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