In this edition of the Healing Series we feature Robin, so much has happened in Robin’s life, a formidable woman who refuses to give up, no matter what life throws at her. Robin’s story is a reminder to us all that despite how dark things can get, there can still be hope.
As a child, I always suffered from incredibly low self-esteem fuelled by a general lack of confidence. I never thought much of myself and still don’t. Having suffered from mental health problems for most of my life, I have often felt deeply sad, lonely and ached for understanding and compassion. I only hope that telling my story will let others in similar situations know that they are not alone and that things can get better.
I was thirteen and totally lacking in self-belief when I found myself the center of attention of my first boyfriend. Jack. I just felt lucky that any boy liked me and Jack made me feel so special. I soon fell in love with him and made him my entire world, but the cute boy I fell in love with turned out to have another side that I hadn’t counted on. What I hadn’t realized, at the tender age of thirteen, was that I had fallen for a narcissist.
Little by little, and without me even realizing it, Jack preyed on my vulnerability and took control of every aspect of my life. He systematically alienated me from each of my friends. Jack told me what to wear. Jack told me what to do. Jack told me where to go. Eventually, the claustrophobic atmosphere became too much. I tried to speak up and that was when Jack first threatened me and showed me who he really was.
I know you’re wondering: why didn’t she tell someone? But I was too afraid to tell anyone. I was terrified of Jack and as I came fully under his control he became increasingly mentally and physically abusive. I was incredibly young and simply did not have the wherewithal to cut him out of my life. My self-esteem was so low, that I think part of me believed I would never find anyone better than him. Jack’s manipulation of my vulnerabilities was so total that I was under his complete control.
Eventually, my parents realized something was wrong and found out I had been manipulated and taken advantage of. They forbid me to see Jack, but he continued to stalk me at school. Jack would spy on my house to know what I was doing, who I was seeing, whether I was going out or staying home. If my parents went out, he would be sure to show up at my door. Jack made me sneak out of my house to see him. He knew just what to say to make me obey, to make me leave the safety of home.
Once out and alone with him, Jack would force himself on me to satisfy himself that I was still his. Jack raped me continuously for three years. I had nobody in my life. No friends. I felt I was all alone with no one I could tell. The last time Jack raped me, I was just sixteen and I became pregnant.
When Jack found out, he was finally scared enough of my parents that he left Nova Scotia. But he still contacted me and told me to get an abortion. Then he spread it around that the baby wasn’t his and that I was a slut. Later he returned to NS and begged me to be with him. But this time I was different. I was stronger. Maybe I knew I had to be stronger, if not for myself, for the tiny life growing inside me. This time I was determined to stay away from Jack and I avoided him at all costs.
I had the support of my family and continued to attend school, but I was sixteen, pregnant and very lonely. Finger-pointing and giggling were my only constant companions as I navigated the school hallways. Through it all, the hardest thing was trying to hold my head up high and carry on.
I left the decision to my parents as to whether I would be keeping my baby or giving her up for adoption. My parents never asked me what I wanted. I just went along with what they said. I never had a voice in the conversation. My mom’s worry about me keeping my baby was that I would end up back with Jack and that he would eventually hurt me and the baby. A move to Ontario had been planned for May that year and as the date drew nearer, Mom was worried I wouldn’t go, that I would stay behind and fall once again under Jack’s spell.
On a cold, stormy night, I left home in the dark and made my way to the hospital with my parents to give birth. It was time for the life I had been growing inside of me to enter the world. The nurses were aware that adoption was a possibility, so I didn’t get to hold or even see my baby. I just heard her crying as they took her away. My baby girl. Jolie. My mother saw her and named her after she was born, and I believe she held her too. A tiny little girl with jet black hair.
Two days later the hospital was to discharge me from the hospital. All I had to do was sign a paper to acknowledge that Jolie was being sent to a foster home. After that, I had thirty days to decide whether or not I was keeping my baby…
… to be continued
“What I hadn’t realized, at the tender age of thirteen, was that I had fallen for a narcissist.”
Robin is a formidable woman who has led a full life. Unfortunately, in her life, she has seen more than her fair share of trauma and heartbreak. But despite everything she has never given up. Robin’s resilience should remind us that hope is everlasting.
Back at home after giving birth at the hospital and letting my baby go to a foster home, I struggled to deal with my emotions. I had given birth and was hormonal, yet there wasn’t a baby to care for. We had thirty days to decide what would happen to Jolie, but despite my conflicting feelings, I didn’t feel I could speak up and have a say in what would become of my baby. Where would she go? Who would take care of her? If I gave her away, would I ever see her again? These questions and many more ran through my mind each waking moment of each of those thirty days.
When the thirty days were up my parents and I went to Children’s Aid and I signed the papers giving my daughter away. A piece of me died that day, but I vowed that I would find Jolie again.
