Cate Grant, 59, mother of four was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2020. She was changing out of her comfy pajamas to head off to work at Matson Logistics, when she felt a sharp pain in one of her breasts. She asked her husband, Frank Grant, to feel around it, finding a large lump. They headed to the doctor immediately, in hopes it wasn’t something serious, but eventually learning it was breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States, except for skin cancers. One in three of all new females each year. From the American Cancer Society’s, about 287,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women and about 43,250 women will die from breast cancer in 2022. Breast cancer mainly occurs in older women and the median age at the time of breast cancer diagnosis is 62, meaning half of the women who develop breast cancer are 62 years of age or younger when they’re diagnosed, according to American Cancer Society’s Cancer Statistics Center.
“I was so scared, sitting in the waiting room, holding my husband’s hand just hoping it wasn’t cancer,” said Cate Grant. “When I found out it was breast cancer, I was just left in shock, not knowing how to tell my children.”
When Cate and Frank got home, they called for a family meeting with the two children that were still living with them. Their other two children, living in Florida and Colorado, later received a phone call. Their children of course were shocked and overwhelmed, thinking, “how could this happen to my mom?” They now knew they had to be by their mother’s side at all times.
“I received the phone call while I was at work, my heart skipped a beat and all I could do was cry,” said Maggie Grant, their oldest child, living in Colorado. “All I wanted to do was come home and give her a hug, it was so hard to be so far away.”
Cate was shortly scheduled for all different tests and doctors appointments. One of her many doctors gave her more shocking news, there was another lump in her other breast. Cate was strong about her situation, thinking it would make everyone feel at ease.
“I didn’t want to scare anyone, especially my children,” said Cate. “I knew I was going to have a tremendous amount of support, but I didn’t want people to treat me as if I was dying.”
Cancer is common in Cate’s family. Her mother, father, and a few of her siblings have passed from battling all different cancers. Cancer is very common, about one in three people in the United States will develop cancer during their lifetime, so it is not uncommon to have many cancers in a family, according to the American Cancer Society.
“It’s terrifying to watch someone you love struggle because of cancer, but being the one with cancer is a whole different ball game,” said Cate. “I felt like everyone around me was just sad and stressed all the time and that’s not what I wanted, but they didn’t understand that.”
While Cate was going back and forth to multiple doctors, her husband was the backbone to their family during this time. Frank knew he had to be the mother and father during this time while being a caregiver for his wife. His children described him as being a superhero father.
“My dad always goes above and beyond for us, but during this time, he was being the superhero we all needed,” said Michael Grant, their second oldest. “He never complained and we all knew he was trying to be the strongest for all of us.”
Frank cooked dinner every night, helped Cate feel more comfortable with this situation, and was a therapist for his children. He was just as scared, but he knew to be that superhero they needed. Frank went to every doctor’s appointment with Cate while their children did chores around the house.
“I was always sick to my stomach when going to the appointments, it felt like I was going through it too,” said Frank Grant. “I knew I just needed to be there for her and our children, it was very difficult to watch her be in pain every day.”
About four weeks after a woman starts chemotherapy treatment, their hair begins to fall out. It could fall out gradually or in clumps and their scalp will feel tender, according to the Mayo Clinic. Cate began to lose her hair almost right away when she started chemotherapy. She knew it was time to let it all go.
“If anyone really knew me, they knew my hair was my favorite and best feature of myself,” said Cate. “It didn’t really hit me that I had cancer, until I decided to shave my head.”
Cate had her sisters, husband, and children hold her hand while they each took a turn shaving parts of her head. They all wanted her to know that it was going to be okay and they are all right there for support and comfort. Her son, Michael, finished shaving her head and turned to his, shaving his head to show his love and support.
“I felt like I had to, it was the closest thing to show that I am with her, and will be right by her side,” said Michael. “She is still my mother though, she was so mad at me.”
With tears down Cate’s beautifully toned face, she then realized how much support she truly had by her family. Shaving her head was not easy for her, but knowing her whole family was with her made her feel at ease in that moment. Cate knew she wasn’t going to go out in public without hair, so she started to purchase all sorts of wigs.
“I didn’t feel beautiful or confident without my hair, I knew I needed to purchase wigs,” said Cate. “It was overwhelming to go to the wig store, I felt like I was being judged by customers at some points.”
Cate purchased her wigs from LuLu’s Wiggin’ Out boutique in Crystal Lake, Illinois. LuLu’s is a full service wig salon, offering the latest hair trends and fashions. The owner is a cancer survivor herself, opening up her boutique to provide help for women going through hair loss, something she once faced, according to their website. Lulu’s was very understanding and supportive of Cate’s battle, helping her at all costs to find the perfect wigs for her.
“The employees were incredibly kind and I felt like they all were supporting my new journey,” said Cate. “Every time I walked in, they always asked how I was doing and if I needed anything, you can tell they really care about their customers.”
The cancer experience is not just an interpersonal one, it is also shared by those close to the person, such as their children and spouse. Only a few studies have examined the effect of parental physical illness on child adjustment. Researchers suggested that children of a parent with cancer suffer adjustment difficulties like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, according to Oxford Academy. This hit home for one of their children, Sarah Sellers, their adopted niece.
“My mom passed away from cancer, so I didn’t know what to think when I found out my aunt had it,” said Sarah Sellers. “I felt like I wasn’t doing enough for her, I slowly gained more anxiety and never wanted to leave my room, I was just so scared of all the things that could happen.”
