‘I would go through can­cer my­self all over again if it meant Jess could stay healthy’

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Real Lives -

It seemed al­most too much for one fam­ily to bear when Joanne Moss and then her teenage daugh­ter, Jes­sica, were both di­ag­nosed with can­cer. The sup­port they have given each other has made them closer than ever

Joanne says...

My daugh­ter Jes­sica is strong, ca­pa­ble and bril­liant. By a hor­ren­dous co­in­ci­dence we have both gone through gru­elling treat­ment for two dif­fer­ent can­cers, with no ge­netic link be­tween them. It is some­thing few moth­ers and daugh­ters could even imag­ine. I’ve al­ways loved her des­per­ately, but now, as we try to put the or­deal be­hind us, what I feel for her is an in­cred­i­ble wave of pride, too.

In May 2010, I was di­ag­nosed with non-hodgkin’s lym­phoma. My hus­band, Gary, was work­ing in Azer­bai­jan, and I was liv­ing there with him and our chil­dren – Jes­sica, then 14, and Alis­tair, 10. When I be­gan to feel breath­less, as if I had a re­ally bad chest in­fec­tion, I was given an­tibi­otics, but they couldn’t shift it. One morn­ing I went for a run, and when I got home, Gary told me I looked grey. As my breath­ing wors­ened, I re­alised some­thing was se­ri­ously wrong.

I re­turned to the UK for tests, which con­firmed my worst fears – a can­cer­ous lump the size of a ten­nis ball in my chest. It was a ter­ri­fy­ing time and I was told I’d need chemo­ther­apy then ra­dio­ther­apy. I lost my hair and wore wigs, hop­ing to shield the chil­dren. I stayed with my mother and she was an enor­mous sup­port, but it was hard to be away from the fam­ily. Af­ter my sec­ond cy­cle of chemo, the chil­dren moved back home to Lin­coln with me, but Gary had to stay be­hind to work.

Jes­sica did as much as any teenager could do, mak­ing cups of tea and help­ing around the house. When I was par­tic­u­larly down, she emailed Gary ask­ing him to come home for a visit, know­ing it was what I needed. The next day, he turned up on my doorstep. With their sup­port I pushed through the dark days, try­ing to keep our lives as nor­mal as pos­si­ble.

I fi­nally re­ceived the all clear in De­cem­ber 2010. But five years later, the un­be­liev­able hap­pened when Jess was di­ag­nosed

with Hodgkin’s lym­phoma, which was com­pletely un­re­lated to the can­cer I’d had. It felt so un­fair for one fam­ily to go through so much tor­ment. We were all shocked and dev­as­tated. With mother­hood comes an over­whelm­ing de­sire to pro­vide pro­tec­tion. When your child is strug­gling, some­thing takes over – an in­stinct to do what­ever is nec­es­sary to bring com­fort. I would go through can­cer my­self all over again if it meant Jess could stay healthy.

The doc­tors pre­scribed a course of chemo­ther­apy and Jess was forced to take a year out of univer­sity, so she came back home to me. Draw­ing on my own ex­pe­ri­ences, I knew what had to be done. I took her to hospi­tal, or­gan­ised her med­i­ca­tion and kept her spir­its up with treats. I told her to take one ses­sion at a time, to tick them off on the cal­en­dar, to look for­ward at all times and to lis­ten to her body and not do too much if she wasn’t feel­ing up to it. Jess had a good prog­no­sis – it was the hope that kept us go­ing – and to­gether, we some­how man­aged to push through.

When she fi­nally got the all clear last De­cem­ber, she ran down the stairs in tears. Her sobs fright­ened me, but then I re­alised she was smil­ing. When I look at her to­day, back at univer­sity, I find it hard to be­lieve how far we’ve come. Jess and I sur­vived this night­mare to­gether, and we share an un­break­able bond.

‘Watch­ing Mum cope with her own bat­tle helped me find my in­ner power’ Jes­sica says...

I’d just turned 19 when I found a small lump on the right of my neck. Three weeks later, I no­ticed it had grown much larger. An ul­tra­sound scan fol­lowed and when the re­sults showed I had Hodgkin’s lym­phoma, it felt like my world had col­lapsed all over again. I re­mem­ber the con­sul­tant’s room go­ing re­ally quiet, then Mum be­gan to ask fran­tic ques­tions. Dad re­mained silent, tears slowly run­ning down his face. I’d never seen him cry be­fore. His wife, and now his daugh­ter. It was al­most too cruel to be be­lieved.

But Mum knew ex­actly what I was go­ing through and how to sup­port me. When I lost my hair, she helped me find hats and wigs. When my mus­cles ached, she gave me mas­sages. When I woke up the day af­ter chemo feel­ing ex­hausted, her pep talks spurred me on. She spoke to me gen­tly but firmly, and see­ing how strong she’d been through her own bat­tle with can­cer helped me to find in­ner power.

I’ve been in re­mis­sion for over a year now and I’m study­ing to be an op­ti­cian. I have great friends and a very sup­port­ive boyfriend, and ev­ery day I’m thank­ful for my health. Can­cer has brought Mum and I closer than ever, and I talk to her like a friend. She says you never know how strong you are un­til be­ing strong is the only choice – and we’ve both been tested by that.

‘Mum knew ex­actly how to sup­port me,’ says Jessica (right), pic­tured with her mother, Joanne

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