Manitoba

Winnipeg woman with terminal cancer slowly preparing children, mother for life without her

A Winnipeg woman who lives with terminal brain cancer says she's preparing her children for the day she's no longer around — by helping them create a closer bond with their grandmother.

'We could live forever or we could die tomorrow.… That's something they've learned': Catherine Wreford Ledlow

Catherine Wreford Ledlow, right, stands with her mom, Diane Wreford, on Mother's Day 2017. (Submitted by Catherine Wredford Ledlow)

Moms seem to have never-ending to-do lists in their minds. Whether that's picking up the kids from daycare, organizing summer camps, making sure homework gets done, handling work, handling relatives — it goes on and on.

But Catherine Wreford Ledlow's list is a bit different.

On top of everything else, Wreford Ledlow is preparing her four- and seven-year-old children for the day she dies.

She was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013, just five weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Quinn.

"My whole life was turned upside down," said Wreford Ledlow, 37, a long-time dancer from Winnipeg who has performed on stages from Broadway to her hometown.

Catherine Wreford Ledlow and her husband, Joel, smile as their children Quinn, left, and Elliot, right, make faces at the camera. (Submitted by Catherine Wreford Ledlow )

While things started to change in her life, she says motherhood was the constant she held onto to get her through tough days.

"I knew I had to get up to feed [the new baby]. I had to just keep going, and I think I would have gotten just lost had I not had her."

Setting the stage

Wreford Ledlow continues to feed her passion for performing. She auditions for film and theatre productions and says the rehearsals help keep her sharp.

"It's a good way to keep my brain working and memorizing lines, and it's what I enjoy doing," she said.

Catherine Wreford Ledlow played Cassie in Rainbow Stage's March production of A Chorus Line. She says it's important that her children see her do what she loves, even though she lives with terminal brain cancer. (Submitted by Catherine Wreford Ledlow)

While the arts help her brain, Wreford Ledlow says it's also important for her children to see her living her life. Her children most recently saw her perform as Cassie in Rainbow Stage's production of A Chorus Line in March.

"I wanted my kids to see that I can still do it, like, 20 years later and I still love doing it. Even though I have brain cancer, that's not going to stop me."

Planning for the future

While her terminal illness isn't holding her back from enjoying the present, Wreford Ledlow says she's constantly thinking of the future when she's with her children.

"I appreciate every second but at the same time, I want my kids to get used to living with being closer to my mom," she said.

My kids ask me, 'how long are you going to be around?' And I say 'nobody knows.'- Catherine Wreford Ledlow

"We will get to the point where I won't be able to be there. And I know my mom will be. I want them to feel just as comfortable [with her] and be able to ask her about their period, about sex, and all that kind of stuff that I may or may not be able to answer for them."

To do that, Wreford Ledlow says her kids spend a lot of time with their "grammy," former CBC journalist Diane Wreford. The families live in the same neighbourhood, and the children stay at their grandparents' house often.

Diane Wreford reads to her grandchildren, Quinn and Elliot. (Submitted by Catherine Wreford Ledlow)

But there has to be honesty, too, she says.

"My kids ask me, 'how long are you going to be around?' And I say 'nobody knows,'" she said.

"Everyone dies. We could live forever or we could die tomorrow. So that's something they've learned."

Mom to Mom

When it comes to her own mom, Wreford Ledlow says she's learned the best from the best.

"Even in high school, I said if I could be half as good a mom as my mom, I'll be doing great," she said.

And while Diane Wreford says everything changed the day her daughter was diagnosed, there are positive lessons to follow right now. 

"She's taught us that every single day should be like Mother's Day — something to celebrate always, and to love each other, support each other."

About the Author

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CBC in Manitoba and Ontario as a reporter and associate producer. Before working for CBC, she studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.