Even though Sarah has been through a similar situation, she didn’t know how to overcome her anxiety and depression. She tried her best to be positive around her aunt and Cate knew that it would be a difficult time for Sarah. Frank tried his best to be the best father figure for her during this grueling journey.
“I think Frank and I were more scared for Sarah and how she was going to react to all of it, we knew it was going to be so hard for her,” said Cate. “We tried to tell her that everything was going to be okay and that I would be fine, but she was truly traumatized from her mother’s experience.”
While everyone in this family was scared and stressed, Cate’s sister, Mary Proteau, created a GoFundMe for all the medical expenses. While the Grant family didn’t want to ask for money, they knew it was going to be a struggle to pay for all the bills. They were very thankful to have so much love from family and friends.
“It was amazing to see how many people wanted to help my wife and family,” said Frank Grant. “We knew we had tons of love and support, but seeing our GoFundMe made us even more grateful for all the people in our lives.”
Cate’s GoFundMe received well over the asking donation amount, leaving her and her family speechless. Cate and Frank felt a little more weight being lifted off their shoulders and were overwhelmed with all the support. The GoFundMe wasn’t enough for some of their friends and family though.
“There were always care packages and gifts coming in the mail or left at our doorstep,” said Frank. “I already knew my wife was amazing, but seeing how many people care for her just shows how amazing she truly is.”
Cate was long into chemotherapy when she started to become very weak and tired. Most of her days had become snuggled up on her bed with all of her new breast cancer pink blankets, watching HGTV’s Hometown Takeover, and sleeping, trying to avoid the unbarring pain in her chest.
Chemotherapy for breast cancer uses drugs to target and destroy breast cancer cells. These drugs are usually injected directly into a vein through a needle or taken by mouth as pills, according to the Mayo Clinic. There are many long-term and short-term side effects of chemotherapy treatment. Cate had the symptoms of hair loss, nausea, and mouth sores. Chemotherapy is used to increase the chance of a cure, decrease the risk of the cancer returning, and alleviate symptoms from the cancer, says the Mayo Clinic.
“The first few months on chemo, I was fine, I wasn’t in much pain and was still up to do errands,” said Cate. “Once I hit my third round of chemo, when it really hit me, I couldn’t get up without aching in pain and asking someone for help.”
Even though Cate spent most of her days in her bed, her children often cheered her up with flowers, candies, and going on fun little trips. Her daughter, Maille Grant, and niece, Sarah Sellers, often tried to get her to go to a farmer’s market, a nature preserve, or sunflower fields. Cate wanted to feel normal, she didn’t want her children to stop doing their daily routines for her.
“We just wanted her to get her mind off of the whole cancer thing in general and by taking her on these little adventures, you can tell she felt slightly better again,” said Sarah Sellers. “She never wanted us to stop what we were doing to be with her, she wanted us to carry on like everything was how it used to be, but that was impossible for us children.”
Cate often got many short visits from her family and friends, but when her chemotherapy got bad she had to tell people to stop coming over. Cate was fighting every day to feel like her old self, not coming to the conclusion that she was living a new life. When she wasn’t in bed, she tried to do her regular routine chores, laundry, vacuuming, and cleaning the dirty dishes.
“I thought I was the stubborn one in our marriage, but trying to get her to just lay down and not do any cleaning was nearly impossible,” said Frank. “I love how strong she is and I knew she wanted to feel normal, but some days she would just over do it.”
Cate was wrapping up her chemotherapy treatment when she started to feel more alive and energetic. She was excited to go back out into the world, even if it was only to get groceries. She was up to do anything, so her children often took her out for lunch, to the pumpkin farms, and to get her nails done.
“Once I finished chemo, I was so relieved and felt so much better mentally and physically,” said Cate. “I felt like I beat cancer and I was ready to move on, but I knew I still had a little bit to go.”
After chemotherapy, Cate went straight into radiation therapy. Radiation is similar to chemotherapy, destroying the cancer cells. Radiation is a large process, having the schedule being five days a week for the patient. Cate had to go to the doctor every day for this treatment.
“Having to go back to the doctor every day was nerve-racking,” said Cate. “I just wanted to be done with it, I was so close yet so far.”
So close, yet so far went by pretty fast for Cate. After radiation she had to do one last test to make sure all the cancer has been cleaned out of her body. After she attended that appointment, she got her results back just a few days later. Cate had beat the big C.
“All I did was cry tears of joy,” said Cate. “I was able to fight this horrible disease and I kicked it right in the butt!”
With her staggering emotions, she was so excited to tell her family. Her children, the most proud, gave her the warmest and biggest group hug. Her husband, Frank, went out and bought a ridiculous amount of pink flowers and went out to dinner to celebrate.
“This was probably the proudest moment of my life,” said Frank. “My wife showed how strong she truly is and beat the monster, it was truly a miracle for my family.”
When I asked Cate how she beat this disease, she kept it short and sweet.
“I beat it because of my family and all their support, without them I probably would’ve given up a long time ago,” said Cate. “Knowing I had the support kept me motivated to get rid of breast cancer, it’s all about who is by your side during your darkest times. I am a breast cancer survivor!”
Cate and her family are finally relieved and living life to the very fullest. They have been traveling as a family a lot more, going out to dinner, and spending quality time on their living room couch together. They have cherished these special moments and will continue to do so every day. Even though cancer is a big deal around the world, this mother proved that she is stronger than the disease will ever be.