In many ways, Corilynn Babineau is a typical mom.
For instance on Monday, the 32-year-old Brainerd woman helped get her two sons off to school, consoled her daughter who was home sick with a virus and survived a crisis in the afternoon when one son broke his collarbone after falling on the school playground.
But Babineau is not an ordinary mom. She's a woman fighting for her life. Her tasks Monday also included a trip to St. Joseph's Medical Center for one of her final radiation therapy treatments.
In June, Babineau was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy. Cancer was found in nine of 21 lymph nodes tested. A month ago, Babineau learned the breast cancer had metastasized -- or spread -- to her brain. She has endured radiation and chemotherapy with the hope of forcing the cancer into remission. The result is not yet known. Through it all, Babineau, with her easy smile and sparkling eyes, has remained upbeat. Her family and friends are inspired and encouraged by her positive outlook.
Life before cancer
A year ago, Babineau was a busy mother raising three children and working three jobs.
Babineau and her husband, Tyrone, 36, have three children -- Kortney, 7, Daniel, 9, and Taylor, 11, all Lincoln Elementary School students in Brainerd. Babineau also has two stepsons, Tyrone Jr., 17, and Greg, 16.
While juggling her children's busy school and sports activities, Babineau, the daughter of Diane and Lonny Thiery of Brainerd, worked as a receptionist at Studio Exxcel in Brainerd, at Northern Lakes Wine and Spirits in Baxter and ran her cleaning business. Babineau's husband works in the Twin Cities so the weekday parenting rests with her alone as well.
Babineau fondly recalled the days before chemotherapy or radiation treatments as hectic yet fulfilling. She spent time with her children, enjoyed weekend camping trips and bowled in a league with her girlfriends.
She said those days were carefree. "I never thought I would get cancer," Babineau said. "It's not something you think you're going to get."
With her head immobilized, Corilynn Babineau waited for a radiation treatment. The mask secured her head so the radiation could be pinpointed on the cancer.
A medical mystery
Beginning in February 2003, Babineau began seeing doctors for what was thought to be gall bladder-related problems. She asked her two physicians about a rash on her breast. They believed the rash was eczema.
Then in May, Babineau found a lump in her right breast. She sought medical help and soon discovered she had cancer -- and later she learned what was considered eczema was Paget's disease of the breast instead.
Babineau underwent two surgeries in June resulting in a bilateral mastectomy.
Attacking the cancer
Beginning in July, Babineau started intense chemotherapy.
She has received more than 20 weeks of the intravenous treatments, which typically lasted anywhere from one to three hours.
She then completed 38 radiation treatments to her chest and later an additional 18 treatments to her brain.
Side effects of the treatments brought their own challenges.
Babineau lost her hair quickly after starting the chemotherapy. She sported colorful bandannas or wore stylish wigs. By February, much of her hair had returned only to fall out again nearly overnight when she started the radiation treatments of her brain.
During her fight against breast cancer, Corilynn Babineau has lost her hair twice. But she hasn't lost her bright outlook or her easy smile despite her rigorous chemotherapy and radiation treatments and the accompanying side effects. (Dispatch Photo by Steve Kohls)
Her hair loss is something Babineau shrugs her shoulders about. "It's a pain in the butt sometimes. In the whole scheme of things, it's not that big of a deal."
The radiation treatments also have resulted in painful burns.
Other side effects have included nausea, body aches and weight gain or puffiness, likely caused by steroid treatments, as well as extreme tiredness. To compound her tiredness, Babineau has had difficulty sleeping.
The fatigue is the most frustrating, Babineau said. "I'm 32 years old. I should be able to do all these things but I'm just so tired."
The cancer spreads
Earlier this year, Babineau told her doctor she was suffering from headaches and nausea. She suspected she might have the flu or strep throat. Or perhaps, she thought, it was more side effects from her treatments.
Her doctor performed an MRI, which revealed the breast cancer had spread to her brain where four spots of cancer were found. Because of their location, the small tumors are inoperable.
Not fear or devastation, Babineau's first emotion was concern for her children's reaction. "I thought, 'I don't want to tell my kids.'"
She feels confident she will "get healthy and get better" if she completes treatments. Her doctor hopes to shrink the tumors, which were targeted with radiation treatments.
Although her children handled learning of Babineau's breast cancer remarkably well, Babineau still dreaded telling them about its spread to her brain.
