I thought being a new mummy was a steep learning curve….that was until I heard ‘those words’.
Nothing can prepare you for being told ‘you’re in trouble’. For thats how my consultant broke the news to me. I was never told ‘you have cancer’ I don’t know if thats good or bad, but I know for certain that in that moment my life changed forever.
My incredible, funny, cheeky daughter, Filly, was 20months old when I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer just before Christmas in 2017. My two first thoughts were, has it spread and I HAVE to see Filly grow up. I’d never known such an overwhelming fear and fierce determination.
Over the next 9 months I endured chemotherapy, a mastectomy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, and I’m now on daily and monthly hormone therapy, which will continue for 10 years. At the time of my diagnosis I was still on extended maternity leave and studying for a MSc; my husband is a pilot in the military, so I was living alone with Filly and our 2 dogs from Sunday evening to Friday afternoon. It’s safe to say I was a busy mummy and I’m ashamed to say not always the most patient and understanding person, I certainly felt that I had to be on top of everything all the time.
As treatment plans were put into place I felt a sense of calm acceptance at the hand I’d been dealt, it was time for my cancer to push off. Of course there were many moments of tears and ‘why me?’ but the mummy determination and family stubbornness kicked in. There is no doubt that chemo is as sickening, painful and terrifying as one imagines, but amazingly after my first session (which is the easiest I later found out) I took Filly to the park to meet with my ‘Baby Journey’ ante-natal group and their babies (who are wonderful women, and I’ll forever be glad that we were thrown together one wet and windy February evening.) Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t chase her around but just sitting at the bench with my chums drinking a decaf almond milk latte was the boost I needed. I realised at that point that in order to get through treatment I had to let myself be an imperfect mummy.
I had to forgive myself for letting her watch TV, for letting her eat the same meal for two nights running, for napping with her instead of tidying the house, for covering over the huge pile of books in the corner with an old throw instead of putting them away, for letting her choose to wear her Elsa costume despite it being covered in sticky-goodness-knows- what, for letting her wear her wellies to all events, for letting the play-doh colours all mix together into one horrid sludge green-brown mess. I had to accept that the small things are not important, that the most important thing is that she feels cherished, loved and safe. Although saying that, I would still keep my badly-drawn eyebrows and fake eyelashes on at nighttime just incase she woke and I had to go to her, I desperately wanted things to be normal for her.
I had lots of time to think during treatment – I was in the chemo chair for 8 hours at a time and had an hour of radiotherapy each day for 3 weeks. During these times I’d think of things that I’d want Filly to know if she grew up without me; something I’d never had to consider before. I’d want her to know that its ok to be vulnerable, that our bodies are incredible and that we should own our scars, imperfections and find joy in all the things that make us different from one another. That being a mummy is utterly life changing, the from the very first moment you see that small child your heart cracks wide open and you will endure anything to see them grow old and protect them from the world. I thought a lot about my own mum (and dad) at these times too. Telling my parents, and younger brother, that I had cancer was the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. My heart broke for them. For all I was thinking about not watching Filly grow, my family were having the same unbearable thoughts about me.
I learnt so much going through treatment, and now 12 months since the end of ‘active treatment’ I’m still learning. This list is not all encompassing, my cancer has taught me so
much about myself, about human nature and most of all about being a mummy. I know I’m a better parent post-cancer, I am determined that experiences are more important than ‘stuff’ for Filly. In fact, so much so that 6 months ago we moved to a farm so that we can follow our dreams as a family,
No one has more claims on their time than a new parent, the greatest thing I’ve learnt from cancer is that this is a joy and a blessing. My darling, longed for daughter will always have my time, my attention and my love. She is, and always will be my whole world (despite her still mixing up the play-doh.)
What 3 things would I tell another mum with cancer?’
1. Accept help, I wasn’t very good at this before Cancer, but when you have to have friends and family injecting you into your stomach daily for a week after each chemo, you learn that accepting help is a good thing.
2. You need to be kind to yourself and it’s ok to be vulnerable. I cried a lot during treatment, sometimes it’s the drugs that can affect moods but sometimes it’s just the ‘why me’ feelings.
3. Practicalities, if you paint your finger nails black it makes them less likely to fall out (a chemo side effect), when you get mouth sores and ulcers and your taste buds all go, eating frozen tinned pineapple is a god-send! And it’s possible to keep your hair during chemo if you use scalp-cooling. This made a huge difference in my life, and it helped to protect Filly as I didn’t have to explain why mummy lost her hair.