HOW TO TELL YOUR KIDS YOU HAVE CANCER

One mum shares her first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence

Essentials - - Contents -

UN­LIKE A LOT OF WOMEN WHO ARE DI­AG­NOSED WITH BREAST CANCER, I NEVER FOUND A LUMP. I’D NO­TICED THERE WAS SOME­THING DIF­FER­ENT ABOUT THE AP­PEAR­ANCE AND FEEL OF MY LEFT BREAST, BUT IT TOOK SIX MONTHS FOR ME TO MEN­TION IT TO MY GP AND THAT WAS ONLY WHEN I TOOK MY DAUGH­TER FOR AN AP­POINT­MENT.

I was 43, work­ing full-time as a teacher, look­ing af­ter my daugh­ters Anna and Sofie – who were six and four at the time – and jug­gling re­spon­si­bil­i­ties with my hus­band Richard. The doc­tor had a look and said it was prob­a­bly age-re­lated, but she booked me in at the breast clinic any­way. We were about to go on hol­i­day, so it wasn’t un­til a few weeks later that I went in for a mam­mo­gram and biopsy.

The wait­ing game

When they told me they'd found can­cer­ous cells, my hus­band and I were knocked side­ways. I was quickly booked into Ip­swich hospi­tal for surgery and they took away about a third of my breast as well as lymph nodes to see whether the cancer had spread. There was a two-week wait af­ter the surgery to find out the re­sults and, to be quite hon­est, that wait was more painful than the ac­tual surgery it­self.

We de­cided not to tell the girls un­til we knew the re­sults – and it wasn’t un­til much later that we used the term cancer. Thank­fully, when the re­sults came back, it didn’t look as though the cancer had spread – I could have ra­dio­ther­apy rather than chemo­ther­apy, which has less side af­fects. So, I took the Christ­mas term off work and went to hospi­tal five times a week for the next five weeks for the ra­dio­ther­apy ses­sions.

Time to ex­plain

When it came to telling the chil­dren, we didn't know how – I’d asked for ad­vice at the hospi­tal, but there wasn’t much around to help. So we told them that Mummy wasn’t well, but rather than men­tion­ing cancer, we used the anal­ogy of an ap­ple – that it’s like when you get a bruise on an ap­ple and you cut it out to stop the rest of the fruit go­ing bad. The girls were so young that they just accepted this, although they were cu­ri­ous as to where I went ev­ery day.

One week­end I took them into the ra­dio­ther­apy unit and once they'd seen where I was dis­ap­pear­ing to, their wor­ries

‘When it came to telling the girls, we didn’t know how and there wasn’t much ad­vice out there’

went away. Even now if they hear some­one talk­ing about cancer they’ll say, 'Oh, that’s what you had,' and it doesn’t faze them.

Friends and fam­ily were great sup­ports and helped with school pick-ups and drop-offs when I was in and out of hospi­tal. I was of­ten re­ally tired, but you just get through it, and my fam­ily and daugh­ters gave me the mo­ti­va­tion to get bet­ter.

Stay­ing pos­i­tive

Dur­ing my treat­ment I de­cided to start writ­ing a book for par­ents like me and What We Did When Mummy Got Cancer was born. The story is in­spired by our ex­pe­ri­ences, and I used the same ap­ple anal­ogy that worked with my daugh­ters. I ran ev­ery­thing by the cancer nurses and my sur­geon and the hospi­tal even pro­vided some fund­ing to help me pay an il­lus­tra­tor.

Writ­ing the book dur­ing my treat­ment has meant some­thing pos­i­tive has come out of a re­ally dif­fi­cult time. The girls were re­ally in­volved in the whole process – help­ing me proof­read and look­ing at the il­lus­tra­tions. It’s taken a lot of fundrais­ing over two years, but the book was fi­nally pub­lished in Fe­bru­ary this year.

Hav­ing a book means you can cud­dle up on the sofa with the kids on your knee and, even if what you’re go­ing to tell them is un­nerv­ing, that sce­nario feels so safe. It opens up di­a­logue and ex­plains that it’s not Mummy’s fault, then goes through the anal­ogy of why she needs to get bet­ter. It’s sold through my web­site and any profit goes to Cancer Cam­paign in Suf­folk. There are also copies in Ip­swich hospi­tal for mums be­ing treated there.

Now, I’m in re­mis­sion and life has grad­u­ally gone back to nor­mal. The thought of sec­ondary cancer does worry me, but I’m mostly pos­i­tive about the fu­ture. I have mam­mo­grams once a year and I’ll go straight to the doc­tor rather than wait­ing if I have any prob­lems.

Keep talk­ing

I do worry that my daugh­ters may be­come more anx­ious about it as they get older and un­der­stand more. A close friend of mine re­cently passed away from sec­ondary breast cancer and Anna and Sofia knew her well, so they've seen that for some peo­ple cancer doesn’t work out well – we just try to be open and dis­cuss it.

Ul­ti­mately, it’s such a dif­fi­cult sub­ject to talk about with your kids, so I hope my book can help other mums go­ing through the same thing to tackle the con­ver­sa­tion.

TO ORDER OR DOWN­LOAD What We Did When Mummy Got Cancer, GO TO WHAT WEDIDWHENMUMMYGOTCANCER.CO.UK

‘Writ­ing a book for par­ents like me made some­thing pos­i­tive out of a dif­fi­cult time ’

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