Mum Being Diagnosed With Cancer Has Taught Me
• I'm pretty resilient - I can get through more than I imagined.
• To try and life your life as fully
• Not to worry about having a bad day
• Appreciate what you have
• How much my mum meant to me
• That it’s a lot more common that people think, and most people you speak to have someone they care about has been affected
I was studying for my A-Levels when my mum was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. My exams were a month away. I was pretty focused about getting the grades I needed to go to University and I’d planned a Gap year and wanted to use this to work and save up, and travel part of the year.
I can clearly remember when I mum told me, I had a friend staying the weekend, and we’d gone out the night before. It was Bank Holiday Weekend May 2012.
It’s hard to remember all my emotions at the time, but definitely shock, anger, and disbelief. I'd wake up and think this isn't really happening is it? My mum wasn't ill. She was physically well, how can she have cancer? I think most people think it’s not going to happen to anyone you know, especially not your mum. I did have some understanding of cancer, as my Nan had died of Leukaemia 7 years prior to my mum’s diagnosis and maybe this added to my fear. I was scared that my mum might die, and as we are a single parent family this was unimaginable. I think even though I thought this I was too frightened to open up and say this out loud to anyone in case it happened.
"I hadn't planned on filling my gap year with trips to the oncology department" -
I know some of my friends found it quite hard to be there, they feel sorry for you and they don’t know how to approach you. They struggle with knowing the right thing to say. I can understand that some people are frightened and that gets in their way of being there for you. Then other people surprise you, and you become closer. I think as I was busy trying to make sense of it, I withdrew a bit and stopped contacting people, and some people lost touch with me. I’d say the experience showed who my real friends were.
Approaching mum's first chemo I was really nervous, I had no idea how it would make her feel afterwards, and how she or I would cope. But I attended every single chemo with her. On the first one, we all slept downstairs, I'm not sure we really slept, I wanted to be there in case she was unwell in the night.
Chemo wasn't all bad, we’d have movie marathons and make the best of her immunity getting out and about before it dropped and we’d stay in, it was a cold winter so we had lots of hat shopping. Probably the first year ever we had Xmas shopping done early!!
We devised some interesting coping strategies and time fillers. I hadn't planned on my Gap year being spent in hospital waiting rooms, or oncology departments, but we used the time together and grew closer than even possible. My mum is more than my mum, she's my best friend and role model.
My mum uses her humour a lot, and so I remember the stages she went through to cut her hair involving both me and my younger brother in the process. During treatment we made our version of the Game of Life. It had different categories, with different daily or weekly challenges. Creative, Active, Practical, Social. We’d take times picking a challenge at random. One was making recycled art, out of old CDs and another time we went to the shop with drawn on moustaches.
"I kept telling myself i had to be strong"
When mum was diagnosed there wasn't very much support available for young people. We looked around and couldn't find much besides Macmillan. My mum developed a blog and used an online forum, but I didn't feel blogging was right for me. I looked online for support groups or other websites or blogs written by young people and struggled to find anything.
It would be have been nice to speak to other people in the same position. There were threads for young people with cancer but not for young carers of their parents. Someone to understand how you feel and not feeling like you are burdening someone with your feelings. So I kept it to myself and got on with it. If I’d found a place I probably would have shared but there wasn't a place to share. I had to be strong, didn't have time to deal with it, and couldn't crumble as I had to be there for my mum and younger brother.
Since my mum’s illness I've still not met anyone who was in the same position I was in, I've met lots of people who have had cancer but not people whose parents have cancer.
What I'd like to share for any young person whose parent has been diagnosed with cancer is;
You’re not the only one, I know it’s hard to deal with emotions, but it’s better to deal with them openly at the time or they will catch up with you later.
You don’t have to do this alone, reach out to people who care about you, and those who really care will be there for you.
Don't worry about people that struggle with understanding, it isn't that they don’t care, it's more they can’t cope themselves or are frightened.
There are resources out there, you have to look quite hard to find them. Ask and if there isn't start your own group or blog!