Advice to a Cancer Mum

Tomorrow is a milestone day. Firstly I turn 42 and secondly and more importantly it will be 4 months since Seth was diagnosed. In some ways it has seemed like the longest 4 months ever – every 24 hours that he was in Intensive Care seemed to span a month at least – and yet it also seems to have flown by as we have lurched from one round of chemo to another, from one hospital test to the next. Birthdays always make me reflective and I have spent a lot of this week looking back on the last 4 months. Then today I was on Piam Brown ward for the morning with Seth and there was a new family there with a little girl just a bit older then Seth, they looked just like we did on our first visit in January – unable to believe their child could have Cancer and scared of how they would deal with it if that was the case. I wanted to talk to the Mum and reassure her, but I also didn’t want to intrude on such a difficult family time. They were watching Seth joke with the nurses and sit and do some school work with the teachers and be his normal pickly self and I hoped it gave them some comfort that life goes on even after this awful diagnosis. A very wise lady said to me on my first few days on the Piam Brown Ward that Piam Brown is a club you never want to join but once you are in it is full of lovely people all fighting the same battle. So, incase anyone reading this is ever in the position of having that awful diagnosis, here is my advice for Mum who has just been told their child has Cancer.

1. Believe in your own strength. There is a lot of truth in the words ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. Believe that you will be able to cope with whatever life throws at you, because you will. When you feel that your heart has been ripped out and the pain is unbearable you will find strength that you did not know you had. And, in the end, you will come out of this experience a stronger person. Just keep believing in yourself.

2. Understand that everyone deals with hard situations in their own way and that is okay. I have had to learn to let my family deal with this in their own ways and accept that however they are dealing with it is right for them and does not lessen their pain. I spent the first few weeks resenting Ivan’s coping mechanisms, his calmness in the face of awful situations, but I know now that was what he needed to do to make it through this journey and I did what I needed to do. Neither of us felt any less pain or worried any less but we had to deal with it in our own way.

3. Take up every offer of help you get. Let people help in any practical way they can. Let them cook you meals to put in the freezer. Let them look after your other children. Take them up on offers to walk the dog. Don’t worry that you will never be able to repay them, they don’t want you to, they feel helpless and they just want to feel useful.

4. Remember that how you deal with stressful situations will dictate how your child deals with them too. Try to stay positive and brave even when you don’t feel it, it will help them do the same and ultimately will make their time in hospital easier for them to deal with

5. Don’t create a monster. It is very easy to let a child that has been diagnosed with Cancer get away with murder. But, when the time in hospital finishes they have to slot back into your family and into normal routines, therefore continuing to treat them as normally as possible is really important.

6. Look after yourself too. Eating toast and drinking coffee will only get you so far. Try to remember to eat well and get some fresh air each day. Take up your friends offers to come and sit with your child so you can get outside even if it is only for 10 minutes, you will always feel stronger for it (see point 4!).

And lastly 7. This will change you forever. You will not be the same person after diagnosis, halfway through treatment or when chemo is over. In some ways, it will be for the better but in other ways you will miss the old you.