After I gave Jolie up to people who were probably in a better position to raise her than I was, there wasn’t a single day that went by that she wasn’t in my thoughts. I eventually found a good man and while we were dating I told him about Jolie. That I had given her up for adoption and that I would one day look for her. He understood what I had been through, my need to find Jolie, and still wanted to marry me. We went on to have other children, but I never forgot my Jolie.
The early years of my marriage were a challenge, to say the least, as my in-laws lived with us in a cramped basement apartment. I was also a stay-at-home mom and my husband was always at work, so I was around them constantly. That wouldn’t have been an issue if my in-laws actually liked me. My father-in-law didn’t care much for me and didn’t ever think I was a good enough wife to his son or mother to his grandchildren.
Before long, I had two boys and two girls, all under the age of six, and the task of dealing with my in-laws in addition to my lifelong battle with depression. During the day, I took care of my family, then after I put the kids to bed at night, I went to work cleaning offices to help bring in more money.
Life with four kids was always hectic, so I planned to wait until my children were older before finding Jolie, something I had thought about since the day I gave her up to Children’s Aid. Finally, the time had arrived for me to begin my search. Twenty years had passed since I signed those papers and let Jolie go, and now the day I had waited for was finally here. But before I could start looking for her, I had to tell my family!
By this time, my parents had divorced and I hadn’t spoken to Dad for 16 years. My in-laws had also passed away and Mom had suffered from cancer and recently died after a massive stroke, two weeks before my thirty-sixth birthday. I no longer had any elders to turn to for any kind of advice. When I decided to look for Jolie, my husband gave me his full support and he was the one who actually talked to the kids. It was just too emotional for me. So, my husband sat down with our children and told them my story, about Jolie, and how I now wanted to find her and bring her into our lives.
I had no idea how they would react to news like this. I knew my children well, but a bombshell like this can affect people in ways that could surprise you. They had all listened intently to my husband and I now watched for their reactions.
My two boys were very understanding about my giving Jolie up for adoption and I was heartened when they gave me their full support. However, my girls were another story. The bottom had fallen out of their world and the sky had come crashing down upon them. To them, I had suddenly become someone they no longer knew. My girls refused to understand how I could give away my daughter. They were upset and didn’t understand why I hadn’t kept Jolie. It was clear they thought I was mean and a horrible person.
It took a lot of talking and after many tears, the girls eventually saw my side of it. They understood I had been a depressed teen who felt worthless, had become pregnant from being raped, didn’t feel supported by her parents, and didn’t feel able to assert herself to say she wanted to keep the baby. Eventually, they also supported me and I felt able to commence my search for Jolie.
My first move was to phone Children’s Aid in Ontario and tell them my story. They told me to get in touch with the office in Nova Scotia. After I contacted them with my story, they had me write a letter with all the adoption details. I wrote to them with Jolie’s name, birth date, and birthplace. They also had me write a letter to Jolie.
The letter to Jolie was a lot harder letter to write. So many things went through my mind. All the same questions I had been asking myself since the day I gave her up thirty years ago. But now I had more questions. What would I do if she refused to reply? What if she rejected me?
I finally plucked up my courage, wrote the letter, and mailed it, knowing what I was hoping for, but not what to expect…
… to be continued
“A piece of me died that day, but I vowed that I would find Jolie again.”
In the final part of Robin’s 3 part story, she tells us what happened when she reached out to Jolie, the baby daughter she gave away for adoption thirty years previously. After the sexual trauma of her youth, she has continued her battle with depression. Robin is inspiring and reminds us that we all need to stay positive and strong.
I believe that brave women, like Robin, who choose to share their stories, have reached a place where they no longer need to carry their pasts alone. Thank you, Robin, for letting us into your heart and mind, we are all better because of it. When I write about my experience, it releases a part of me that once felt isolated and lonely. You reminded me of that by telling your heartbreaking yet hopeful story. ~ Karla
After posting my letter to Jolie, hoping to establish contact with her, my tummy was full of butterflies. I had agonized over almost every word, wanting to write from the heart, but afraid that I would get it wrong and push her away. All the old questions and anxieties came shooting back at me, but after stuffing the envelope with my letter and all my hope, there was nothing I could do except mail it. And once I had done that, there was no going back, no more redrafts. All I could do was wait.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I received something interesting in the mail. I unsealed the envelope, and to my utter delight and astonishment, it was from Jolie! She had replied! But she hadn’t just sent me a letter. She had included a picture of herself and her three beautiful daughters. Not only did I find my daughter, who was no longer named Jolie but Sara, but I also found I had three beautiful granddaughters. I was a grandmother!
It turned out that Sara had been very excited to hear from me. She wanted a relationship with me and was eager to meet her half brothers and sisters. We ended up exchanging phone numbers and spoke on the phone every night for a month. Before long she booked a flight from Nova Scotia to visit me in Ontario with her eldest daughter.
