McKenna-Ryan, Jessica Marie ( 42, Nine Mile River, NS): There are very few silver linings to a Stage 4 Breast Cancer diagnosis: jumping the line for blood work, collecting ridiculous amounts of loyalty points on cancer prescriptions at the pharmacy and having the opportunity to prepare my own obituary. I figure since I have capitalized on the first two perks, I would be remiss not to take advantage of writing my own obit, even though I am not entirely sure what tense of verbs to use.
I am the eldest of John and Janice McKenna’s (nee Williams) three children. Despite the fact that Nick (Tara) and Abby (Mark) and I were born in just over three years of each other, I have been often reminded by Abby that being the oldest child is only advantageous when you’re little. Given my current circumstances, I would have to agree.
I grew up in Lantz, graduated from Hants East Rural High, obtained a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Dalhousie and studied French Immersion at Universite Sainte-Anne and Universite du Quebec a Chicoutimi. As a result of a combination of accumulating student debt and my irrational fear of enrolling in organic chemistry, I became a Mountie in 2002. I love being an investigator and, even at the end of my line, I was still hopeful that my disease would stabilize so I could return to work in some capacity. Turns out that wasn’t in my cards.
I want to thank everyone for your kindness and support, initially in 2017 after my early-stage diagnosis and then again in 2020 when I found what turned out to be a baseball sized metastatic breast cancer tumour in my liver. During my cancer fueled roller coaster ride, my family, friends, colleagues and community came through for me big time. I am so grateful for all of you. Seriously. Everyone stepped up and stepped in. I am very fortunate to have had such a robust support system in such an unfortunate situation. I hope that you continue to be there for my kids when I am gone. I would like you to help them remember who I am because I worry that they are too young to do so on their own. I am also particularly concerned that I haven’t had enough time to instill the McKenna work ethic in them, so I am hoping it is more a genetic than acquired trait.
Elaina, Carson, Harrison and Jack, I want you to know I fought hard to stay with you for as long as I could. I love you so much. Life isn’t always easy, but it always goes on. Be strong, do your best and remember I will always be with you. I am not entirely sure how that works, but I feel like you will know.
Mom and Dad, you did an excellent job raising us. We didn’t always have a lot, but we always had what we needed. The experiences you gave us kids are worth so much more than any possession I ever owned. I hope that my kids will know what it’s like to do things as a family like we did: fishing, coasting, playing kick-the-can, the list goes on. I have leaned on you for support my whole life and you guys never wavered. You are such good people. I love you and I hate the fact that you have to deal with my death. Losing a child has to be a parent’s worst nightmare. Although in saying that, I didn’t have to live through your demise, so I’ll take that win.
Nick and Abby, you made it easy for me to look like the good kid growing up, thanks for that. I am proud of the families and lives you have built. Jacob, Owen, Camdyn and Kinsley, it sucks that I didn’t have more time to spend with you. I hope you’ll be good role models for your cousins. Apply yourself in school and remember to invite Andrew and the kids to your birthday parties.
Andrew, I never in a million years thought we would go down like this. Eventual divorce? Maybe. I have heard I am not the easiest person to live with. But I never for a second thought our story would end in premature death. I am hoping that you have taken heed of all the not-so-subtle hints I have been dropping about managing the kids, the house, the vehicles, the yard, the finances, etc. You are not only losing your wife and the mom of your children but also your household administrator…which frightens me a little since I have spent the last 12 years or so finding your keys and wallet on the daily. I guess all I can do now is wish you luck - I think you might need it! Have patience with the kids and don’t let the boys lose touch with Elaina. Please take care of our backyard creatures who have depended on me for so long. I really like them and the kids do, too.
Finally, a big thanks to all the health care professionals who cared for me. Dr. Fragoso, I lucked out on the day years ago when I drove past your old clinic by chance and saw an “accepting new patients” sign. You have been an integral part of my health care team, much before cancer came into the picture, and I am so lucky for having been your patient. Dr. Younis, thank you for not giving up on me twice. When you make it to this stage in the game, it is important to be able to look back and feel like you did everything you could. I am grateful for that. Also, a big shout out to my nurses, Kara and Kaitlyn, for documenting every disgusting little side effect of my many cancer treatments and to the 11th floor chemo nurses for watching me cry in the chair on bad days and listening to me curse about my luck on pretty much all of the other ones. No wonder there’s such a turnover of nurses in that unit, it has got to be hard on the head and I without a doubt contributed to that.
If all has gone as planned, my body has been donated to science and I have already hosted my pre-death “FUN-eral,” unless covid or rapid disease progression (or both!) interfered with my plans. Hopefully it happened and you were able to make it because there will be no memorial service. If it didn’t, well, it was beyond my control – something I have had to relinquish a lot of since cancer and during covid. Don’t worry about donating money to any causes in my name. You have all done enough. If you feel so inclined, grab a handful of sunflower seeds and toss them out to the birds in your yard in my memory. Oh, and take a minute to book a mammogram. You never know. XO