I wish I could still write blogs about my husband wanting to buy me a microwave for Christmas or my toddler embarrassing me at baby groups; I live for the day life isn’t dictated to by the ‘new baby’ in my life – breast cancer. It’s different from other babies, it doesn’t keep me up at night, throw hideous tantrums or drown me in dirty nappies – this one brings a whole new level of soul searching.
I’m sorry if you’ve read this story before but seeing as it’s breast cancer awareness month the one positive I feel I can bring from this whole situation is to raise awareness.
Lets start with some stats:
- Macmillan now estimate that over 1 million mums in the UK are living with cancer and of those 100,000 have young or teenage children.
- 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
- 400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
- Every 10 minutes one person is diagnosed with breast cancer.
I’m writing this 3 days post chemotherapy (chemo) which hopefully marks the halfway stage of this part of my treatment. It’s hard to know what to write that hasn’t been written a million times before; that’s why I’ve chosen to use the statistics above, because they even shocked me.
We all know cancer is a shit and something we’d all rather avoid but seeing that over 1 million mums of young and teenage children are living with this is still surprising – at 33 I still feel like the spring chicken in all the cancer clinics I attend, but clearly I am just one of far too many.
The reality of cancer with young children is tough, when I was first diagnosed the shallow person inside dreaded losing their hair – surprisingly that has been the best bit (I quite enjoy not having to worry about my hair anymore, I literally get up and go with a perfect hairdo every day). The really scary part of cancer is the things you can never imagine; it’s not particularly painful being treated, I like to think of chemo as a distant and distasteful second cousin of the first trimester of pregnancy…
- EMOTIONAL – I find with each cycle I am getting more and more emotionally battered.
From the start people will tell you positivity is key – do not let the cancer win, which is of course your goal, if you can push a baby out of your vagina there is nothing you cannot beat! But with a young family in need of care and life carrying on as normal around you it is hard to not let the darkness creep into the multiplying cracks. Much like pregnancy hormones the cancer version can effect you in the strangest ways, this morning I fully teared up in the Co-Op because I heard Bananarama playing…WHY?! I’m not sure…possibly because I like the song and I can’t not be reminded of the life I had before cancer, before everything I did was dictated by the 21 days of a chemo cycle:
- 1 week of absolute write off feelings of emotion and illness
- 1 week of returning to normal but still traumatised by week 1
- 1 week of feeling like your pre-cancer self before starting the cycle again
As a mother it is even tougher, I am bound by my bond with my 2 young children but at the same time my own need to survive and recover. This means I now struggle to have them as close to me day to day as I probably should. They cannot help their age, stage or lack of understanding – nothing can explain why mummy is distant, in pain at their touch, sensitive to noise or simply unable to do things like pick them up or cuddle them…mum guilt never felt so raw.
Childcare is helpful and I am lucky that I can take advantage of our local preschool and extend hours at their childminder in the tough weeks, but it is expensive and obviously not accessible to all suffering the same chain of events. There are various charities and organisations that can offer help in this area, but again with most things it’s not for all which leaves me feeling sad for those that need something more at this time in their lives. Equally the husbands, partners, carers who are balancing cancer with their lives with little relief or respite – after all it’s not cool to moan about having to care for someone suffering with the big c and I’m pretty sure it must be just as traumatic to watch and care for someone going through it.
If you know someone in this situation I have listed some of the organisations that offer some great things and support below…my hope and aim after beating this disease is to try and find a way to help all those parents struggling with the responsibility of keeping both them and their small people moving forward through the dark sides of cancer. Watch this space.
- Willow – Special days for seriously ill young adults
- Mummy’s Star – Pregnancy to first twelve months post birth cancer support
- Macmillan – Local and funded cancer support
- Shine – Young Cancer Support
- Trekstock – Social and practical support to those facing cancer in their 20’s and 30’s
A Guest Blog from Rebekah Smith