Why my mum is the ultimate role model
Staring up at my mum Amanda, my eyes widened with surprise.
She’d chopped off her lovely long dreadlocks. She doesn’t look like Mum, I thought.
It was around 1996, and I was only 10 years old.
Mum, then 35, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.
In truth, I don’t remember much about it. Just that she had to go to hospital, lost her signature hairdo.
Despite being a single mum of seven, Mum made sure our lives carried on as normal. She juggled chemotherapy and surgery with the school run and supermarket trips.
She had a single mastectomy – and, thankfully, the treatment was a success.
We soon had our happy, healthy Mum back.
I went on to set up my own dance school, The Movement Factory, at just 15.
Only, in February 2016, I was still living with Mum when she went for a routine mammogram.
‘They’ve found something,’ she told me after.
She looked scared as she said she needed more tests.
‘It’s probably nothing,’ I reassured her.
But I went with her to King’s College Hospital, London, for moral support.
Mum had another scan – and, deep down, we both knew it was going to be bad news.
Eventually, she was told to come back in a week for the results.
Leaving the hospital, I broke down in tears.
‘Don’t worry, love,’ Mum cried. ‘Whatever it is, we’ll fight it.’
Seven days later, we were back having our worst fears confirmed.
‘We’ve found cancer,’ the consultant said.
It was in Mum’s remaining breast – her left one.
‘But there is good news,’ she added.
They’d caught it early, and she didn’t need chemo this time.
Instead, surgeons would remove her remaining breast, then treat the cancer with hormone therapy – a tablet just once a day.
So as Mum and I left the hospital, we were relieved.
‘You’re going to be fine,’ I sobbed.
Mum had the mastectomy and I looked after her following the op.
She was quickly back on her feet.
Relieved, we threw ourselves back into living our lives.
Until, just six months on, when I was in the shower and felt something in my right breast...
‘It’s huge,’ I told Mum, terrified.
She felt the 7cm-long lump too.
‘Best to get it checked,’ she said.
Because of Mum’s history, my GP fast-tracked me to King’s College Hospital.
And now it was Mum’s turn to be there to support me.
I had a biopsy, mammogram and scans.
As I waited for the results, friends reassured me it’d be nothing.
They bombarded me with stories of people finding lumps that ended up being cysts.
‘You’re too young to have breast cancer,’ they said.
So, by the time I went for my results the following week, I didn’t even ask Mum to come with me.
I took my best mate and younger brother instead.
I’d convinced myself that it would be good news. It wasn’t. ‘I’m not going to beat around the bush,’ the consultant said.
It was the same doctor who’d given Mum the bad news six months earlier.
‘We’ve found cancer,’ she said.
‘What?’ I gasped, shocked.
I’d just turned 31.
I was still digesting the words ‘breast cancer’ as I was given a rush of information. I’d need more tests, an MRI scan to establish the size and grade of my tumour, whether it had spread.
I’d need a mastectomy and chemotherapy.
Plus, treatment would stop
‘I’m here for you – we are going to beat this’
my periods for a time, could affect my fertility.
As I didn’t have any children, did I want to consider having my eggs frozen?
And because of Mum’s history, I should consider genetic testing, further surgery. This is too much, I thought. I could barely breathe, my head spun with questions.
First Mum, why me, too? Am I going to die? Why didn’t I settle down, have kids sooner?
In a daze, I managed to have a blood test before stumbling home and into the arms of my mum.
It was only then that I broke down in tears.
‘Don’t worry, you were there for me, now I’m here for you,’ she soothed, cuddling me tightly. ‘We are going to beat this.’
But for the next month, I couldn’t sleep, eat.
I had anxiety and panic attacks as I thought about my battle ahead.
I wanted my eggs frozen, but with the tumour growing so fast, there was no time.
That November, I started chemo to shrink the tumour.
It made me feel rubbish. I lost my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, gained 2st. But Mum was my rock. ‘You’re going to get through it,’ she’d say. ‘And live a wonderful life afterwards.’
Thinking of her, fighting all this when I was little while bringing up seven kids, kept me strong. She was a true warrior. And I was determined to be as brave as her.
After six months, and eight rounds of chemo, scans couldn’t find any cancer left.
Weirdly, genetic tests showed no evidence of the BRCA breast-cancer gene.
Still, Mum’s history meant there was more chance of mine coming back, so doctors recommended a double mastectomy.
So, in June last year, I had the op at St Thomas’ Hospital, immediately followed by reconstructive surgery.
After losing my hair, periods, figure, and everything that defined me as a woman, I found it really tough.
But with Mum’s amazing support, I reminded myself I’d survived, and nothing else mattered.
Slowly, I started to rebuild my life.
Now, I feel great, and I’m determined to live my life positively – like Mum. She’s my hero. And I couldn’t have done it without her.