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She collapsed, laying on the floor until it passed and help arrived. At the hospital, she underwent a CT scan and tests. When the doctor and a social worker came to her bedside and pulled the curtain, she knew the news was not good. There were three tumours in her brain. Her daughter buried her face in her hands. Pierce listened to her cry while absorbing the news. “I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t shocked. I wasn’t angry. I kind of knew that it was going to come back for me,” she says. “I felt relief, in a way, because the monster was finally off my back. He was right in front of my face and I could face him head-on and beat the crap out of him.” But cancer has beaten the crap out of her too. They are formidable opponents to one another. Of course, she asks: Why me? “Then I read other people’s stories that aren’t cancerrelated and the horrible things that they’ve gone through and I say, what makes my journey, or my struggles, or my battles any worse than these people?” she says. “But I do let myself get angry. I let myself get sad. I let myself mourn my old life, because I really miss that.” WONDER WOMAN Pierce sits at her kitchen table – the cane that helps her walk propped up beside her. Her shirt reads, ‘What would Wonder Woman do?’ Her family and friends will tell you she is Wonder Woman. Growing up in the 1970s, Pierce was really into Charlie’s Angels, the Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman. She had watched westerns. Men on horses. Men with lassos. But then came actress Lynda Carter (a.k.a. Wonder Woman) and her lasso. “I was obsessed. Every time she throws that lasso, I’m like, you go girl!” Pierce says. “They were good shows for girls growing up because they provided positive role models. Women could be independent and badass.” In her home, there is an entire room devoted to these television shows, movies and women. There are posters, photographs, toys, dolls, and just about every other kind of collectable you didn’t even know existed. Cassie Dulong doesn’t have to look far to find her Wonder Woman. She only has to look to her mother Leanne. “I admire my mom’s kindness. Even though the world has been so unfair to her, she is never sour for long. She always wants to help others,” she says. “I think honesty is the most important thing in this world. We’re all so busy pretending that everything is wonderful. From Day 1, my mom has been brutally honest and open. It’s really helped people understand what cancer is actually like.” Asked for three adjectives to describe her mom, she chooses cheerful, fearless and brave. REMOVING BURDENS Pierce is also pragmatic. “As soon as I found out I was Stage 4, I immediately got to work getting all of my affairs in order because, at the time, it was really unpredictable,” she says. She had her will made. She looked after her banking, putting things in her daughter’s name to avoid the need for probate. “A lot of people don’t like to talk about or think about dying. It’s very uncomfortable and unsettling for them because it makes them face their own mortality. But it’s a part of life. We’re born. We die,” Pierce says. “The more we can do while we’re alive to alleviate these burdens from loved ones, the better, no matter how hard it is.” In a Facebook post about her gravestone, she says, “Some people might think this is all morbid and sad, but I don’t. I am happy that I designed it and personalized it and am able to actually see it before I pass on. I am happy that my family and I were able to view it for the first time together.” The gravestone contains a special urn for some of her mother’s ashes. Because as if battling cancer wasn’t hard enough, she lost her mom too. Pierce still counts her blessings, though. Her family is tops, of course, including her grandson Dallas who affectionately calls her Pumpkin. Her social worker on the palliative care team is wonderful. She feels very fortunate to have her oncology team – the doctors and nurses – in her corner. Still, days are difficult. “Some days I wake up and think, I don’t care about how many people I’m helping. I just want to die now. But I know if I can just hang in there for one more hour and then another hour, I will eventually get through it,” she says. Pierce is registered for Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID). She has met with doctors, including the one who one day will administer the injection that will end her life. She is at peace with this. How will she know it’s time? “When I’m not living. When I’m just existing,” she says. Still, there is a chance she won’t go out on her own terms. If she is hospitalized and life-saving measures are needed to keep her alive, she has a do not resuscitate order in place. “I’ve come to realize and accept that I might not get the MAID I have envisioned. I might die in the hospital instead of at home, but that’s okay. I just don’t want to have pain. I don’t want to be held on life support. I don’t want to prolong anything for my family.” But if things do work out, this is what she hopes for. She envisions a nice day, being in her pasture with her horses, surrounded by her family. She has chosen poems to be read and songs to be played. “I just picture it as really peaceful and beautiful,” she says. LIVE IN THE MOMENT Cancer has been a cruel journey that has taken away so much. It’s changed what she can do. It’s changed how she looks. But it’s also taught Pierce to live in the moment. Something she says that everyone should strive for, whether they are sick or healthy. “People need to stop saving things for special occasions. I had expensive perfumes, like Chanel No. 5, that I didn’t want to use except for special occasions because it was so darn expensive. But after I got diagnosed with Stage 4 and I went to sleep, and I woke up, I realized today is a special occasion because I opened my eyes and I’m able to walk and talk.” So, she dabs on the Chanel. Now, instead of the question, ‘How are you?’ she admits – when cancer is beating her down – she ponders the question, ‘Is it really worth it?’ “There are days I spend the entire day in that mindset, crying and I question it all,” she says. But then something good will happen, like plans to make homemade Christmas decorations with her family. Seeing her daughter get married. Listening to the new album by ABBA. Reading her grandson’s report card. And on it goes. Says Pierce, “As long as there is something to look forward to, then yes, it’s worth it.” And in those times she makes sure she’s in charge, not the cancer. What would Wonder Woman do? She’s already doing it.