Daniel (front), followed by Taylor (left) and Kortney were the last out of the house before Corilynn Babineau shut the door as Babineau prepared Wednesday morning to get her children to Lincoln Elementary School in Brainerd. (Dispatch Photo by Steve Kohls)
She learned about the cancer's spread on a Monday. It was March 1.
She waited until that Friday night to tell her boys. She wanted to give them a few days over the weekend to process the news before they had to return to school Monday. Babineau waited to tell her daughter until Saturday when the two could talk alone. All along, Kortney has worried the most.
Babineau said she was cuddling and sharing bedtime stories with Kortney when she said to her daughter, "They did a test on Mommy and they found more cancer in Mommy's brain."
Babineau said Kortney responded, "I already worry that you're going to die and now that's all I'll ever think about."
On life and living
Despite the cards she has been dealt, Babineau doesn't express any anger and rarely shares any fear.
But the cancer diagnosis has changed her life.
"I think it's made me more aware of life and how short your life can be," she said.
When asked about her days -- good and bad -- Babineau simply stresses the good.
"Every day is a good day -- if you get up," Babineau said. "I don't think of it as good days and bad days. I don't really cry about it. You just have to do what you have to do to get through it."
If you go
What: Corilynn (Thiery) Babineau cancer benefit
When: 5 p.m. Friday
Where: Brainerd American Legion
Events: Food, live music, auctions and raffles. A benefit fund has been established at Brainerd Savings and Loan as well.
Mostly because of fatigue, Babineau has had to slow down. Shortly after the cancer diagnosis, she left her Northern Lakes Wine and Spirits job. In March, she left her Studio Exxcel job. She's had to say no to the children when she's been too tired for activities that used to be routine.
She mostly stays home during the day to conserve her energy.
"All my energy that I have I feel I have to save for my kids," she said.
What the future holds
Thursday, Babineau underwent imaging tests, which should give her answers about how her cancer is responding to treatments. A bone scan late last month revealed the cancer has not spread to her bones.
Babineau said she needs answers. She said she doesn't know if she has two years or 30 years.
"It's frustrating not knowing what's next, not knowing the prognosis," she said. "It's frustrating to me not knowing what to expect. I haven't been told what to expect for the future."
Babineau said she wonders if she will see her children's proms, graduations or even weddings.
"I never thought about it before," she said. "I just thought I would."
Something she thought she had years to plan, Babineau said she hopes she is able to take a vacation one day with her family -- something they have never done -- perhaps to DisneyWorld to build memories and revel in her children's enjoyment.
Babineau encouraged people to spend every minute they can with friends and family.
She is concerned about what cancer can do to the brain. She worries she won't be the same person. She also worries she won't be able to care of herself. "I don't want my kids to see me that way," she said.
But mostly, Babineau remains optimistic.
"I just feel that everything will work out," Babineau said. "It's in God's hands. It's going to work out the way it's supposed to."
'God, my family and friends'
When asked what gives her the strength to get through each day, Babineau said, "God, my family and friends."
Her family is organizing a benefit at 5 p.m. Friday at the Brainerd American Legion, complete with food, live music, raffles and auctions.
At first, Babineau said she was bothered by the thought of a benefit. She didn't like needing to ask for help.
Babineau said she was astonished at the outpouring of support. Hundreds of raffle tickets have been sold and dozens of prizes have been donated.
"I just think it's amazing," she said. "It's overwhelming. It's unbelievable how much people will do for you."
She said the benefit has served as an outlet for her family and friends who have felt helpless.
"It's making them feel better to do something for me."
Babineau also noted how generous the Lincoln Elementary School staff members have been. She said they have delivered meals as well as supplies, such as laundry soap, which has saved Babineau trips to the store. Babineau also noted how helpful her day-care provider was these past several months.
Babineau said her family -- including her husband, her parents, her sister, Ann, her brothers, Sean and Marc -- has been incredibly supportive, especially her mother.
Babineau said her mother has been with her every step -- every doctor's appointment and every treatment.
"My mom goes to all my appointments with me," she said. "That's huge. My mom has been my most important person to me through all of this."
Babineau said her husband offered to quit his Twin Cities job to spend more time at home. Babineau said that is not an option right now as the family needs to retain his health insurance. On weekends, she said her husband tries to do as much as he can. "He does whatever he can to help."
Babineau said she wishes she could do more to show her appreciation for the support she has received.
"I feel that I can't thank people enough. The word 'thank you' is not enough. I'm a 32-year-old mom who just wants to live life as normal as possible but I have to fight this cancer."
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