Tuesday, 6 November 2012


When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my husband and I were advised not to tell our children immediately. However, kids have an innate ability to sense when something is wrong, and in the absence of information, they came up with scenarios scarier than reality.

Overnight, our house was filled with people; visitors crying and talking in whispers. It quickly became clear that our children were feeling excluded and confused. We had always been open and honest with them, so telling them wasn't difficult. Maintaining a poker face was more challenging. We used child-friendly language, and kept it simple. We told them that I had found a lump and that it was called cancer. The doctor was going to take it out, and to do that he had to remove my breast. From that point on the conversations became child led. Our eldest son was six years old, and told me that I mustn't be cross with the lump - I would make it angry, and it would grow (so wise!). Our youngest was just three. I have no idea how you assimilate information like that at the age of three, but she gave it a good go. Lots of questions followed. Did it hurt? Was I scared? Would there be a big hole left in my chest after the operation? But they never asked me if I would die. The word 'cancer' holds no fear for children, because they have no negative associations attached to it.

I'd never been separated from my children prior to the operation. Being away from them for 6 days was tough, and they couldn't visit me in hospital because there had been a Norovirus outbreak. I was impressed at how quickly they jumped ship from Mummy to Daddy. Daddy was calm, nurturing and upbeat in my absence, and remained so on my return.

In the 3 years since that operation, our diets and lifestyle have changed beyond recognition. My children have never stopped asking questions. We talk about the importance of free-range meat and eggs, organic fruit and vegetables. They know why they have minuscule sweet rations (usually in the form of dark chocolate or liquorice). They understand their bodies and I'm so proud of them. They are growing up, and it's an honour to witness it. 

Recently I was talking to a friend who also has two young children, and breast cancer. We discussed the love that we have for our children - an intense love that's in danger of being suffocative, as it's born of the desire to survive and see them grow. In the midst of the uncertainty that cancer brings, it's important to remember that it offers a gift. It can teach us to be present, to enjoy the beauty of every moment, whilst understanding how precious life is.


  1. Nicola, what a beautiful post. I have spent so much of my 40s trying to race through the present, willing time away, because I found my circumstances so unpalatable. It was easier to live in the hope that the next day, the next week, the next month or year, would see me living a life that was closer to the one I'd always wanted than to find joy in the many wonderful things that already existed in my life. I was so caught up in pushing the present away that I missed out on so much, so much that could have brought me closer to some kind of peace and happiness. I missed out on my brother's and my cousin's and my friends' children growing, missed out on holidays and company because I had a very tightly confined belief of what would bring me the happiness I ached for. Now, with the massive uncertainty that this cancer has brought, I am focusing on what I have rather than what I have not. It isn't easy but (and admittedly with the help of anti depressants) I am at least finally trying.

  2. Xenia, this is so great to hear :))))))))) Before you know it it will be a good habit that's hard to break. xxxx