That was twelve years ago. Sara and I have been building our relationship ever since. She calls me Ma or Mom while her girls call me Gramma.
In November of 2020, I found a lump in my right breast and didn’t know what to make of it. I always thought a tumor would be a round, hard ball, but my lump was long, narrow, and not as hard as I expected a tumor to be. I didn’t think it was a cancer lump, so, despite my husband’s constant nagging, I waited about two and a half months for it to go away on its own before I contacted my doctor.
It ended up being during the COVID-19 lockdown when everything was shut down and doctor consultations were being done via email. But when my doctor learned I’d found a lump, he arranged to see me the next day. He felt the lump and told me he thought it was just a cyst, but that he’d book me a mammogram. On January 27, 2021, I went for a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy.
A week after my biopsy, my family doctor phoned to confirm I had cancer. A week later, my husband and I met with the surgeon to discuss my type of breast cancer. He explained my options. Surgery and chemotherapy. I could either do chemo first and then surgery or surgery first then chemotherapy. Then came the meeting with the Oncologist. He explained the type of chemotherapy involved, how often I’d have to have it and what we should expect. He also talked about radiation, and then told us something we hadn’t heard before.
I had large lymph nodes in my chest which concerned the Oncologist. He wanted to investigate further, which meant a Bronchoscopy. They would enter my chest through my throat and take pieces of my lymph nodes to analyze them. This would be done after my surgery to remove the lump.
I did everything my medical team asked of me and, despite the odd moments of shock and tears, and fear, I stayed positive throughout the whole ordeal. Oddly enough, I don’t know why, but I felt like I was on a high. Maybe it was a constant surge of adrenaline or some survival instinct kicking in that fuelled me.
I opted to have surgery first, then the chemo. The surgeon removed the lump and lymph nodes from under my armpit. Then a week later, I had the biopsy to remove lymph nodes from my chest. My surgeon removed the lump from my breast, as well as twenty-nine lymph nodes from my arm, all of which tested positive for cancer. Next was a 6-week recovery period. Then came the Oncologist.
I went to the hospital for my mammogram and ultrasound while my husband waited in the car and my family waited at home for me to phone. It was meant to be a straightforward half-hour appointment, but since I don’t deal well with this sort of thing, I couldn’t let my husband come to be with me. After the ultrasound, the technician asked me to wait for her to return… with a doctor. I was alone and scared. Anxiety hit! I felt sick to my stomach while my mind told me something was wrong. The technician returned with a doctor, possibly a radiologist, who told me that there appeared to be some abnormalities showing on the ultrasound.
They wanted to do a biopsy and suggested I do it right then instead of having to go back. I was in shock and went along with whatever they said. My half-hour appointment stretched to two hours while my family wondered what was going on. After the biopsy, I left the room and somehow managed to make my way through the hospital and to my husband. I don’t know how I even made it to the car, but I held myself together until I got in, and that was when I broke down.
The lymph nodes in my chest tested positive for cancer. What did that mean? It meant I went from being diagnosed with stage two breast cancer to stage four. It also meant I needed a new treatment plan as I couldn’t have radiation because of the chest cancer. I went on oral chemotherapy and an estrogen-blocking pill. My cancer will not go away but I hope taking this medication will prevent it from spreading.
The surgery to remove the lump from my breast and lymph nodes, and the biopsy to check lymph nodes in my chest happened a year ago. I now have scans every three months to check that my cancer is under control. Every three months, I am on edge until my appointment with the Oncologist is over.
Having a diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer was a shock. A year later I am still in shock. Despite being told I could live 20 more years, I am afraid to die. I have days when I don’t think about it and can have something like a normal life, But when it hits me again that I have cancer, I break down all over again and don’t know how to cope with it all.
What I do know is that, just as with my lifelong battle with depression, I need to try to be positive and strong for myself, and my family. For now, I will live each and every day the best way I can, feeling incredibly fortunate to have such a warm and loving family to support me. No matter how bad things get, you cannot let the darkness consume you. You have to keep your face tilted toward the sun and the light.
“I held myself together until I got in the car, and that was when I broke down.”
About Me: My name is Robin. I am a wife, a mother of five and a grandmother of seven, but I am also a woman who has spent my entire life dealing with mental illness. When I was sixteen, my abusive boyfriend left me facing an agonizing situation that has haunted me for most of my life. I now have the opportunity to make up for lost time, but now that my health is failing every second is precious. I am a proud owner of a Stand Up Speak Up Healing Scarf. Mine represents my resilience in troubled times and it reminds me to stay positive.
Every scarf purchase aids in funding Wellspring Cancer Support programming for cancer patients, their caregivers and families across Canada. Learn more about our Acts of Kindness giveback program and what we’ve donated so far on our How We Give Page.