. I couldn’t say that anymore because I did not feel that way. I could only spew “what am I missing in this plan of yours ???? I tried daily for over a year. After trying to seek help from a priest, support groups and a therapist I came back to just myself. I tried again to pray but changed my prayer up a bit ~ it was short and sweet. “Please God, give Josh the strength he will need to deal with all that will come his way” ~ end of prayer. I did this daily and I waited and I listened.

Here is a video of me sharing my quilt story with fellow Coldwell Banker agents...

In my many conversations with Josh he would talk of not being around for his 30th birthday. These conversations terrified me. About six months after the diagnosis, I had a conversation with a friend of mine named Robbie. She had done a lot of volunteer work for the Cancer Society, is a cancer survivor herself, had lost a young son to leukemia and had worked with 3 different leukemia patients all which were about Josh’s age. She told me that those people all took 2 – 3 years before they felt like they had a future to look forward to and started to talk of their hopes and dreams for their lives. I hung on that conversation for a couple of years ~ I had found some faith……….faith that Josh would follow this same pattern. There have been many times in my life where I wondered what to say or do as a parent, but this time was so different. I did not know what to say to Josh to be of comfort. I did not know what to do to help him. How could I be strong, and be an example when I was wrought with fear of losing a son? I have never felt so helpless.

A year into this awful journey, while writing in my journal the cliché “life is short”, I decided to take a quilting class. This was a class that I had put on my “bucket list” a long time prior but my attitude and perspective on life had changed drastically in the past year since cancer was now a part of my new normal. I was no longer putting things off ~ the time might never arrive. I needed a diversion, something, anything to help battle the depression, anger and fear. Armed with my sewing machine and a new place to go that might offer my mind a diversion for a brief period of time, I began the 9 months of classes that would chart a new course for my life.

The instructor, Gail Scheihing was fabulous and one day while teaching the class a technique, she offered up a story about another of her students. The student she spoke about had completed her quilt, “A Lace Lover’s Quilt”, the same one I was working on, and had had it appraised. This student’s quilt was appraised for $3500.00! I looked up from my machine, and at that exact moment thought to myself, I am going to do that same thing and then I am going to donate my quilt to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to raise money for research to aide in finding a cure for blood cancers, the cancer that Josh was diagnosed with.

Suddenly, I had purpose; I had a mission, something that I, a Mom could do to help Josh. There is NOT a stronger force than a Mom on a mission. I had hope…………………………………………

Fast forward to the fifth month of the class and the current class assignment. While the blocks were the instructor’s design, there was opportunity to customize them and make them our own. I had an idea of what I wanted to incorporate into the particular quilt blocks I was working on and had stopped by a local yarn shop looking for some yarn to sew into the blocks I was making for this month’s assignment. While paying for my yarn purchase, the store’s owner and manager inquired as to my plans with the exquisite yarn I was purchasing. I stated that I was making a quilt; the pattern was called “A Lace Lover’s Quilt”. I continued on to say that I was making this quilt for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to help raise money for research and that my youngest son Josh has been diagnosed with leukemia. This was the first time I had said anything to anyone other than my husband about what I was doing. I could not talk to people without crying from the shear rawness of my wound.

These lovely ladies said to me “when you are through with your quilt, bring it into the shop with a short story about the quilt and we will put it on display and help you raise money for the L & L Society”. I was speechless. These women were strangers. I paid for my purchase, expressed my sincere thanks, told them that I would do exactly that and headed to my car. As I sat in my car in the parking lot that day, I sobbed. I wondered to myself why I had kept my plans to donate my quilt to myself. If these ladies that were perfect strangers would offer up help, how many others like them were out there?

These wonderful caring women changed the course of my life.

As I continued to sew my quilt squares, I started to talk about my plans for my quilt. Any opportunity that came my way to discuss my new project, I used. Until now even the folks at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society did not know of my plans to raise money. What I discovered was that there were a huge number of folks willing to help me. Folks with contacts at publishing companies, TV. stations, hospitals, local businesses ~ they were everywhere.

I had not put as much thought into my life’s purpose as much as I did post leukemia diagnosis. The “empty nest” years were not as I had planned. The past course I had charted for these years, did not matter to me. Enjoy freedom, travel, peak earning years to cushion our retirement, hobbies was out the window. What really mattered? To say my perspective changed is minimizing cancer’s life altering course. No amount of freedom, travel or money in retirement was going to change my “new normal”. Question I now asked myself was, what did I want to leave behind when I was no longer living? Photos of places I had been, money, stuff? The healing and transformation of who I am post cancer diagnosis began in the parking lot of that yarn shop.

When I’m gone, what is it I want my son’s, my family and friends to remember about me? Well it certainly was not the home in which I lived, not the gardens that I loved to plant and toil in, the many places that I have been or the number of friends on a Facebook page that I had. I wanted to be remembered for something far greater than that…………….. I wanted to be remembered for loving fiercely. I want to have made a mark in my son’s lives. I want family, friends and others afflicted by cancer to know by my actions, that it does not always destroy, sometimes it shapes. Cancer shaped me. I took a very ugly, scary thing…….. and shaped a new and meaningful course for my empty nester years.

My quilt is complete and appraised at 3000.00. I am about to launch my quilt and myself along with Josh on a new journey. A journey that I hope will accomplish several things along the way...

  • My first goal is to raise money for the L & L Society as well as awareness of blood cancers.
  • My second is to help other Mom’s and Dad’s channel the difficult range of emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis of a child into a mechanism by which to cope and offer them hope.
  • And lastly, to make my mark while I’m still here……………..spread love.

There are three things that will endure…..Faith, Hope and Love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13


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